Wednesday, May 28, 2008

So there's this limb I'm about to go out on...

I did something a little wild and crazy a few months ago. I went and got myself a boy friend. By boy friend I mean a man that's a friend. A friendly man. A friend who has a penis that has nothing to do with me. And I like him a whole lot. He's pretty awesome in all the ways I define awesome. And we've been writing lots and talking lots and it's lots good. Now, you may think, Oh. Nice. Angela has a new friend. And it is nice, but it's also been a really big deal around here, because this man is married. So, me and my new friend, and his wife, and my friends, and his friends have been doing a lot of talking about what it means for men and women to care for each other, what that might look like in real and tangible ways, and what all this friendliness means. There's been a lot of good talk, and a lot of honest sharing, and learning, and there's also been a lot of, "that's crazy" and "not a good idea" and "it can only go bad on you" and "just end it now". A whole lot of people think it's only asking for trouble when men and women become good friends. I respect that. I understand it. I appreciate the honesty in those concerns.

But here's the thing, and I don't mean to make this sound like some lame-ass sob story, so forgive me if it does, but, I've been sitting outside in the early morning, drinking my coffee, praying some, writing some, but mostly just looking at the green, green trees and thinking, and what I've concluded is that I need men.
I know. Hold on to your hats. There's more.
I think we all need men we're not sexing it up with.
And, you know, vice versa.

I grew up going to a church that told me my identity is in Christ - that I'm valuable because God made me and loves me. That's a good thing. And I also went to summer camps that stuffed me full of bible verses and songs that told me that I'm valuable because God made me and loves me. Also good. So I know that my idea of self is supposed to be based in God, and it is, but I also think it's a load of baloney to pretend that I should be able to go through life completely defined by God and impervious to all the opinions of all the Joe and Josephine Blows I meet. In fact, I think we need other people to push and bump up against us to be able to actually know who we are. But here's where it gets tricky for me: I have lots of amazing women in my life who love me and take care of me and bring God to me. They speak to the part of me that is defined through my relationships with women. But the part of me that understands itself through my relationships with men is less than stellar. And I can't help but wonder if maybe part of the reason why it was so difficult to get over the failure of my marriage was because I put all my faith in one man and thought it was enough to let him represent all men. He kinda dropped the ball on that one, and now, years later, there are still some pretty deep wounds just sitting in my soul, not sure what to do with themselves. Good men help.

What I'm trying to say is that I can't heal very well in the ways I've been wounded if I'm not allowed to love the other half of the population in a real and godly way. I don't need a husband to do that, but I do need men. One of the things Friend's Wife said when they talked about this friendship of ours was, "There are things women need to hear that only men can say to them, and things that men need to hear that only women can say to them." When I heard that I almost cried right then and there because it felt so true and because I was so grateful that this woman cared enough about me, a stranger, to help me hear those things through her husband.

There are a whole hell of a lot of divisive things going on that keep men and women from being able to love each other. There's a whole lot of fear because there's a whole lot of risk; there's a lot at stake if someone messes up. But there is also a lot at stake if fear dictates action. And you know, I'm not alone in wanting more than fear. The truth is that I have felt reduced to a sexual possibility by men and reduced to a dangerous risk by women for long enough. As I begin to age and my breasts and legs begin to head downhill along with that sexual possibility, I can't help but feel a little panicky. There's got to be more to male-female relationships than fucking. Or the possibility of fucking. Or the temptation to fuck. There's got to be some piece of redemption from all of this brokenness that can only be realized in mended relationships, otherwise, all we're left with is fear, and that's a whole lot of bad news for us good news people.


shan said...

I think you're smart and so, so thoughtful.

I'm in your cheering section, friend. I think what you put down on this page is beautiful and true.

I'm proud of you.


Anonymous said...

You have beautifully expressed what we truly need and that is to have as many people in our lives who can reveal a little bit more about who God is. I am glad you have chosen to surround yourself people who do that even if it is a bit complicated.

I think it is easy to find ourselves in trouble when we don't talk about it, pray about it, wrestle with it and check in with one another about what is really going on. I admire your bravery to ask people's opinions, to explore possibilities and to work it through.

I hope that as you risk, love and learn you find more about who you are, God's grace, healing and character. Thanks for including me in the journey.


the hamster said...

it was like you said yesterday: there's a reason that God thought up the notion of two of them - a guy AND a girl. and i'm also not satisfied with this idea that God only created different genders so we can make more people. that's a bit short sighted. God seems a wee more thoughtful than all that.

all of this you have written here, nester, is crazy. it's plum nuts! either that, or it's closer to the real thing than most of us are comfortable with in our average notions of gender and a gender-rendering God.

so i love it. i love all this. i love where you are in those early mornings. i would also be in a world of hurt if i could only bump around in rooms and roadcars with sweaty, smelly boys all the time. i'm not sure WHY i need women in my life. but i do. and that's enough for now.

that includes you, nester. i need what you got. you give good things. you are full of good things. you are all wrapped in a good love and love ain't got no fear in it. so, thanks.

Deanna said...

I think the biggest part of what you've said and implied here is risk. So what does the particular risk look like? A single woman falling for, becoming infatuated with, or fantasizing about a man who isn't her husband and is married to someone else. Dangerous territory, yes, to risk doing something (whether inside or outside yourself or both) that would be unloving to everyone involved.

But can a woman or a man be loving toward people without risk? I don't think nunneries have solved the problem. Getting married doesn't solve it, well I know. My hubby and I do things with other couples. Do I avoid risk? No. Do I try my damnedest to act in the ways love requires? Yep.

A few years ago something helped me a whole lot. In a Gutenberg class we discussed sexuality pretty openly, and (even more helpful to me) we talked about this falling in love thing. The way Cupid's arrow hits when least expected. And how the shallow intensity of being in love always passes or morphs into deeper emotions. (I'm not saying you've felt any of that for your friend, just that this is what you risk.) This phenomenon seems to continue for people who've already committed themselves to one person. An emotion knocks them sideways. Their biology reacts predictably. I'd been taught that this reaction means something, and it really ought to be followed up. (I mean, how could Bridges of Madison County be wrong?)

The question posed to me that helped so much was, what if our temporary biological response to certain persons is a chemical thing? Helpful to people looking for a life mate (though not the sole basis for a decision); for those already committed, not so much. A function to be ignored and not acted upon, because it no longer applies to my situation.

From this point of view, as a Christian, I now consider sex a promise I make with my body. I'm aware I don't want to move in a direction with a friend who is male that would lead to making a promise I never plan to keep (and at the same time would constitute breaking other significant promises).

Risk and temptation always exist. But I get what's going on when they entice me to follow. I'm committed to telling them no. On the positive side, I appreciate men very much, always have. I do let fear and emotion overwhelm me at times, and I sin in my heart against friends. But I think I agree with you in that the answer to my sin isn't running away. It's seeking mercy and regaining love's ground.

Sorry for the excessive comment space taken.

lisalee said...

I'm glad you said this and that you are saying this with your words and your life.

In my own life, i am living out this commitment to singleness, but I love men and need my relationships of all kinds with them. The message I get from the world around me and most poignantly from the Jesus loving world is that I am welcome to be in rich mutually satisfying relationships with men under 14 and over 65- but that with all those in the middle especially the married variety, with them I am welcome to pursue guarded cordiality and superficial friendliness while becoming great friends with their wives and young sons. So much less than the good we are made for!
I can't live with and certainly not for the decades that stretch out in front of me, so I am heartwrenchingly grateful for the friends who break these old rules and share life with me.

Anyway, thanks.

Amber said...

I've been thinking about sex a lot lately - as in, the trouble with sex is that I have given it such power.

Only lately have I gone through my sex files to make the truth pile and the lie pile, and what truths got to stay have freed me to really love the men in my life. I am married to a very good one, but I feel like even with him, I am just now free to love him how I'm supposed to.

Really. Thanks for writing.

Cecily said...

Hello Angela! Yes, I'm having a wonderful time, thanks for the well wishes.

Hmmm, another deep post. I've been thinking about this issue from a little different perspective. I work in a school as a chaplain. As a woman, if a child throws themself at me for a hug, I give a short hug and then move away. These kids are often hug deprived at home. They need good touch. But my male friend doesn't know what to do... he wants to hug them, but he knows the risks are great. He turns sideways, quick hug then moves away before he can be accused of anything untowards.

I wonder about this from the perspective of the children. How do they ever learn the truth and experience the beauty of good touch if those of us who can offer it are required to move away? How do little girls learn that hugs and touches from men do not have to always be sexual if they cannot experience these positive times? Are we breeding children who know touch as nothing but sex? If their parents do not touch them appropriately, then quite possibly this is true. And then they either run away from touch or become promiscuous (Cecily's gross over generalisation at work here!)

I know this is not exactly what you are saying, but it relates I think.

I'm with you. Male friendships scare me because of the risk. The man I wrote of above is a special friend but not my husband... I love talking to him. But it scares me too. What if??? I think. What if, what if, what if.

What if we were capable of true, deep connections that were not coloured by sex but by sexuality. Now there's an incredible thought!

I better get back to my friend here in Germany (she's a she... no fear there!)

the hamster said...

cecily - once, back when i performed my student teaching in a high school, the principal called me in her office and told me that i needed to keep my hands off the students. i became nervous very quickly. our teachers at the university told us numerous horror stories about young teachers wrongly accused of all sorts of manner who were then arrested for the accusations, impounded for sexual misconduct and then sold for precious parts to the big dudes in the big house. so i asked what i had done wrong. the principal said, "i have personally witnessed you giving several students, male and female, high fives in the hallways. i have also noticed you patting the students on the back when they walk in the classroom. such behavior will not be tolerated in this highschool." i abided by the rules, but, sheesh! high fives and pats on the shoulder? my high school teachers flat out embraced us in the hallways. and it meant a lot to us. even embarrassed us at times. signs of the times, my friend. when honest love is outlawed, it is the signs of the times. not to be a doomsayer, but: doomdoomdoom!

Mike S said...

So well written and expressed, and such great comments as well. Being a somewhat older(spelled geezer)man, I can look back at my life and honestly say that several of my closest and most loved friends were, and are, women with who I've never had a sexual relationship. To me, the measure of a true friend is that person's ability to observe boundaries and care as much for you as you do them. Having married a really close friend, one of the things that has helped us through the rough patches is that we were friends long before we became lovers.
Friendship knows no gender, and there are risks in any relationship, sexual or otherwise. The key is to choose friends who have the moral fortitude to resist the minor temptations for the good of the friendship. The strength to do this and cultivate a close and loving friendship comes from within. True friends complete us, passing friends merely fill an immediate need, rather like scratching an itch.
I find that what I value in a friend tends to be the exact thing my friends value in me. This is true be they men or women.

Kimberly said...


My Favorite-Beautiful-Writerly-Canadian-I've-Never-Met and my Ex-Best-Crazy-Friend's-Ex-Boyfriend cavorting around engaging in friendship and conversation and encouragement and the like?!

I'm never leaving the country (or participating in a mild bout of depression)again. Someone's gotta keep an eye on things around here!

Cherie said...

Wow, another post leading to several sermonettes about sex. You might be onto something.

I like Mike's comment: "To me, the measure of a true friend is that person's ability to observe boundaries and care as much for you as you do them."

I have always had men-friends and it's never been a problem. Society tries to make it a problem, but society and I don't really get along anyway. I like to think of people as fellow human beings first - their body parts don't matter, it's the heart and mind I'm interested in.

But then, I've been married for a long time and it works for me. My physical needs are met so there is a safety there.

Maybe I shouldn't comment. I have nothing to offer.

Except to say that I found this post and its comments interesting and expanding.

Thanks, Angela!