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True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

When the Synchroblog admins announced our February topic (cross-gender friendships), I was really excited about it.  February is so often given over to romantic love, it’s downright refreshing to see someone discussing non-romantic love just days before Valentine’s Day. And make no mistake: friendship is a unique and special kind of love that’s at least as important as romantic love. That would have been a worthwhile topic all on its own.

But then the US military approved women’s serving in combat roles, and for some reason the Christian blogosphere (at least those sites I follow) started talking about an old essay John Piper wrote basically saying that women shouldn’t serve in the military, not because men are stronger than women physically, bu because they’re hard-wired by God to protect women:

Suppose, I said, a couple of you students, Jason and Sarah, were walking to McDonald’s after dark. And suppose a man with a knife jumped out of the bushes and threatened you. And suppose Jason knows that Sarah has a black belt in karate and could probably disarm the assailant better than he could. Should he step back and tell her to do it? No. He should step in front of her and be ready to lay down his life to protect her, irrespective of competency. It is written on his soul. That is what manhood does.

I’m honestly not sure why this Piper article came up when it did, as it’s five years old and surely conservative Christians have been saying asinine things about gender and combat in the interim, but for whatever reason, once it took center stage you can imagine the kind of response it got. (Jenny Rae Armstrong was particularly brilliant.) On top of that, the latest Forward Thinking prompt asks what we should tell teenagers about sex, so those blogs I read that weren’t rebuking John Piper were almost all responding to that topic. For a while I could barely go a few hours without stumbling across another post about how women and men were really more alike (or not) than we always thought. The Synchroblog topic started to seem almost prescient.

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 13th, 2013 01:31 am (UTC)
friendship is a unique and special kind of love that’s at least as important as romantic love. That would have been a worthwhile topic all on its own.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, prompted by BBC's Sherlock. In it, Holmes and Watson have a fast friendship. Watson admires Holmes deeply as a detective, and a genius, and I think Holmes admires Watson as a person although he'd never admit it. So far as I know, this is pretty true to the books.

Watson goes through a succession of girlfriends, and most of these relationships don't work out due in large part to the craziness of being involved with Holmes. One such girlfriend said, in the process of breaking up with Watson, "You know, my friends are all wrong. You're a /great/ boyfriend. And Sherlock is a very lucky man." Which, of course, Watson tries to deny, because as he says many times over the course of the series, he's not gay.

It used to be entirely acceptable, even laudable for two men to be such fast friends that they would support each other through thick and thin, no matter what. It wasn't at all strange for two men to be closer to each other than they were to anyone else, including whatever female companions they might have.

Nowadays if you see a friendship like that, chances are good someone's going to assume they're gay and just hiding it (possibly from themselves). And maybe that's a sort of second-whammy to the popular view of whether men and women can have close friendships without any romance involved.
Feb. 13th, 2013 01:54 am (UTC)
That's a really interesting point, Gwen. I think what we're seeing there is this assumption that "close" means romantic. I know in Lord of the Rings fandom lots of people think Frodo and Sam were lovers simply because they were so close. It's almost impossible to imagine someone having that kind of relationship without their being a romantic element. But I find that kind of sad myself. In any event, it's probably not just a problem for cross-gender friendships.
Feb. 13th, 2013 04:09 pm (UTC)
Wanted to comment on this yesterday, but when I clicked on that second link my computer froze up. I am thinking that this might have been caused by antipathy to the article!

Honestly, I've never seen quite so much codswallop presented quite so seriously outside of a Republican nat'l convention.

You know, he defeats his whole purpose when he says guys are hard-wired to protect females (let's put aside the absurdity of that claim for the moment) and say it's so. *snort* So, where's the virtue in that? If a man is "made" to protect women, then that's not a moral choice, it's animal instinct. He can't have it both ways.

And what does his assertion say about men who rape, abuse the women in their lives, or even go around making lewd comments to women? That doesn't sound like protective behavior to me.

Ah well-- you were talking about friendship. I have ALWAYS preferred stories about friendship to stories about romance or sex. I think the disconnect is part of our way of living now. So few people have the opportunity of "lifetime friendships" anymore. Almost no one lives in one place next to the same people their entire lives anymore, and so many friendships are based on the things you mentioned: the "useful" or the "entertaining" rather than the "respect" type of love. Given enough time the former can become the latter--but how often do we have that sort of time anymore?

And so we fantasize about great friendships. I confess the deep friendship of the four hobbits appealed to me so viscerally as a teen because I lacked that in my RL; I had friends, but no BFFs, no one who would go through "thick and thin" for me. It's no surprise to me that the most popular stories and books and shows nowadays are about friendships rather than romance.

But it's that lack of such committed friendships in RL that makes everyone want to sexualize them; there's a lack of context for them, and so assumptions are made that no one can be that close unless there's a sexual element involved.
Feb. 13th, 2013 04:25 pm (UTC)
When I first started reading this post I thought the antipathy was toward what I said - that you really hated me that much. Looks like that's not the case. I can live with anger toward Piper. :-) That's usually my first response though I also try to move beyond that since a lot of people actually accept the basis of his opinions (albeit in milder forms). So he seems worth talking about calmly and rationally. Also, worth railing at, but it's my temperament --based on competency, not divine hardwiring-- to go for the calm approach.

I found your comment about the scarcity of friendship really interesting. I think people move around a lot, but the internet and other technologies make it easier than ever to have a real friendship from a distance. I suspect the biggest problem is a fear of being vulnerable, which is at least as much a part of friendship as it is a part of romance. Also we are so busy; we want people to do things with, but not necessarily folks to listen to, or who will really listen to us. So we want something we can't quite lay our finger on. That's why stories about friendship are so crucial, I think. It's really very sad when you think about it.

As odd as this may sound, in some ways philosophy is my love language. That's a big part of why I talk about this stuff. Thanks for hearing me out.

P.S. - I realized I left you off the list of fannish friends. That was intentional, but I didn't mean it as an insult. The list was so female-heavy because fandom is so female, and since I was trying to point out the possibility of friendship across genders, I had to consciously stop myself from listing other women. So it's not that I don't care very much about our friendship, and I hope you didn't take it that way.
Feb. 13th, 2013 04:35 pm (UTC)
The internet does help. Actually, I'd say my only real friends right now are my fandom friends on the internet. Except for my husband, everyone I come into contact with in RL falls into what I think of as "friendly acquaintances" or that you might call "useful" or "entertaining" friends.

We've recently joined a small group from our church. I'm hoping that might help to ameliorate the problem by turning church acquaintances into friends--but I don't know. At 60, we are the "babies" of the group, and so far have little in common. But we've just started, so hope still springs.

Re: your PS, it never even occurred to me to take offense, dear! I mean it's nearly impossible to list everyone in something like that. You were "sampling" and that's quite all right with me! LOL!

And sorry you thought I was talking about you at first--I was meaning the link I clicked on!
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