The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian by Wesley Hill.
We might be able to muster a definition and explanation of friendship’s importance if we were quizzed on it, but for many of us that doesn’t solve the deeper matter of why we want it so much, and why it so often seems unreachable or fraught, burdened in our own era in a way many of us imagine it wasn’t in previous centuries.
Benjamin Myers, an Australian theologian, has outlined a series of ways that friendship has been eclipsed or pushed to the margins of contemporary life. He suggests that friendship in modern Western societies has been obscured by various myths, to the point that we can’t see our way clear anymore to understand friendship the way we once did and embrace it along with its ancient practitioners.
Myers traces the first of these myths back to Sigmund Freud’s suspicion that all relationships, at base, involve eroticism—that the desire for sex is the secret truth of every relationship, so that any mutual liking or interest must be something more than chaste affection. And many cultural observers nowadays would apparently concur, as we will see in the pages below.
For instance, notice how some of us wonder about—and make light of or poke fun at or even feel embarrassed or ashamed of—the perception of romantic longing seeping into our same-sex friendships. In pursuing this line of thought, especially in its stronger forms where we treat any close male friendship as just inevitably homosexual, we are treating sex as a myth in the traditional meaning of the word—a story we tell ourselves that seems to illumine the hitherto misunderstood hinterland of a thing.
With male friendship, where certain previous eras might have seen two people who merely admired each other and wanted to spur each other on to greater heights of maturity and virtue, in the modern West we’re more attuned to the possibility of an underlying, subconscious erotic attraction. And that mythology contributes to the anxiety or humorous uncertainty many of us feel about friendship today.