I’ve always had lots of female friends. There’s something about using the word female over girl that immediately takes the romantic assumption from the form of words and convinces me it is as simple as that. Because at most points in my life my closest friendships have been with girls.
Yet when I suggested yesterday that maybe this wasn’t always the most ideal situation it prompted a deluge of justification for why they are healthy, important and biblically directed. I call four direct messages a deluge. In the early days of the life of this blog I wrote about how friendship can get in the way, and I stand by those thoughts but maybe I am trying to reduce relationships to a simple form that cannot hold them.
I reflect on the nature of the many friendships I’ve had and cherished. Of the girls at school who in hindsight treated me a bit like their non-gay, gay best friend, the non threatening bridge into the male gender who they’d pepper with questions and attempts to reassure themselves of their attractiveness and possibilities for romance.
I think about the friend who as we walked told me she now liked the man who’s advances she had previously rebuffed.
Of the lady who made me nearly cry with her insight to my character. And I only liked her more.
Perhaps I ponder why it was a certain girl was sure I was interested in her because of how I chose to spend my time.
The friends I’ll meet for dinner and not think twice. Until later and the encounter is replayed in my head and the doubts begin to fester as to the status of our friendship.
The two girls I spent a whole day with not so long ago. Friendship I enjoyed without pressure or the need to act up to impress or to be one of the guys.
I could blame it on my family and their friends, my sisters, their friends and the almost entirely female friendship pool I grew up surrounded by. On my darker more sombre days I wonder if I play certain cards to keep emotionally detached: enough friendship to sate my loneliness, but not too much to ever cause a rupture of unease. I opt for the easier option in the short term even if it becomes more complicated as life roles on.
Last night I listened to Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, pontificate on the nature of personhood and how a proper grasp of this moves us beyond a focus on the individual and towards a fuller and healthier understanding of each other. The bearded wonder was at his cerebral best, which meant I didn’t understand too much, and quotes from Lossky, Spaemann, Sennett and Augustine provided some needed light relief. Maybe once I’ve had a chance to listen to the audio again, read the transcript and rubbed my head a little more, grown some more facial hair and accumulated the subsequent wisdom I might record some more thought through reflections.
He said something along these lines: “What makes me a person… I stand in the middle of a network of relations, the point at which all the lines cross.”
So whether the relationships are clarified, confused, distorted or direct, it is the patchwork quilt which we inhabit that makes up much of what defines as a person rather than any anatomical structure.
He also said:
“I am neither a machine of a self-contained soul, I am a person, spoken to, seen, loved into existence”. #theosabc
— Elizabeth Oldfield (@TheosElizabeth) October 2, 2012
Last summer I wrote a couple of posts while reading Alan and Debra Hirsch’s Untamed and explored the idea of otherness and the need for a deep ‘I-thou’ relationship with each other that fully values the other as something different to yourself. The differences that lie between us are what makes it so important that we grow closer together. We understand each other better by a life that is lived together.
In Christian theology we are used to referring to the otherness of God but we need to get better at embracing the otherness of each other. There’s a tendency to want us all to be alike, custom built, unique in the eyes of God but conformed by the power of the church.
Of course there’s confusion, misdirected emotions, ambiguity over whether you like someone or they like you. And it’s easy to see the tortured web we weave and opt for the clarity of straight lines. Boundaries and definitions, what is in and what is out. What is allowed and what is not. What is inappropriate and leads towards sin and what is healthy, positive and life affirming.
But here’s the thing. Risk is life affirming. Have you ever felt fully alive playing it safe?
Ambiguity is the love child of a universe embracing both chaos and wonder. Otherness is the gift of a God that wants us to get better not become the same. A wise lady put it like this: “Rules lack the grace required for the complexity and nuances of human interaction”.
I could seek clarity from every friendship I form with a girl. We could have a contract, it could be laid out whether or not we were pursuing anything other than friendship. There could be defined steps and processes, it could be recorded and audited, inspected and refined. It would remove the confusion that haunts as you lie in bed at night and wonder the precise meaning of the final words, or intent behind the body language you thought might convey something approaching affection.
It would also destroy the beauty that forms as you approach someone else, hesitant, faltering, nervous. If I knew all the answers I would ask no questions, and if I did not question the nature of the other I would not know just how different it is yet how alike we are. If I am only affirmed in my personhood by relationships with others, that relationship, whatever form it might take has to come before any determination of where it might end.
Ambiguity is part of the fun. Let’s enjoy it, and not run away scared.