Faith seeking understanding #009: Exploring my hunger for male friendship, part 1

Faith seeking understanding, my personal journey towards a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God, the cosmos, humanity and myself through thoughts, words and (occasionally) images, is a series of [hopefully] daily reflections I’m writing with the purpose of publishing something on a regular basis for others to read, either here, at joncarllewis.com or among my writings at Medium.com.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Ever been afraid to start writing something for fear that it will take over, hijack your emotional state, sink you into despair and never, never leave? That is the fear I have as I now contemplate writing about loneliness. Specifically, male loneliness. Specifically, my lifelong loneliness for male friendship.

Now, it must be said that my loneliness, though measurable, though significant, is not nearly as deep as it is for some other men, even other gay men. I have significant friendships outside of my partnership with my husband—who is also a good friend to me, my best friend, actually. But I am aware at times, that there are parts of oneself one cannot share with a romantic partner. The myth of the soul mate where it is believed that there is one, special person out there for each of us who only can complete us and understand all of ourselves is just that: a myth.

In real life, humans are too complex to expect that all of their parts are going to line up perfectly with the loving, receptive parts of another. I’m, quite frankly, surprised that some people have managed to fit together so well (myself and my husband included). But I do not believe there is one person out there who, alone, can meet all of our needs. Humans live in tribes—we have since before we were human—and therefore most humans need a network of relationships: familial as well as romantic, platonic as well as erotic, fraternal as well as casual. For those of us who need romantic partners (which, strangely enough, doesn’t and shouldn’t include everyone), we also need family (biological, chosen or both), we also need community (or our tribes), and we also need intimacy in the form of friendship.

I have long been aware of a longing for intimacy with other men. For the longest time, even as a child, I thought there was something wrong with me for wanting intense, intimate relationships with other boys. I longed for a brother and, when no brother appeared for six years, I longed for those friendships with the other boys in my life. An only child, for six years, I longed and lived for sleepovers where I could spend all night with someone my own age. I didn’t know what I wanted to do all night, I just knew that I longed for the intimacy to say anything that was on my mind and have someone else mirror back to me at least the sentiment that I was not crazy to want to hang out for long periods of time with no adults involved, just being kids and not having to live up to adult expectations (which is the subject of another essay for another time). But as I got older, I remember being encouraged to have what seemed like superficial friendships with other boys: ones involving team sports or groups of boys, but somehow, I got the message that one-on-one friendships between persons—even children—of the same sex were meant to lessen in intensity as one aged, being replaced by an intense desire for one-on-one intimacy with the “opposite” sex.

That wasn’t happening for me. Spending time with the girls was just something I did while looking longingly at the boys who seemed to be having a great time together, doing the things that I was too small or slow or awkward to do, like group sports or roughhouse play. As time went on, I started to believe that my desires were unusual, if not proscribed. One day, in health class, it all became clear when the gym teacher that taught the class introduced us to the concept of homosexuality: guys liking other guys. “you know, like fags,” he explained. And then in that moment I decided that this was my “problem”: I was a homosexual. I was abnormal. Even though I didn’t have the language for it, I decided in that moment that my desires were intrinsically disordered—and I was in trouble.

Lucky for me, I had learned to assuage my loneliness with books. Not only the constant companions of the Hardy boys or the buddy-buddy bromances found in fantasy novels, but also in books about science and the human condition. And, due to that hunger to read myself out of my feelings of isolation, I came across the writings of Sigmund Freud. This was a mixed blessing. Although I grew up to be more of a Jungian than a Freudian, Herr Sigmund helped me come to an understanding—or, at least it was an understanding I took from his writings—that boys often go through a phase of intense bonding with other boys, and that, over time the growing boy would orient himself towards heterosexual relationships. Freud also gave me the construct of the ego, superego and id, which helped me believe that—with strength of will—I could suppress my disordered id by developing a strong superego (I was fourteen, I didn’t say I really understood what Freud was saying!) This aligned with what I thought I was learning about the nature of sin in church: that we all have a tendency to sin, to want those things which are forbidden, and that only through prayer and Bible study (and long sermons) could we overcome that tendency to sin.

So I prayed. For years. And even though I struggled to keep my desire to see other boys naked under as many wraps as I could (along with other desires) I held out the hope that, someday, my disordered ship would right itself, and I would start to long for intense alone time with girls. Needless to say, this didn’t happen. Even when I acquired a girlfriend (rather, she acquired me) and went through the motions of dating and fooling around, my desires for the other boys in my class only seemed that much stronger in comparison. Something was wrong. But, I figured, I must have been a very late bloomer and things would fix themselves in time, given enough prayer and self-discipline. But my biggest tests lay ahead of me and my biggest “failure”… as well as the desire to end my own life…

Sorry to leave you hanging right there, but I need a break before finishing this piece. So let’s pick up tomorrow with the torture I put myself through in college.

Thank you for your time and attention.
I’d love to know your thoughts on what you’ve read.
Please comment, below, or email me at joncarllewis@gmail.com.
May God richly bless you on your journey.

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Faith seeking understanding #009: Exploring my hunger for male friendship, part 1

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