Why do men generally act as if they don’t need one another?
Why do they continue to live isolated and defeated spiritual lives?
Because men are macho. Men are self-reliant. Men don’t touch. Men don’t feel. Men love things and believe it is acceptable to use people. Men are competitive and athletic; not vulnerable. Men don’t cry. We are not weak nor submissive.
Common barriers to relational and emotional intimacy between guys include the demands of traditional male roles in our culture and the lack of suitable role models.
Same-sex sexual attraction was not a factor in the following incident. But the motivation and unmet needs behind this experience (if we’re honest) is relatable to most men (not just those who have homosexual inclinations and/or Christian guys).
Suffering In Silence
Even though I was involved in “normal” college life at my Christian university, isolation and detachment characterized my true existence. Over time, however, I opened myself up enough to four people (two men, two women, two Christians, two non-Christians) who eventually became close friends and my family away from home. Early on in the relationships, I developed the habit of connecting with each of them at least once a day for a relational and encouragement boost. The Christian guy was the opposite of me in almost every way: extroverted, had a girlfriend, involved in lots of extracurricular activities, had several of friends, etc.
About a year into our friendship, there was an episode where he was pretty much bedridden for a week due to an illness. I was more than willing to do what a friend should such as running a few errands and visiting him everyday to make sure he was comfortable. I even managed to cook him a meal on a two-burner hot plate in my dorm room.
But one day I was so busy with classes and work, I only had the chance to speak with him for a couple of minutes via telephone early in the morning (this was in the 1990s before cell phones and mobile Internet access was widely available). At about 9:30 that night, I was at the college library working away on a research paper when my Christian brother (congested and very disheveled) showed up at my table out of nowhere. As I discovered later, he had been trying to track me down throughout the day.
Thankfully, he wasn’t in the midst of an emergency. But as his eyes filled with tears, his very first words were, “Darrell, I am so alone.” At once I knew he urgently needed my presence and understanding. Knowing that he was still weak physically and sensing his emotions was about to overcome him, I instantly took him into my arms where he was able to heave out a burst of deep sobs and wept.
Once he started sobbing, I couldn’t help myself. I began to cry with him. As he began to groan and tremble, I held him closer to me fearing he might collapse. He responded by squeezing me tighter; not wanting to let me go.
For about ten minutes I comforted and reassured him by wiping away his tears, gently stroking his hair and whispering to him repeatedly, “I love you. I won’t let you go. I will help you as long as you need me.” I didn’t care who saw us or heard us: my friend was hurting.
After holding onto me for a few more moments and feeling his body become more relaxed, I realized that our friendship had reached a turning point. Several of his other buddies and his girlfriend were on campus that day. But I was the one he sought out. I was the one male friend he trusted enough to share his honest vulnerabilities. It was one of the most humbling moments of my young life.
After gathering up my few belongings, I practically had to carry him back to the dorm. Yet as we walked along in silence, I prayed to God for my friend and thanked Him for our deepening (and renewed) relationship in Christ.
Throughout the rest of the night and into the next morning, he was able to share with me the stress, frustrations and troubles he had hiding from others for a very long time. Although I had out-of-town weekend plans, I immediately cancelled them to stay with him on campus as he reconnected and recovered, both physically and spiritually. It was an intense weekend of mutual catharsis and affirmation for both of us.
Reflect on a time when you may have felt like my friend. When was (is) emotional and/or social isolation most clearly seen and felt? Do you have male friends in your life now who know about the true condition of your life? The extent of your loneliness and disconnection? The times you fall down or sin?
In 1 Peter 5:8, the devil is compared to a hungry and roaring lion that is sneaking around; ready to rip us apart and gorge on our carcasses. Is the lion overpowering you now? Are you vulnerable to attack?
The Need We Share
May 2012. My best friend’s son will be starting high school this fall. Both of my parents will be retiring next year. Having recently turned 38, I finally filed the first version of my will. Over the past few months, these and other realizations have been fists into my gut. And at times, the detachment from “real life” and the loneliness has been difficult.
I will likely to continue to have episodes and some degree of sadness for a lifetime partner and the experiences of married life. Yet (in my mind, for me), the issue of same-sex attractions/desire and celibacy is a no-brainer. God’s word is clear about the lifestyle of single (unmarried) Christians. He is crystal clear about the context of the sexual relationship. And the emotional and spiritual consequences of sexual behavior.
However, the issue that consistently nags at me is emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy with other people in general, but with other men to be precise. Not surprisingly, most men in Western culture avoid serious discussion of this God-given need. The only time one may hear about is in spiritual life groups like Promise Keepers or bromantic comedy films such as I Love You, Man (2009).
Over the course of my life, I have been fortunate to have two guys with whom I have achieved deep and emotionally intimate friendships. I love and cherish them both. Like all meaningful relationships, it hasn’t been easy.
It is my contention that in the case of guys with same-sex sexual attractions, honest emotional intimacy with men is what we truly want. But it is also what we are very afraid of.
Learning how to receive love and give love is scary. Genuine, brotherly love may stir up a lot of learned sexual responses and emotional exclusivity for many of us.
But to develop close, non-romantic and platonic male friendships and relationships, we must push through our fears and loneliness. Intellectual understanding alone doesn’t change us. New experiences do.
Yet, it is wise not to hurriedly overstress the need for intimacy in our relationships with other guys. In other words, we shouldn’t rush in for the most intense relationship we can get by disclosing deep, dark secrets way too soon and fueling the fire of emotional dependency. Such need-centered relationships are almost always doomed to fail.
As most of you know, adoption into God’s spiritual family is central to the gospel message. The relationships and dynamics of the church family are very important.
Acknowledging the raw and very real apprehension many guys who experience SSA have about “church” and/or “family”, I want to use this quote from Lenny Carluzzi (“The Power of Brotherhood”). It doesn’t explain everything or describe everybody. But it does resonates with the frustrations that many of us have felt . . .
“. . . God’s family offers limitless resources, sacrificial love and unconditional acceptance. But the reality is that most of us have been disillusioned, hurt, rejected, and unloved in God’s family. Right? So do we walk away? Often we wait around for someone to love us, notice us, value us, appreciate and include us. Most of us have alienated ourselves from “brothers” in Christ, disqualifying ourselves from relationship based upon our own low self-esteem or perceived rejection from the typical “heterosexual Christian male”. We believe he cannot relate to someone who suffers with masculine insecurity . . . this is sad, because it is love from these very brothers that we need for us to shift from sexual to fraternal in our thinking.”
“We feel burdened to educate and train others how to love someone with our “condition”. But this takes time, and is frustrating when we find ourselves always initiating significant relationships, and don’t know how to adequately explain our needs without sounding sissy or fearing rejection. In addition, we have been taught to avoid others who struggle as we do. We have been protected by anonymity in small groups and programs in order to keep us from “breaking out” into overt homosexuality. We have been treated as children and have never been given the encouragement or confidence that we have what it takes to love other brothers like ourselves. We cannot wait anymore for our “straight” brothers to feel comfortable being involved in our lives . . . The time is now for us to model among ourselves and our “straight” brothers, the quality of love required to heal our masculine identities. But in order to model love, we must first know how to love. And fraternal love is a foreign concept for many of us.”
“. . . We can be fearful or even legitimately skeptical at this prospect based upon our own and others failings. But is that enough to avoid trying? How long do we want to be stuck in this ‘controlling the desire, avoiding the temptation, keeping ourselves busy, shallow male relationship, resorting to fantasy, O God when will this end, no one loves me, wish I were dead’ mode? . . .”
Concluding Observations For Christian Men
- Connecting with other men is not optional. Men become men in the company of other men. (2 Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 3:12 – 14; Hebrews 10:23 – 25)
- We are obligated to be a source of affirmation and spiritual encouragement for each other. As you may have noticed, this is one of my favorite subjects to write about. (1 Samuel 20:42; 1 Samuel 23:13 – 18; Romans 1:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 16:13 – 18; 1 Thessalonians 3:5 – 13; Colossians 4:12, 13)
- Relational and emotional isolation from other men stunts our spiritual growth, weakens our defenses, opens us up to spiritual attack and will ultimately lead to spiritual death. (Ecclesiastes 4:9 – 12; 1 Peter 5:8)
- We need openness, honesty and confession with other men. The longer a man remains unsupported and alone in his struggles, the worse they become. Living a secret life of sin has consequences. (Proverbs 17:17; Proverbs 28:13; 2 Timothy 1:15 – 18; 2 Timothy 4:9 – 13; Hebrews 10:23 – 25; James 5:16; Ephesians 5:11 – 14)
- We need each other to affirm our faith, stretch our faith, use our gifts and push one another to greater service in advancing God’s kingdom. (Proverbs 16:24; Proverbs 25:11; 2 Timothy 1:1 – 8)
- Choosing male friends with character and integrity is important. Our associates are either lifting us up or pulling us down. (Psalm 101; Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 27:17; Titus 2:6 – 8)
- God encourages loving accountability, confrontation and correction among spiritual brothers. We need relationships with men who will tell us what we need to hear, and not only what we want to hear. (Psalm 141:5; Proverbs 27:5, 6; 2 Samuel 12:1 – 14; Galatians 2:11 – 21)
- Christian (brotherly & familial) love must be observable (John 13:34). It is consistent (John 15:9 – 13), sincere and committed (Romans 12:9, 10), includes others (Romans 15:7), includes mutual affection (2 Corinthians 6:11 – 13), is not exclusive (2 Corinthians 7:2 – 6) and considers how to love even more (Hebrews 10:24, 25).
Self-protection, self-centeredness and self-pity are all sinful ways of relating to the world. And for guys with same-sex attractions, all three isolate us even more from other people. If you have the type of relationship with a couple or group of men (as I described above), tell them again how much you appreciate them. Pray for them and thank God for them. There are many of us who don’t know and will never experience what you have.
What is the primary way you cope during times of isolation and loneliness?
What specific struggles or frustrations have you experienced when you have tried to connect with men on a deeper level?
Your comments on both questions are welcomed below.
Use this tool to further reflect upon the quality of your relationships with your guy friends. Click this link to preview or take the survey. You can only take the survey once.
Trish Birskys (a board member of Sanctuary International) outlines how emotional dependency affects a believer’s Christian walk.
An essay by Kyle Groger. He is a student at George Whitefield College, an evangelical Anglican college in Cape Town, South Africa.
A great three-part guest blog post series about male friendships. Humorous and thought-provoking.
In this short article, Nick Roen considers the question, “should I not pursue intimate male relationships because of the dangers of (sexual) attraction?”.
A blog edited by Wesley Hill and Ron Belgau. Discussions of celibacy, friendship and the value of the single life.
You can find more (general) comments about the importance of same-gender friendships interspersed throughout the websites, videos, books and articles on my resource page. Click here to go to the “Resource” page.
© Darrell Martin and SameSexAttractions.wordpress.com, 2012.
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