Ellen Goodman and Patricia O'Brien in their best selling book, I Know Just What You Mean: The Power of Friendship in Women's Lives ask, "Why do men and women, on the topic of friendship, puzzle each other so much? Let us start with the obvious: women do friendship differently than men. Among women, friendship is conducted face-to-face. But as Carolyn Heilburn once wrote, "Male friends do not always face each other: they stand side by side, facing the world' While women tend to be together, men tend to do together." Men they write, ask women, "What on earth do you have to say to each other?" Women say to men: "You spent all day together on the golf course and never told him you were worried about your job?" They observe "All the patterns that men and women learn in childhood are deeply ingrained--even today. Same-sex friendships become the comfort zone where both sexes look for solace or understanding."
There is the masculine definition of friendship from C.S. Lewis. According to Lewis, only lovers gaze at each other face-to-face. Friends, according to Lewis, walk side by side with common interests bonding them. When it comes to emotional intimacy in friendships, Goodman and O'Brien think men's friendships are missing emotional intimacy. Both of them conclude men's connections even if they are real, would be insufficient for both of them.
I would agree.
Although I like conversations over sports and activities, I am oriented to pursue emotional intimacy in my friendships with men and women. It would seem friendship would be lacking if emotional intimacy was not present in good friendships.
I discovered with great joy this past year Brian Patrick McGuire's Friendship and Community:
Contemporary women who don't believe emotional intimacy or language of the heart are possible with men, would be stunned by reading this book! Give this book to a contemporary male, and they're likely to not even recognize their masculine gender in these past personal friendships. I remember having a conversation with a Christian scholar over intimate expression of these friendships, and he just rolled his eyes, and I got an interesting reaction from him. This post could easily fit under the series: Relational Spirituality: You can never have too much of a good connection. In some Christian family ministries, this language might be considered R-rated, or universally appropo between husband and wife only.
This is a study of friendship, personal friendships in the monastic experience. The language and the heart these men shared in their bonding sounds so "feminine" by today's standards.
In a letter from a magister named Joseph to another man, Guilbert who was abbot at Gembloux, (1193-1203) "You whom I love sincerely in the Lord and singularly, when we set out, then my love, travel with me, so that we who are separated in body, at the same time be joined."
Guilbert in a letter to Joseph, wrote, "The habit of familiarity and its ensuing boldness enhanced our acquaintance, and the better I came to know you, the dearer and sweeter you became to me. I experienced in you what Saint Gregory said, that a friend is one as it were is the guardian of the soul...I saw, I regarded, and I came to love the face of your interior being, radiant with the beauty of virtues, and my soul clung to you (Ps. 62:9)."
A Cistercian monk named Adam, who was abbot of Persigne, 1198-1221 wrote in a letter to a nun named Agnes, "In my own way most beloved, I wholly cling to you, and your soul, mine depends. In this joining of individuals, the love of Christ has made itself a bond."
In a letter to a younger monk named Osmund, Adam writes "brotherly love is full of tender anxiety and he who sincerely loves another hardly turns his eyes from looking upon the one of whom he is fond...See, my son, I have received your affectionate letters and have read them, and from reading more clearly that love is never idle. Where it plants its affection, there it directs its gaze and does not allow it to fail to see, with a gaze never satisfied, what it delights to love with constant and eager affection."
You have the letters between Dominican Jordan of Saxony to the nun Diana within the 1220's and the 1230's. McGuire comments "These letters are perhaps our finest medieval witness of a close friendship between a man and a woman in religious life...Jordan's letters closely resemble what the personal letter has become in modern times, a concentrated statement of individual affections, hopes and fears that are conveyed in the context of one person's life and circumstances."
"You are so deeply imprinted on my heart, that I could never forget you; indeed I remember you all the more often, the more I come to realize that you love me genuinely with all your heart. The affection you have for me inspires a more ardent affection in me, and stirs my mind all the more powerfully."
Before we jump to romantic or sexual conclusions, McGuire notes here: "In the tradition of spiritual friendships extending back to the church fathers and solidly supported in monastic literature, this statement of love can be seen for what it is: an assertion of the bonds which are formed when spiritual men and women share the same ideals and admit responsibility for each other's happiness and salvation. We must scrape away from our minds the accretions of two centuries of romantic idealization of male-female love and imagine a culture where the sensual language of the Bible and a tradition of celibacy could make such intense but chaste loves possible."
The well known Aelred who wrote the classic Spiritual Friendship wrote of a friend, "But in deciding to take up the present work, I considered some matters with myself, while some I thought about as it were with myself--no, rather even more with myself--because I dictated them to be expressed in the manner of disparate letters for the most reverend prior Hugh, who is of one mind with me, and who is more with me then I am myself."
Elmer a monk of Christ Church, Canterbury in the 12th century writes a letter to Robert "I cannot tell you, my most beloved, with what sweetness, with what efficacy of spiritual desire, my mind embraces your soul in the intimacy of holy love, when it remembers gently your goodness."
McGuire comments "The close bond, so long as it remains within the spirit of monastic life, replaces any overtly sexual element by a tenderness and affection that can be physical without being genitally sexual."
These letters between men who are spiritual friends and between men and women who are spiritual friends, convey a different kind of Christian man than we find in contemporary masculine stereotypes, do they not?
They seriously undermine the notion men are unable to have deep emotionally bonding friendships. They also witness men's ability to pour out their hearts in emotional expression in friendships. They also, do they not, point to close friendships that include a face-to-face friendship, rather than merely side-by-side? What about the notion of their language where the two souls merge into one, when they believe they are so close??