"What is this world worth without the enjoyment of friendship, and the cultivation of the social feelings of the heart?...My heart is now so full of matters and things patient to be whispered in the ear of a trusty friend, that I can pour them into yours forever."
If you thought these words were exchanged between two women, guess again. If you thought these words were between a husband and wife enjoying friendship in marriage, guess again! If you guessed these words were between a man and woman infatuated with each other, you've just lost your turn in our gender jeopardy game. Alex Trebec, where are you?
These feelings, intimate feelings, were expressed by Daniel Webster in his twenties, early 1800's, to his close male friend, James Hervey Bingham. In contemporary friendships, and indeed marriages, men are supposed to be limited in range of emotional expression. Some popular and academic books promote this something that is uniquely masculine. However, at best, it is an observation about men in our current culture who have been socialized to relate in a non-affective manner.
Let me give you a couple of snapshots that reveal something different than the current masculine gender myth.
Karen V. Hansen, in her essay in Men's Friendships writes about the passionate friendship between J. Foster Beal, a factory worker, and Bringham Nims, a teacher in the 1820'30's. Hansen writes, "In some ways the Nims-Beal relationship was also similar to the intense romantic (Dan interjects: do not read romantic in a contemporary way that includes genital sex) friendships of middle-class white women" (Dan interjects: Almost too hard to believe, eh? A period of time when men's emotional expression in friendships were similar to womens?).
Beal writes to Nims, "Can not forget those happy hours that we spent at G. Newcombs and the evening walks; but we are deprived of that privilege now that we are separated for a time we cannot tell how long perhaps before our eyes behold each other in this world." Beal in another letter writes "when you were so sick, I took care of you, doctored you up, even took you in bed myself." Here, Beal talks about something that was accepted back in the 1800's men friends sleeping together with no sex but enjoying the close intimacy of friendship. Furthermore, Beals nursed and cared for Nims while he was sick, something that is usually perceived in gender stereotypes as something uniquely feminine.
Hansen comments "Intimate friendship did not reflect negatively on masculinity. The friendship between Nims and Beal threatened neither their masculinity nor their respectability in the community."
In the eye-opening book by E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era, we read of the passionate friendship between James Blake and Wyck Vanderhoef, two men in their twenties who met in 1848. Their friendship did not flourish in the first couple of years. However, there comes a point where it did blossom into a deep intimate friendship.
Blake writes "I have found a friend! one upon whom I can repose every trust, and when in trouble and affliction can seek relief." And then this marriage sounding expression, "May he long live and happy, and may the tie of pure friendship which has been formed in us, never be severed, but by the hand of death." Rotundo rightly comments, "Sounds like the choice of a wife, rather than the start of a friendship."
By the way, this friendship intimacy included physical affection. It also included the closeness of a cross gender friendship! "Their friendship included Wyck's fiancee, Mary, with whom James, too, enjoyed a close relationship." Rontundo writes, "The three were already 'bound together in friendship,' and 'cemented by affection,' now exchanged 'a kiss of purity,' as a pledge 'ever to love, ever to cherish and assist each other." Together the three of them in their own words and pledge, cherished each other.
Going back to Daniel Webster--back to the top. Webster spoke of his friend "The partner of my joys, griefs, and affections, the only participator of my most secret thoughts." Rotundo comments "When Dan pursued his dream of intimacy with a woman, his bond between Bingham came in many respects to resemble a marriage. The two young men shared the joys, the sorrows of life, offered each other emotional support, revealed their deepest secrets, and even spoke to one another in terms of endearment." He quotes Webster "I don't see how I can live any longer without having a friend near me, I mean a male friend, just such a friend, J.H.B." Apparently, the full range of emotions were available to men back in those days. Rotundo observes "Close friendship began with good companionship but it went on into deep realms of feeling and sharing." I almost had to rub my eyes to see if I was reading something wrong, when I read that description about men's emotional expression in friendship. :-)
Karen Hansen writes "Until the 1880's, most romantic friendships were thought to be devoid of sexual content. Thus a woman or a man could write of affectionate desire for a loved one of the same gender without causing an eyebrow to be raised."
She asks, "If men's and women's friendships were more similar in the 1830's than they are today, what made them change?" One of the things she posits (and this is beginning to sound familiar-she hasn't been the only one to make this observation) "Only after Freud, and changing social and economic relations, do prescriptions of masculinity so rigidly constrict friendship patterns."
Late in the twentieth century we have women asking: The Pursuit of Intimacy: Is it Women's Work?
It doesn't have to be in marriage or in friendships. To quote Dana, "The vast majority of current e'ical expressions around relationships are so excruciatingly individualistic and fearful, and buy into the culture rather than standing over against it (waiting for "The One God has picked out for me", investing everything emotional in the marriage relationship, fear of intimacy, narrow range of allowable feelings, etc etc.)
I've told a close male friend to his face: "I love you so much, I cherish our friendship."