Dennis Hiebert writes, "Sexuality is not merely some physical impulse contained in a safe-box to be let out only on special, appropriate occasions. Humans are not sexual when they participate in sexual acts, and asexual at all other times...cross-sex friendship cannot be asexual, but neither can cross-sex acquaintance, association, or spousal relations. All cross-sex interactions are inexorably sexual in some form or dimension, and subject to sexual attraction of complementarity, just as all same-sex interactions are sexual and subject to the sexual attraction of similarity. Morally, there is no asexual plateau of safety; all human interaction occurs on the slippery slope of sexuality." (Journal of Psychology and Theology, "Toward Adult Cross-Sex Friendship").
Do you want to revisit the conversation on attraction?
I picture my conversations here on attraction to like Jesus Creed does evolution, you know? I don't know how many times the evolution topic has come up on that blog (that's just one repetitive example).
It is common to see in cross-sex friendship surveys and studies in the '90's to see men were "attracted" to women much more than women were attracted to men in friendships. Yet, in the recent book, Mixed Ministry, it is reported that during retreat that ninety per cent, that's ninety per cent, of almost three hundred Christian women were "attracted to another man" at some point in time.
Here, here. Sexual attractions--being attracted to another person other than your spouse--for both men and women are--gasp!--normal and healthy. It is clearly a myth spun out of the deep romanticism of the evangelical idealistic, "one flesh" to assume married men or women will not be attracted to someone else from the other sex. Or that it is wrong. Such a myth comes loaded with conservative evangelical spiritual guilt and shame if you experience attraction towards someone other than your romantic other/spouse if you are in a sexually correct community.
I'm not satisfied with the way the authors in Mixed Ministry address attraction in their chapter, "Color-Coded Attractions." There is no question they respect and honor attraction as something that is normal and healthy. That is a good thing. But this chapter is one of those evangelical vanilla chapters about managing the downward spiral of attraction. Don't get me wrong--a substantial aspect to moral, spiritual, and sexual formation is navigating the friendship bond where eros, philia, and agape may overlap. I am all for understanding the temptation to go into a downward spiral when it comes to attraction.
I believe some Christian communities have tried to maintain clear, unmistakable categories of eros, philia, and agape between men and women with no integrating or overlap save marriage or romantic relationships. Eros in popular writings is often construed as a selfish, almost irresistible form of lust--good lust if you are married, or immoral lust if you aren't. I believe you can also lust in a bad way towards your spouse--if you see her/him as a object for your own sexual gratification.
One of reasons why I wrote my book--and will continue to explore the issue more in the years ahead, is the idea that some Christians tend to think eros=sex (including attraction) and therefore, there has be to "clear" boundaries neatly compartmentalizing eros, philia, and agape when it comes to male-female relationships beyond marriage. I think this is another form of simplistic moralizing.
I do like this observation in the chapter: "Because of the complexity of the issue and individuals, God does not give us a formula or rule book (Dan inserts: hooray! applause!), although many try to implement one, hoping for a guarantee. He asks us to develop a heart like his. Following a formula is the Pharisee way--not the Jesus way. Our task is more complicated. Know yourself and what moves you up the alert ladder."
Cheers! That is good stuff--for conservative evangelicals (she teaches at Dallas Seminary). She admits that once she got married, she "never expected to feel any physical attraction for anyone else besides my husband."
"Even though my husband and I have a good marriage, with normal ups and downs, several times during our marriage I felt romantic feelings toward other men--a neighbor, a man in our home group. I was able to "manage" these attractions by myself--but I never dared tell anyone. I was too ashamed."
Well, this is complex. Because you not only have the shattering of the evangelical bubble of romantic myth, you also have this vivid possibility of the sexual police eyeballing and scrutinizing your moves as if you stepped over the line of normalcy into some kind of sexual addict or predator. There is a sexual history--and its not just hers. But I maintain that her "surprise" is completely in line with the way the evangelical community promotes the idealism of the romantic myth in the language of one flesh.
Here then she discusses, the spiral:
1. Attraction. Normal thing for sexual beings to experience attraction to another individual even if you are married. Now precisely because Sue has admitted that this is complex, I wish she would have elaborated a little more complexity under this point. She goes into one example then--"And you catch yourself thinking, 'Wow--I love the way Mary takes care of herself.' You admire Mary and you wonder what it would be like to be more intimate with her. Stop--you are moving up the alert ladder. Go no further--don't cross that line."
Okay, Sue, but for me, that depends what you mean by "intimacy." Sex? Why then, of course. But wondering about what it would be like to connect with her more deeply? I don't think that is temptation. Enjoying someone else and wondering about what it would be like to enjoy their presence even more, is not beginning to cross the line in my book.
2. Deliberation. She talks about a hypothetical cgf between Sharon and Manuel--Sharon is married. She gets into the grass-is-greener thought complex. That's certainly important to recognize in a downward spiral. But then she gives this scenario: "Each Sunday she looked forward to seeing Manuel. The Sundays he had to work, she came home in a bad mood. She stood a little closer to him than others." She then says that Sharon is being enticed.
Well, I want this to be a little more complicated than this downward spiral when we are talking about attraction. It is important that we understand that we should not be doing the grass-is-greener deliberation. However, "moving closer" in and of itself in the attraction dynamic should not be an all out call for sexual police. Indeed, this is precisely what happens in evangelical sexuality in our communities presently. Heaven help you--if you are married and start to show you want to be in close proximity to the other sex than others.
3. Consumation. Here, she starts out with, "It seems silly to waste gas. Why don't we carpool?' suggests Sharon." Okay. Now, I started carpooling with my friend because of rising gas prices and--we carpooled alone for many months. In this scenario, Sue observes, "If Manuel chooses not to act like a brother, he will agree and the spiral will suck them both down."
This was disappointing to me. I understand the downward spiral. I also understand that for some the spiral is very simple and almost with irresistible force. But in a chapter on attraction, I wanted more nuance, more depth, more relationality than what we have here. Especially when, she has for all intents and purposes, been caught up in the evangelical romantic myth. I believe the romantic myth prohibits us from a more thicker view of attraction.
Your reactions? Are you (if you are married) attracted to someone from the other sex? Are you friends with someone you are attracted to? Singles, are you attracted to a married friend?