Well, let's pull up your chair and grab yourself a beer or coffee as we discuss one of the biggest fears facing evangelicals on the issue of intimate cross-gender friendships: when platonic friends who are not married to each other become romantically enmeshed and choose to end their current marriages over romantic absorption.
This sober potential is the greatest vulnerability for those of us who are nuturing deep beauty and relational richness in transmarital friendships. Friends who move from sweet and solid trust within their personal community to the heavy hellishness of spousal betrayal, broken homes, and devastated innocent children caught in the dramatic chaos.
There is this thick communal overcast of clouds hanging over spouses, children, surrounding family members, neighbors, and friends when two people believe their romantic couple chemistry should trump all other relationships--and they are married to other people. The dark side of inappropriate romantic infatuation is that two people steel themselves against this heaviness by turning inward instead of a chosen vulnerability outward.
When you see such betrayal among people that you know, it's painful. It's the dark side of the beautiful risk and glorious truth of deep trust within personal community. It's a dark side I'm all too familiar with myself.
The reason why I am where I am today is not because I've successfully managed to present a super human image invulnerable to romantic absorption but because I've been transparent about my own weaknesses and failures, desire and longings within my personal community.
I have a rap sheet myself, as it were.
Nothing criminal but back in the 90s, I intentionally hid a growing affection and attachment I had from my wife and it almost cost me my marriage. I fell into a secretive internal rut mulling over the whole grass is greener on the other side scheme in which we tell start focusing on all the flaws of our spouses while gleefully soaking into all the immediate strengths of someone else.
So thankful these many years later, God brought me back to my senses and my glorious wife. But I almost left my wife and Christianity over it.
The truth is when my new opposite sex friendships began to emerge via online connections a few years later, I did a lot of soul searching, I was vigorously vigilant in transparency with my wife, and I passionately entrusted myself to hold myself accountable to a mutually trusted friend.
I did not want to fall back into recurring patterns of foolishness and spousal betrayal. There was a deepening trust, tenderness, and vulnerability between Sheila and myself which was incomparably precious. We had a growing vulnerability and a cherished fondness between each other which was irreplaceably sweet.
I began to embrace vulnerability, mystery, discernment, and love as important realities within the Christian faith--and to this whole thing of deep reconciliation between the sexes. This was quite a shift for someone who had spent more than twenty years of his adult Christian life as a reformed fundamentalist with a capitial "R" and a capital "F."
So, I started down this scary, wild, hard, liberating journey from insisting on certitude, rules, and proof-texts for so many of faith issues to vulnerability, risk, and love.
As you can imagine this was quite unsettling for me and for a number of my friends who camped out on sexual and romantic certainty. I had many of my reformed friends dwelling on certainity. I had many other friends who were not reformed but when it came to male-female relationships they embraced a tight-knit certainty on what male-female intimacy looked like. The one thing they had in common was the certainty of sexual power in closeness between men and women.
I began to choose vulnerability in this gradual but enormous shift.
Vulnerability over pat answers.
Vulnerability over paint-by-numbers spirituality and sexuality.
Vulnerability over a spirit of dogmatic know-it-all-ism.
Vulnerability over a masquerading wisdom of a checklist of dos and don'ts.
Vulnerability over set-in-stone gender straightjackets.
Vulnerability over formulaic guarantees in male-female relationships.
Vulnerability meant embracing a deeper sense of ambiguity instead of something which I once thought was clear-cut. Vulnerability meant I could not offer any formulaic gurarantees that marriages would flourish and not fall to anyone pressing me for wisdom on sexuality and friendship. Vulnerability meant I was going to hear stories of opposite friends who were married but not to each other who, eventually turned their platonic friendship into romance.
Vulnerability meant I was vulnerable to ongoing judgements of naïveté to sexual power.
In this shift I began to doubt what was unquestioned romantic orthodoxy among evangelical men and women: rules for protecting the specialness of romantic intensity between spouses, don't ride in cars with someone from the opposite sex, don't go do things that have romantic-sexual meanings to other people like dinners, or go to shows, or for drinks or you fill in the blank. Especially, one must not become vulnerable with someone of the opposite sex and nurture emotional intimacy. And, most of all, do not spend time alone with an opposite sex friend.
In my shift I began to have serious doubts about the prevailing romantic theory of love among evangelicals. Was this theory an unhealthy reaction embedded in a sort of sexual fundamentalism and rigidity?
It became even more vulnerable for me when I began to see the goodness and beauty of deep closeness between men and women as friends expressed in language like wholehearted love, communion, union, intimate friendship, and relational intimacy.
Part two to be continued.