Gilbert Meilaender, in a well-known essay originally published in First Things, explored the classical issues surrounding an issue that emerged yesterday in our reposting of Carolyn Custis James’ post. The issue is this: Can a married man be a serious “friend” with a woman who is not his wife? And, alternatively, can a married women be a serious “friend” with a man who is not her husband?
Meilaender explores this question through the lens of the classical world where there was a general and widespread conviction that men and women didn’t do well as friends. Meilaender then explores the nuances of the question for a world that has changed dramatically: “Are there reasons why friendship between men and women may be more difficult to sustain than same-sex friendships?”
Yes, there are many differences between our world and the classical world, not the least of which is the gradual and greatly improved equalization of women in our culture and the education of women. But there remains the obvious: the sexualization of the other, and this often is expressed in terms of the man not being able to handle the woman’s sexuality.
A scenario: your daughter or your son is now married, and delights in his or her spouse. Your son or your daughter come to you and says, “I have a close friend, of the opposite sex, who is not married. That person would like me to have coffee alone just to chat. Mom, Dad, what is your advice? What is your wisdom?“
Scenario two: what are the principles you use in your cross-gender relationships? Do you have any conscious principles? What are they? Any concrete lines over which you will not cross?
There is, of course, the exclusivism of the married: Lewis says man and woman in marriage are “face to face” while friends are “side to side,” creating an exclusive no-third-party-allowed dimension to marriage. And a cross-gendered friendship, if it is indeed serious, threatens the face to face exclusivism of a married couple. Meilaender comments: “Friends, therefore, are happy to welcome a new friend who shares their common interest, but eros is a jealous love that must exclude third parties.”
I submit that this is an issue of degree not an issue of either/or, but safeguards are to be in place so as not to threaten the face to face love of a husband and wife.
Which is where a new book comes in: Dan Brennan, a married man with at least two close relationships with two females (other than his wife), both known to his wife and known well, has self-published his longtime interest in this topic. His book, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women
, which is nothing if not a strong defense of the legitimacy of cross-gendered relationships even for the married, explores all the topics.