Tom and I meet for coffee every Saturday morning: a philosopher and a half baked theologian. Recently relationships and friendships were the topic of conversation, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since. Take romantic relationships for instance. There was a time not long ago when there was only one allowable romantic relationship – between a male and a female. There were rules. Males asked females out, not the other way round, except on Sadie Hawkins Day, and few today know who she was. Females acted seductive, in age appropriate ways, to signal availability. Males responded, up to certain limits, after which all was negotiable. If all went well, men married women. It was not usually said that women married men, unless their name was Gabor. All was as it should be because men were stronger, women weaker, men smarter, women prettier, men earned, women spent, etc.
Obviously there were variations. Such were the fodder of movies and soap operas. Outliers were well known, mostly because they were outliers. That WWII was fought with women doing everything men had done, faster, to higher standards, more efficiently, was soon shoved onto a shelf to be remembered as a historical anomaly. It was simple, the limits of variability were generally understood, and no one was confused.
It’s not that there weren’t alternatives. There were, but they were publicly condemned, often illegal, generally ignored, and many were simply ignorant of them. They were in the closet. I recall two old maid school teachers from my youth. They had lived together for decades, and everyone thought, ‘Oh, how nice that two spinsters could share a house all these years.’ Then there was the rising young executive who preferred his socially active bachelor life, and set ups with attractive young women never seemed to pan out. I mean, holy cow, the guy was another Rock Hudson, and women adored him. If anyone guessed, they kept to themselves.
Things have changed. They’ve been changing for at least two long generations, and if any Rip Van Winkle needed to be knocked upside the head with a two-by-four to wake them up, the recent spate of sexual assault demolition derby losers should have been it.
The dominant romantic relationship remains heterosexual, but the old rules for how they develop and are lived out have been tossed out. There are new ones. Just like the old ones, they’re not written down; they’re just understood. Younger folks seem OK with that. Many older folks are totally lost, and grope, so to speak, for understanding. Romantic relationships that are not heterosexual are more widely accepted in more places, and it’s more clearly understood that non heterosexual relationships are not all about sex. Like any other, they’re more about living in relationship with one another through the ordinary events of life. We’ve become close to a number of gay couples whose daily lives are filled with hot desire to do what? The laundry, prepare meals, go to work, mow the lawn, take out the garbage, enjoy a quiet evening, and even have a date night. Wow! Who knew?
Interracial relationships, in the most heavily populated parts of the country, no longer raise eyebrows. Biracial and multiracial children are no longer the odd exception. They’re all over the place, and that’s a good thing, at least for the generations that will follow them. Many in the older generations are still perplexed about that, and struggle to appear accepting even if they aren’t. Speaking only for my own family, we’re a goofy mix of European, Asian, and Polynesian.
But wait, that’s not all! We’re learning that the simplicity of there being only male or female is not true, it never was. Some persons are born with the physical attributes of one, but the genetic makeup of the other. They’ve finally emerged from the background in which they’ve always lived to claim what medical science can at last deliver – a correction that will unify their physical, spiritual, and emotional being. Women who were trapped in a man’s body are not gay, they’re heterosexual women trapped in a man’s body. Oh, wait, maybe they are lesbians, but they’re still trapped in a man’s body. The same goes for men trapped in a woman’s body. How can that be? Don’t get all uptight about it. That’s just the way combinations and permutations work. But that’s abnormal, some insist. It’s not abnormal, as in morally wrong, it’s unusual, but not abnormal. And no, God is not concerned about it, in spite of what some think the bible says.
So what about friendships? I mean ordinary civilian friendships, not those formed in the crucible of war. They follow the same pattern. We’re now more free to enjoy friendships drawn from a more diversified palette without, hopefully, being accused of perverted intentions. Harry, of Harry and Sally, was wrong. Men and women can be friends. Blacks and whites can be friends. Gays and straights can be friends. Conservatives and liberals can be friends. A recent news video about Pennsylvania state representative Daryl Metcalf has been widely featured on the internet. He went into a homophobic rage when a colleague touched his arm during a debate over land easements. Mr. Metcalf, a confirmed and fearful heterosexual, has not yet learned that other men, gay or straight, can be formal or friendly, and sometimes a touch is just a touch, not an invitation to sex. It can be just an absent minded gesture in a debate about easements. Again, speaking only for myself, I’m not a man who likes touches or hugs from most people. It’s my Minnesota upbringing. When I moved to NYC in the early ‘80s, I found cheek kissing from almost everyone to be intensely uncomfortable. But there are some, a few, friends I know well, both men and women, gay and straight, from whom a modest hug is welcome. There are really only three rules one needs to know. One, don’t invade another’s space unless invited. Two, don’t take offense if not invited. Three, absent minded invasions happen. Take them in stride.
But I digress. Friends are a treasure. Don’t create barriers to keep them from developing. Open doors to allow them in. This from a convicted introvert who has learned to enjoy the friendship of extroverts – in modest measure of course.