On Celibate Friendships

jesus and womenPractical Suggestions With Regard To Heterosexual Friendships Among Celibates

1. First, in actual practice many people involved in deep friendship have found that there is great strength in the deliberate effort of both to regard the other’s primary commitment to priesthood, religious life or marriage, as primary to both. To talk together about one’s own commitment and the friend’s commitment is mutually confirming and helps to keep active and productive in the friendship the real identity of both people.

2. Second, the erotic dimension of any relationship is intensified by secrecy and exclusiveness. It is important to have another person, either a spiritual director or a friend who is not a close friend of the other party, with whom one can freely discuss the relationship. Being able to talk about the relationship openly in a context of confidentiality relieves the erotic pressure that can build up.

3. Third, it is very helpful if the two friends can share their relationship with other friends, in other words, if the friendship can be inserted into the social context of each others’ lives. [C.S.Lewis (1960): “When two real friends are together, a third friend is always welcome, but when two lovers are together, a third person is not wanted.”]

4. Fourth, the willing acceptance of the very real renunciations that such a friendship involves constitutes an authentic and strengthening asceticism. The discretion called for in public and in ministerial situations can often be painful. Celibate friends are not a couple and they must avoid setting in motion in regard to themselves the social dynamics appropriate to couples. Every occasion which brings this home is bound to be a painful reminder of the real renunciations that celibate commitment involves; but a conscious generous acceptance of these renunciations strengthens them in and for a friendship that is filled with challenge.

5. Fifth, both friends can be vigilant regarding signs of exclusiveness or possessiveness in the relationship. Jealousy, suspiciousness, prying, checking on one another, losing interest in projects that do not involve the other, are feelings and behaviours that are clear danger signals. Celibate friends are not life-partners or lovers. Exclusiveness and possessiveness should not be charactfriendseristic of celibate friendships. A great maturity is needed to exercise such vigilance and to surrender freely those very natural and spontaneous feelings which can gradually transform a celibate friendship into an erotic involvement.

6. Sixth, the friends must consciously develop and deliberately give preference to non-physical ways of being intimate. Conversation, writing, sharing of aesthetic and intellectual interests about which one or both are truly passionate, the sharing of important ministerial involvements, can be ways of being together, of sharing intimately, that reach the depths of one another. Learning how .to communicate is the essence of the development of an intimate friendship and the deliberate foregoing of much of the physical expression of that intimacy can, paradoxically, foster the communication in which the friends relate to the whole of each other rather than taking easy flight into sexual expression.

7. Finally, if one makes mistakes, one needs to admit it to oneself and to the other and take appropriate measures to avoid repeating them. Perhaps one of the most important factors in the development of authentic humility is the experience with one’s own very real bodily humanity which cannot be intellectualized or spiritualized in a genuine relationship but which must be transformed, slowly and painfully, in the image of Jesus who was fully human.

– Sandra Schneiders in New Wineskins, p. 230

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