What do you do when you’re attracted to a friend?

I haven’t kept up with my blog that much since I began writing my book, so this little corner of the web has remained a bit dusty but I hope to start posting here more often, particularly responses to correspondence I receive. The emails I receive I think often reflect the experience of a lot of people, and so today I thought I’d post an email I sent to a young man who recently wrote me, asking me how to respond to a close friend he’s become attracted to, and when I do, I’ll adopt “Christopher” as the recipient of the email. The key here is the Catechism’s discussion of disinterested friendship:

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Dear Christopher,

It seems to me that the great fear you are living under right now is the growing attraction you have for your close friend, and what that might mean to your friendship with him and perhaps with others with whom you will grow close to over the years. This has certainly been something that I have had to contend with over the years–and it is a real battle to keep things in perspective. I’m happy to say that these sorts of conflicts don’t really happen to me anymore. I only share that with you to give you hope that it’s very much worth battling for your friendships, and that life will not always be like this.

What do I mean by battling for your friendships? The key here is to moderate our passions by reason and our intellect, and by the help of prayer, the sacraments, and good advice from people we love and can trust. It is very easy for someone who lives with same-sex attractions to “fall for” a close friend. I write extensively in my book about one such situation in my life. We can easily find in a close friend the hoped for answer to all of our loneliness and deepest longings. For me, I found myself fantasizing about time spent with my friend. Not in a sexual aspect at all, but a dream-world friendship where he became the answer to all of my loneliness and desires for deep intimacy.

The key with your good friend is to honor the distance between the two of you. He is he, not who you want him to be. This is the value of what the Catechism says is “disinterested friendship.” Now, that’s not an “uninterested love.” Far from it: Christ had disinterested love for us, and it is the most free of love, for it gives with no requirement of return…yet it hopes for the love given to be returned. In a healthy friendship, two men stand side by side each other, not gazing at each other, like lovers do. For the younger me, I wanted a quasi-spousal friendship, but just with a guy. I wanted to think about him all the time, and be with him because of the warm feelings it gave me to just be beside him, in much the same way you might see lovers walking ridiculously close to each other on a city sidewalk. This placed unhealthy demands particularly on this friendship, and it sadly dwindled away.

But that’s not the automatic future for those of us with SSA! The key is growing in the virtue of friendship–it is a lost art, and one of the keys to a healthy relationship with other men for men with same-sex attraction is learning what friendship really is and means. A few books I’d recommend you buy and read are these:

The Feast of Friendship by Paul D. O’Callaghan.

Also this one:

These could even be great studies to do with Catholic groups, including your own closest male friends. They long for deep and healthy friendships too, but so often we settle for mediocrity even in our closest friendships. I once knew two mutual friends whose sole relationship consisted of their ability to recall and share Simpsons quotes with each other. It was the only thing they had in common, really, but sadly, it seemed to suffice for them. That’s not enough for me!

I would add this too: usually our friendships disappoint us at some point or another. They always will–thanks be to God. It is a gift from God that no earthly relationship will ever so fully satisfy us that we don’t feel a deep longing for more intimacy, and of course that unscratched itch for intimacy can only ever be filled by God the Father. Many marriages end because the two spouses expected each other to be the answer for the deepest longings of the human heart, but since the deepest longings of the human heart for God himself, no man or woman can ever make us ultimately happy.

Recognizing this truth gives us freedom in our friendships. Just yesterday friends and I had plans to get together to talk about my trip to Italy. One of my friends texted me and said, “I can’t get together–I’ve got a project I’ve got to finish today.” I was angry and irritated–what project is so important that plans with friends are put on the shelf, especially with a friend who has been overseas for two weeks? I was angry, but of course my anger was motivated ultimately because I was disappointed and sad and hurt that a project was more important than our friendship–at least on that day.

So how is one to respond? It’s a battle again–I choose to love him, and to give him the freedom of autonomy, to choose not to get together with me and my other friends (who were also bummed about him not getting together with us.) But in choosing to love him, precisely because he’s a friend, and respecting the distance between us, I can continue to grow deeper into friendship with him, without resentments getting in the way. This is a very small example, but it’s current in my mind, so I thought it worthwhile writing about. (Now, as an aside, part of being a good friend also involves being able to talk about things such as this, in a loving manner, to share honestly sometimes when one feels hurt, but that’s a topic for another post.)

When you feel attracted to a close friend, don’t beat yourself up! 🙂 St. Frances de Sales said that above all else, we must be gentle with ourselves. Acknowledge the attraction, but then with your will, say, “I choose to see him for who he is, as a beloved son of God, not as an object of pleasure to me.” I find many friends and acquaintances attractive. How can we not? God made men and women in his likeness, and God is Beauty itself. The key is how we will respond to that attraction, and this is where our will must enter into the picture. There are certain men I’ve known in my life who were extremely handsome to me and because I wanted to be friends with them more than I wanted to see them as a sexual object, I had to really work to nip in the bud any thoughts that tended towards a romantic or erotic fantasy. These exercises of the will are like any exercises–the muscles of our will grow stronger as we exercise them. And of course, having some others who understand what’s going has been helpful, such as speaking with a good counselor, priest, or my local Courage group about any attractions I might have for friends. Thankfully, this really does work. We can take control of our passions by exercising our will. That’s what virtue does, and the virtue of friendship helps moderate our passions so we can love our friends disinterestedly.

Don’t be afraid of this friendship–rather, I would say to view it as a gift from God, and an opportunity for you to grow in the virtue of friendship, to learn what true and deep friendship with men looks like. If you find yourself attracted to him, have a sense of humor about it with yourself, and be gentle with yourself, but precisely because you love him, make your attractions to him a “living sacrifice” that you put on the altar, and say to God, “Thy will be done, not mine–help me to see him as you see him.” God will honor that, and be pleased with you, and he certainly knows the importance of a close male friendship. John, the Beloved Disciple, reclined at table with Jesus, resting his head on Jesus. Ask Jesus in you to see your friends the way Jesus saw his Beloved Disciple, and he will surely come to your assistance.

Write more when you can.

God bless you!

Dan

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