by Beth Predicate
Love is at the heart of Christianity. Romantic love is also core to many people’s experiences of life today. This often takes the form of an idealised romantic love that seems to exclude or deny love of others. ‘To the One I love’, greetings cards often read. Surely as Christians we should counter this notion that we can only love one person, and advocate against restricting our love thus.
Jesus said that the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself comes only after the commandment to love God. This surely implies that we should strive towards love in all our relationships. Certainly for most people love is different in each of their relationships. However, to accept the greetings-card sentiment that we can only really love one person (in that way, some might add, though this notion somewhat confuses me) is to undervalue the love we have for many of our friends. I, for one, love many people, and tell most of them so frequently.
I happen to be in a romantic relationship with one person, but that does not mean I love my friends less than I do that person. I’ll stick with the term ‘romantic’ throughout for want of a better term, though I’m not entirely at ease with it. Whilst the love I feel for most of my friends is qualitatively different to the love I feel for my partner, I don’t believe that that is always or necessarily the case. After all, many people make the transition between being friends and being lovers or partners. Indeed, it’s not impossible to make the transition from partner to friend, either. I’m sure plenty of people feel uncertain of the precise nature of their feelings for particular people.
In the past I’ve been physically attracted to people and enjoyed a degree of physical intimacy with them whilst knowing that I would not want a romantic relationship in the conventional sense with them. To be ethical and avoid confusion in that type of potentially blurred relationship I have always been as clear as possible about my feelings with the person concerned relatively early on. Usually such honesty is welcomed and reciprocated. Sometimes love doesn’t seem to fit into neat boxes, and yet society would seem to have us believe that it does.
Perhaps many Christians would want to delve a little deeper into exactly what forms of physical intimacy I am talking about here. Hand holding or touching? Kissing on the cheek? A peck on the lips? A cuddle? A kiss where tongues meet? More intimate contact still, perhaps involving breasts or genitals? I’ll leave you to wonder. Partly to preserve my own privacy, but mostly because I believe that the important thing in any relationship is its love, its mutuality, its sincerity and its honesty, rather than the details of its physicality. Many physical acts have, after all, changed in meaning over time and between cultures. Here we could get into a separate discussion of quite what we mean by sex and which of the above acts are sexual. I’ll leave that for another time, and perhaps another article – ‘Que(e)rying Sex’, or something along those lines.
Some people I’ve encountered such blurred lines with I’ve stuck to calling friends, others lovers, and still others I’ve been at a loss to find an adequate description for. Sometimes I’ve felt (and indeed, feel) a very deep love for friends, without their being any physical dimension to our relationship. Admittedly, such an entirely non-physical relationship is relatively rare for me, since I’m a tactile person by nature. By now I’ve largely stopped trying to analyse or find words for many of my relationships. Which perhaps brings us round to that term ‘In a relationship’, which is so common. Most of us are in many relationships, with many different people, and I’d suggest that to imply otherwise is to denigrate those relationships in our lives which society would not deem ‘romantic’.
In a fast-moving world where so much is changing, and where weddings often cost thousands and thousands of pounds, it pays to sell an idealised ‘traditional’ love and a notion of ‘The One’. I suspect I’m not alone in doubting that ‘The One’ exists: at least not for most people. Often we choose to spend a considerable portion of our lives in a romantic relationship with one person, but that’s not to say that no other romantic relationship would or could work for us.
We are all too often defined by our romantic relationships. In magazines contributors are often described briefly. Spouses of contributors are relatively frequently mentioned, especially in the case of female writers. Obviously it’s great that there are important people in such contributors’ lives, but why should people not refer to important friends in such descriptions if they wish, particularly if single? A single life need absolutely not mean one devoid of wonderful and meaningful relationships, much as our society would often have us believe it does.
I’d love to live in a society where it is just as acceptable for my ‘plus one’ at a wedding to be a friend as it is for them to be my romantic partner. This Christmas day I’ll probably be with a friend, though I may well see my partner and my family at Christmas time too. Sadly the potential importance of friendships is rarely recognised or understood by society, and I suspect this will be viewed with incomprehension or even suspicion.
How might we as Christians begin to love our enemies if we do not even fully acknowledge and appreciate our love of friends and their potential importance in our lives? A queer Christian take on love might begin by acknowledging its importance for us in many of our relationships, be they ‘romantic’ or not. Indeed, the only relationships we see Jesus conducting in the gospels, besides chance encounters and comradely ones, are loving friendships, so we have a good example to follow there. One of the apostles is even referred to as ‘the one Jesus loved’, and Jesus undertakes the physical act of washing his disciples’ feet.