Part 4: Sacred Unions by Dan Brennan

This is a series written by author Dan Brennan (you can buy his book here) on sacred unions and friendship. 

Here is Part 1

Here is Part 2

Here is Part 3

Part 4:

“Secular author Lisa Gee believes “a soul-mate doesn’t have to be a sex-mate.” For the Christian this statement takes us right into the heart of the mystery of robust love and the bonds of friendship. Mysteries are something so complex, they defy solutions. They are aspects of reality we enter into but we cannot control or begin to capture in definitions. 

Exploring the mystery of friendship as a deep, generous, inclusive communion of love is going to make some nervous like they are being asked to travel through unknown territory. Some will think it takes friendship too far. Others will find it liberating. Some will hold to romantic love as the greatest love and remain depressed because of what they are missing. What I am suggesting is that these stories take us into an ongoing profound mystery of love, into the love we see in God. God is love.

It is tempting on this side of Freud and the sexualization of intimacy, to impose a cut-and-dried interpretation on all passionate friendships of the past as sexual or homoerotic. In our romanticized culture, some of us find it difficult to believe that a soul-mate doesn’t have to be a sex-mate. The romantic ideology in our culture holds those two as synonymous; the greatest and grandest of all human love is when they are in sync.

I would suggest that this idealized, sexualized friendship (i.e. your soul-mate is also your sex-mate) undermines marriage and friendship—impacting heterosexual relationships and gay relationships.

1. The billion dollar romantic industry stereotyping intense romantic intimacy as the greatest love affects us all—straight and gay—married and single.

In America we have more romantic relationships than any other nation. We have more marriages and more divorces, we have more cohabiting relationships, and we have more romantic and sexual partners than any other nation. While certainly the factors which contribute to this are complex, our infatuation with romantic chemistry and intensity surely looms large. If you don’t “love” your partner anymore and are “in love” with someone else, then whoever you are “in love” with is the “true” love in your life according to the romantic myth. In this story, romantic love trumps all loves and thus trumps friendship-love.

2. Rediscovering a deep spirituality of friendship reveals a connection between spirituality and sexuality.

I think it could be argued that Freud and romantic ideology exalted sexualized friendship over a robust spirituality of friendship. Yearning, desire, affection, passion, deep tenderness and sweetness, and even physical attraction between friends were sexualized and romanticized after Freud so that these were/are healthy expressions only in romantic relationships.

Friendship-love reveals the profound connection between sexuality and spirituality. The end of sexual relationships and spiritual friendships is the same: the quest for beauty, goodness, and truth in union, communion, oneness, intimacy, mystery. This becomes apparent in Catholic theologian Paul Wadell’s description of the Trinity: “God is intimacy. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is a perfect communion of love.”

Is the sharing of our financial resources a romantic marker? It seems the New Testament would call this koinonia—whether in friendship, community, or marriage. Are we only limited to public vows of love in romantic relationships? The Bible and the history of nonromantic friendships suggest a place for vows outside of marriage. Is holding hands or other close physical affection an exclusive romantic marker? Again the Bible and the history of deep friendships suggest a robust spirituality of mutual lingering affection toward beloved friends. What about physical attraction? Does this have to be present only in romance? Can there be physical attraction towards the same-sex without it being lust? What about between those who are married but not to each other? Even physical beauty and awareness emerges in deep friendships.”

Much love.

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  • Drew

    I think the last paragraph asks some very interesting questions. What level of commitment and what resources are we willing offer the other in such relationships? Time and money do often seem to be the line in the sand between platonic and romantic relationships.

  • I, too, found the last paragraph especially thought-provoking, Dan. I’ve been pondering some of those same questions myself. It makes me see that life is so much bigger, richer, and more beautifully complex than I ever thought it was.

    • Dan Brennan

      Thank you, Meredith!

  • Eugene

    “In this story, romantic love trumps all loves and thus trumps friendship-love.”

    I’d say that romantic love seems more important because it’s exclusive. You can have 5 or more friends, but only one person can be your “second half”. And you can’t blame it on Freud or the “billion dollar romantic industry” – that’s just how it is. But, ironically, you could blame it on traditional/Christian family values – monogamy, fidelity, long-term commitment and, ultimately, marriage. In the absence of these values many people would say something like “Bros before hos”. 🙂

    So I don’t think you can expect a straight, married man and a straight, married woman to feel comfortable in “friendship-love” when traditional marriage is so restrictive and even you seemingly can’t draw the line between love and “friendship-love”. Regardless of their intentions, they would be playing with fire.

  • Jennifer


    >Regardless of their intentions, they would be playing with fire.

    Why? Is there fire because the possibility for attraction exists? Do you have to act on every feeling you have?

    • Eugene

      The feeling itself is the fire – even if you never act on it. In the context of traditional/Christian values (esp. Matthew 5), this “friendship-love” is a reckless thing. Even if it stays within agreeable bounds, its “love” aspect will violate the exclusivity of the same aspect of marriage. In other words, if anyone can be your soul-mate, what’s left of marriage?

      • Dan Brennan

        Hi Eugene,

        Thank you for your comments. I don’t think Matthew 5 (or Christian tradition) addresses emotional depth of love. Its addressing a thinking and desire for sex.

        I would be curious to hear where you draw the lines on exclusivity and marriage. The traditional vows concerning marriage (forsaking all others”) have never meant do not have any important/deep loves in your family, friends, and community.
        Indeed, John Bray (among others) in his book, *The Friend* shows how throughout the centuries Christians (including married Christians) participated in friendship vows performed in the church. Traditional vows have meant primacy above all others and an exclusivity in sex.

        • Eugene

          “I don’t think Matthew 5 (or Christian tradition) addresses emotional depth of love. Its addressing a thinking and desire for sex.”

          Sex can be (and arguably should be) an expression of love. This is why you can’t draw the line between “sex” and “physical affection”. More importantly, straight men think of and desire sex with women simply because they’re straight. That’s why the intimacy and closeness of “friendship-love” is dangerous. Regardless of their intentions, they can fall in love with each other.

          “I would be curious to hear where you draw the lines on exclusivity and marriage.”

          I don’t really think about it. 🙂 I guess all couples are different, so the lines may be different.

          • Jennifer


            I enjoy physical affection with all kind of straight men in my life – professors, spiritual fathers, fellow students, friends, relatives, etc. I have various kinds of love with all of them – and I never fear that our relationship is going to turn into sex.

  • Jennifer

    But just because there are parts of my soul that are exclusively for my husband doesn’t mean I can’t know friends on a soul level also – it’s not identical to the depth of knowledge in marriage, but is still pretty deep.

    • Eugene

      The point is that the deeper it is, the less is left for marriage – and Dan specifically insists on deep “friendship-love”. I guess it could work in a so-called “open marriage”, but I still wonder how openness can be compatible with intimacy. If a part of your soul is open to ten of your friends, is it still intimate? Can you have ten soul-mates?

      • another Jennifer

        It sounds like you see intimacy as a zero-sum game.

        That would be one perspective, and if it is true, you point follows. But I seriously question it’s truth. It’s sort of the old question of siblings – when another is born, does mom love me less? Or even does a woman’s intimacy with her husband have to decrease as she develops intimacy with her children? I don’t think it does. There are differences in each relationship, and due to human finiteness, no one relationship will be the be-all-end-all.

    • chicagotist

      But can you say in regards to any of these friendships something akin to what David said about what he thought of Jonathan’s love for him (even if we assume that this was “friendship-love” and there was nothing homoerotic about it). Can you say that you hold even one of those non-husband friend’s friendship-love (if any of them is) above the love of your husband?

      • another Jennifer

        I think in a cultural context in which marriage was more of a business move, saying that the love of a friend surpasses that of a wife made a lot more sense than it would in Western culture today. I think you can see it as saying that non-sexual friendship intimacy surpasses mere physical intimacy.

  • Sam

    Just my two cents worth: In my experience the idea that we can’t love more than one person at a time doesn’t apply everyone. I love several people very much, but that doesn’t mean I feel a need or desire to be married to or have sex with anyone except my wife. Even if my wife were to suddenly die, I’m not sure that my feelings toward any of these other people would change to where I’d want to marry any of them or have a sexual relationship with them.

    I’m aware that this idea is heresy to lots of religious people. Yes, I’ve heard the term “an affair of the heart”. Maybe that’s the case for someone reading this, but not for all of us. I’ve also heard the question “Who do you love most?” I think we love each person differently and trying to rank them is as stupid as ranking the order in which we love our children.

    “Fall in love” is a romantic concept. I think Hollywood, not Jesus. I can love many people, but choose to make a lifelong commitment to one of them, my wife.

    For those who can’t handle this without getting sexually involved, don’t try it. You know yourself better than I do.

    • chicagotist

      I’ll ask you the same question I ask others.

      Do you feel anyone (whether gay or straight) can say that that anyone feels that any one of these relationships with other people is above the love of the romantically-loved person?

      • Sam

        I don’t think in those terms, so I’m not sure what you mean by “above the love”. My ultimate commitment is to my wife, so if the nuclear power plant was about to explode and I could take only one person with me to escape the area, it would be her.

        I sometimes think in terms of who would be there for me if I became severely disabled, such as became a paraplegic or had severe alzheimer’s. I’m pretty sure I know who those people are, especially since I was recently temporarily disabled for a few months. These are the people I love who I believe also love me.

        It is sad, but lots and lots of people show up only when they feel we have something to offer them. We can love those people, but understand that they are basically opportunists and will disappear at the first puff of an ill wind. Of course, if the problem is theirs, they will want help and as a follower of Jesus we can offer what we are able to give.

        • chicagotist

          I understand that you take marriage seriously. But that’s not what I asked. I guess, if my question was put in a different way – whom do you love in a way that doesn’t require any sort of commitment or action from them? If that person is an opportunist – so be it, you still love them. That’s what romantic love is supposed to be.

          I’m not trying to prove something. I find this Christian categorizing of kinds of love very amusing. Definitely, much more of a Greek approach, than Hebrew Bible.

      • Chicagotist,

        do you really mean that the most important part of marriage love is romantic love? My wife is my best friend and more in a way that trumps all things ‘romantic’.

        I too wonder what your question means. (And my wife and me have both good friends of the opposite sex btw)

        I don’t think you should compare. I can’t say if I love my mother, my baby of 5 months, or my wife more, I only love them differently. Same with friends. We shouldn’t use the words ‘love more’, it’s comparing apples to ligthbulbs…

        • chicagotist

          Oops, I answered this question above.

          I’m not trying to prove something. I find this Christian categorizing of kinds of love very amusing. Definitely, much more of a Greek approach, than Hebrew Bible.

          The Hebrew Bible doesn’t categorize different loves (unlike the later Jewish rabbis and philosophers under the influence of the Greek and later Christian society). But – as to your answer – it does seem to provide various levels of “love”. For example, read the part about Jacob returning to meet his brother Esau. He placed his wives and their children in a certain order – the maidservants (and I’m sure there were more than two albeit presumably just two bearing Jacob children) and their sons all the way in the front, then Leah and her sons, and only then – in the safest position – Rachel and her son Joseph. So, if the other wives and children needed any proof of their suspicions, they got it when it counted.

  • Jennifer


    Who would you have me kick out of my soul then? My child? The people who labor with me plant a church? My spiritual fathers? My seminary friends?

    There is ro for all of them w/o being unfaithful to my husband.

    • chicagotist

      Would your husband be “ok” with you being a close friend to another heterosexual man, if you said to your husband one day “that friend’s (friendship-)love for me is above your love?”

    • chicagotist

      Additionally, would you be ok with your husband telling you that he evaluates his friendship with another straight woman is more worthy/higher/better than his relationship with you?

  • Jennifer


    Im trying to figure out the question behind your question. I see that it’s a really important question to you becaue you asked it in several different ways. But I’m not sure where you’re going with it.

    If I tell you that my relationship with my husband contains a kind of exclusive love that is not available in freindship-love, does that mean that friendship love can not still contain deep intimacy and a sense of closeness that is unique to the friendship pair?

    I can say this….none of my close friends are substitute husbands. I have 1 husband, and dont need a backup. But I still need closeness in other relationships with all kinds of people. My husband cant fulfull every relational need I have.

    Is there something else I’m missing in your question?

    • chicagotist

      I was just surveying people here, because I find this Greek/Christian idea of categorizing love amusing, and also because so many people ventured their opinion without talking of their own circumstances.

      • Jennifer

        >if my question was put in a different way – whom do you love in a way that doesn’t require any sort of commitment or action from them? If that person is an opportunist – so be it, you still love them. That’s what romantic love is supposed to be

        I agree that is what romantic love is supposed to be, at least one version of it. It’s also what parental love is supposed to be. It’s also what friendship love can be (again at least its one version of it).

        As for my own circumstance? I have multiple people in my life that I love with this kind of loyalty, but only one of them is a romantic/sexual partner.