Speaking of Leah…

She wonders “What are we going to do about homosocial friendship?”

I think the obvious answer is, “Call it by its normal name: friendship.”

It is a mark of our culture’s derangement that we have a difficult time conceiving of friendship and imagine there has to be some sexual component, tinge, subtext or undertone to every human relationship. Words like “homosocial” add absolutely nothing of value, but do manage, by the inevitable human tendency to respond to verbal reminders, to drag into the conversation a sexual undertone and suggestion that is not there when you simply say “friendship”. Those who have experienced deep friendship and who know how deeply false a suggestion of eros is to the sort of love that is friendship naturally rebel at this societal tendency to sexualize everything–and are then diagnosed by that society as “in denial”.  Indeed, the very virulence by which they reject this silly claim is taken as “evidence” that the “denial” is deeply rooted.

Nonetheless, it is the case that one of the great gifts God has given is the reality of a true and deep friendship, not rooted in sexual attraction in the slightest–indeed, as foreign to real friendship as chocolate syrup and ice cream are to a hamburger–but in another kind of love entirely.  The loss of friendship and the eroticization of everything is one of the deepest tragedies of our time.  And nobody feels it more keenly than the friendless American male.

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  • Telemachus

    It could be that ideas like this are cropping up because people are becoming incapable of conceiving of a relationship where two people aren’t using one another for something. If two people love one another, nowadays the first thing that an observer might think is “What are they getting out of their relationship that I’m not seeing?” It doesn’t matter that there isn’t a trace of eros anywhere in the relationship, there’s always the suspicion of something “hidden.”

    God bless,

  • Bill

    The loss of friendship and the eroticization of everything is one of the deepest tragedies of our time. And nobody feels it more keenly than the friendless American male.

    Truer words were never spoken.

  • One of my favorite articles of all time addresses this.


    It is SO worth the read!

  • Pancho

    Behind the whole “bromance” thing of the last couple of years, there’s a sadness at this loss of friendship among men and a yearning for it. Of course, the culture being what it is, this sadness has to be distanced and downplayed with loads of humor and sarcasm. It’s also made friendships of the past more difficult to understand, even fictional friendships. The difficulty in understanding is increased by the greater sentimentality used in the past to express friendship among people including among men. It’s ironic that today with all the freedoms we have people, especially males, are less free to express their friendships in sentimental terms. The “Art of Manliness” site had a decent article on males friendships a while back, “The History and Nature of Man Friendships”: http://artofmanliness.com/2008/08/24/the-history-and-nature-of-man-friendships/

  • kmk

    I wonder how the military will weather the social engineering of the past 25 years or so (speaking as a female vet–not combat vet, but vet nonetheless). Those deep friendships forged in shared sacrifice keep those small units (the building block of the military, sure as the family is of society) together, especially in combat and prolonged tours of duty, I imagine.

  • leahlibresco

    I don’t think the problem of eroticizing everything and devaluing platonic bonds is limited to same-sex friendship, I just think that’s where we are most sensitive to that issue today. I used the phrase ‘homosocial’ in the title because those kinds of friendships have been my entry point into this argument.

    Because our cultural response to same-sex romance is still in flux, it seems like there’s an opening to try to figure out how keep recognizing non-sexual friendship as an end in itself, and then carry over those ideas to the opposite-sex “When Harry Met Sally” version of the problem.

  • Ted Seeber

    Internal to the church, I finally found this in the Knights of Columbus- true fraternal friendship and caritas. But it might help because about 95% of Knights are older than 40, and have family someplace.

    I agree the real problem is the eroticization of all relationship- which has utterly destroyed the idea of friendship for friendship’s sake.

  • Pancho

    Yes, the problem of eroticization extends to everything but I think male relationships have been most injured by it.

    • Ted Seeber

      Not just male-male relationships though, but also male-female relationships. A man can’t take a workmate out for a drink anymore without being accused of sexual harassment.

      • Pancho

        I take your point, but I still think male-male relationships suffer a bit more. I think there’s more freedom to socialize with members of the opposite sex without expectations of courtship than there wasin past, though with the danger you point out. On the other hand, people in general are more isolated, but women can still form deep bonds with their girlfriends whereas guys, unless they’ve been in the military or another bond-forming environment, don’t have those opportunities so much. When attempts are made there’s often that threat of an undertone or subtext being read into it, as Mark points out.

        It just occured to me writing about this, that where before the phrase “gentleman’s club” used to bring up mental images of book-case and armchair filled rooms where men would read, socialize and discuss events over a smoke and drinks, nowadays it’s used more and more as a euphenism for strip-clubs, an isolating and bond-destroying place as anywhere in society. I guess that’s says something about our culture.

        • Ted Seeber

          Well, American culture anyway. For me, after this year of starting a new KofC council and going to my first state convention, “Gentlemen’s Club” now consists of a room full of guys from up to 500 miles away gathering together in a room to say a rosary.

  • ‘I use the word “friend” here in a modern sense. Nicholas Crabbe was a man whom George Arthur Rose might address in the streets, without receiving the slash of a cane across his face for insolence: a man whom George Arthur Rose might slander, subvert, swindle, without anyone finding such proceedings singular.” — Baron Corvo, NICHOLAS CRABBE

  • As one who has struggled (and still does) with acting towards SSA men and women in a manner wholly congruent with the New Law, I am eternally grateful to Mark for his ability to place people in their proper context – imago dei – amidst a culture that attempts to define people by their imperfections and wrongdoings, whether by celebrating or vilifying them. It is so engrained, by proponents and opponents of homosexuality alike, to reduce a person’s identity down to that one flaw of character, whether incorporated into their lifestyle or not, that it diminishes our “bandwidth” as channels of grace, obstructing our mission and purpose toward our fellow sinners. I think of Christ’s words when the crowd was prepared to stone the adulteress, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He did not qualify the type or grade of sin. And nor did He then turn her away, but rather opened his heart to her.

  • Rachel K

    I’ve noticed that a lot of sexualization of male friendship tends to come from women, and I think there are two possible explanations for this. The obvious is the “slash” aspect–women and gay men writing soft-core pornographic fanfiction about Kirk and Spock, or Sherlock Holmes and Watson, or Sam and Frodo, or whoever. It comes from a perfectly understandable if sinful train of thought–“Benedict Cumberbatch is hot, and Martin Freeman is hot, so Holmes/Watson fanfic is DOUBLE hot!”–but I’ve noticed that my acquaintances who write or read slash have a tendency to begin reducing all male relationships to the sexual in this way. It’s much like the way pornography eats away at any other understanding of sex and relationships.

    A less obvious and far more innocent explanation, though, is that in my experience, female friendships tend to be much more physical than male friendships. One of my best girl friends and I are both very physical people, and we’ve occasionally been mistaken for a lesbian couple because we hold hands, hug, and sit with our arms around each other pretty much constantly. There’s not an iota of Eros in our friendship, though; we’re just very close friends who have physical touch pretty high on our list of love languages. I know several other women who are similarly close to their best friends, and I can see how it might be hard to imagine that close male friends don’t also hug or greet each other with kisses on the cheek when no one is looking. And if they don’t, these women might conclude, maybe they’re suppressing that desire to hug and kiss because they’re afraid of where it’ll lead them. I could be entirely wrong, of course, but I think there might be a connection there.

    • beccolina

      I have seen that type of fanfic growing in popularity among young people. Even girls in middle school are writing it, and in certain groups of teen, being SSA or bi is considered much ‘cooler’ and edgier than being ‘straight’. It has, for them, that taste of dabbling in the forbidden, and they tend to see relationships that way: nothing is just friendship, every relationship has the potential for romance. For other teens, they feel they can’t express affection to platonic friends physically, or even say they like someone, without it being insinuated that they are SSA. I worry about the young people.

    • WSquared

      You took the words right out of my mouth.

  • Terentia

    If ou watch the BBC series “Sherlock” you will see this referenced every episode. People continually suggest that Sherlock and Watson are lovers and Watson is getting increasingly frustrated trying to explain that they are friends. My sister and I live together and are also referred to as “partners” by salespeople and waitstaff, etc. The sexualization of friendship is a mark of the perversion that is pervasive is our culture.

  • Mercury

    For some reason I am being told that the message I want to post “seems spammy” … What on earth does that even mean? I didn’t even use the words “herbal supplement”.

    • Rosemarie


      And when you actually used the words “herbal supplement” they let the post through! 🙂 I know, it’s annoying – prevented me from posting a few times in the past.

    • Thomas R

      In my experience you get the “spam” message if your post is too long. Although possibly some posts with links get it too.

      Maybe you could do the post you wanted in “chapters” and avoid links.

  • Rosemarie


    I hope this doesn’t sound trivial, but it’s the same thing with Ernie and Bert. Yeah, I know they’re muppets and not real, but rumors have been flying about them supposedly being “a couple” for decades. Both the Sesame Workshop and the muppeteers themselves have tried to set the record straight again and again by saying, “No, they’re not lovers, just friends.” Yet our sex-obsessed society won’t even spare characters from a children’s TV show from such innuendos (though granted, in this case the gay community has also been complicit in perpetuating this falsehood). Even two male puppets can’t be “friends” without people imagining a sexual undertone to their “relationship.” Are we twisted or what?

  • Until I was 22 and he passed away, my father and I never said goodbye without a hug and kiss on the lips. I keep that factoid to myself usually though. Already been in 2 fistfights over ignorant reactions.

    The nonsexual kiss is totally unthinkable in certain quarters.

  • Thomas R

    I hope this isn’t repetition, but actually the word “homosocial” does have legitimate anthropological value and I’ve used it on occasion. As I recall it generally refers to those cultures where mixed-sex gatherings are rare or actively discouraged. Some Muslim societies have this, a few non-Christian cultures in New Guinea have it, and I think the ancient Greeks had elements of homosociality. In fact I think it was fairly common in the Mediterranean and some elements of the Bible at least seem to describe a homosocial culture.

    But it’s not just things in far off lands. Monasticism is in some ways a homosocial system. Don’t wig out, because all I mean is it’s men living men or women with women. The Knights of Columbus is in some ways “homosocial” as it’s a men’s organization. Also I think Hasidic Jews have some homosocial aspects in that I think they’re the ones where women and men are on different sides of the synagogue. And closer to my family history my Dad’s family expected the women to talk amongst themselves in the kitchen while the men talked separately in the dining room or den. My Mom broke that pattern to a degree.

    It’s not necessarily anything to do with homosexuality. Some homosocial societies are very open to homosexuality and others are highly discouraging. And I fear I’ve went too long so will get a spam warning.

    • Thomas R

      In other words I think it originally meant something similar to “gender segregation”, but not exactly as you can have a homosocial situation without too much gender segregation. Some cultures allowed the genders to mixed, but still tended to think your friendships would only be with your own sex.

      A good example of this is the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” They don’t live in a gender-segregated world, but ultimately the story kind of confirms Harry’s “homosocial” belief that men and women really can’t be “just friends” because opposite-sex friendship inevitably becomes sexual or romantic. (It’s an enjoyable movie, but that aspect kind of bugged me)