Bonus #8: He loves the internet as much as you do.
Matt destroyed my peace this morning by sending me this, and then, as usual, posting it on facebook for its outrage factor. Basically a really kind and lovely Christian man takes issue with the claim made by many other Christians that their spouses are their “best friends.”
He frames it this way,
Several years ago, if you asked me whether my wife is my best friend I would likely have been a little perplexed by the question. It seems weird to me, mainly because my wife belongs in a category that goes beyond friendship. How does a man compare his wife with several of his male friends, as if she is first but there is a second, or third best friend behind her? He doesn’t. He shouldn’t. We take away something from our marriages when we talk in this way, and we take away something from our friendships with people of the same sex when we speak like this.
Asks these surprising questions,
Is Hallmark to blame? Is our increasingly effeminate culture to blame? I don’t know, but I worry that men and women do not have strong friendships outside of their marriage, so their spouse wins by default. I don’t want my wife to win because, well, I just don’t have much to compare her with. I don’t even want her in the “race”, so to speak.
Quotes C.S. Lewis and Carl Trueman,
“My happiest hours are spent with three or four old friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs – or else sitting up till the small hours in someone’s college room talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea, and pipes. There’s no sound I like better than adult male laughter.” Or, similarly, Carl Trueman: “Drinking beer with friends is perhaps the most underestimated of all Reformation insights and essential to ongoing reform; and wasting time with a choice friend or two on a regular basis might be the best investment of time you ever make.”
Also says this,
There’s something else that strikes me as I think about this topic: when I’m around some of my closest friends, there is a sense in which my wife doesn’t quite get how we talk and act the way we do. From her perspective, we’re sometimes like immature kids, laughing our heads off about things she either doesn’t understand or in which she fails to see the humor. Or she just isn’t interested in some of the things we love. But, you see, that’s the point: because of the radical differences between men and women, my wife isn’t supposed to fully understand the nature and dynamic of my friendships with men. I only expect her to appreciate that they can give me something that she can’t – and she can be content in that because God designed matters that way. I am more than happy to admit that her friends offer her something I can’t.
And concludes this way,
So if you ask me if my wife is my best friend, I would answer, “Of course not. She’s my wife. Most of my best friends are balding.”
I have several objections.
To begin with, I think this kind of writing is the result of the Age of the Internet. One of the problems of being a “content provider” is that you have to come up with fodder. This is my angst every day. What vaguely controversial but unimportant position can I take that will get some clicks but also not blow up the world? It’s the Problem of the Blog—I must Say Something, and say it quickly. This has produced, in turn, the Christian Advice Giving Grind. It probably started with Josh Harris, but it has ended with every single website in the world trying to think of three ways you can better enjoy the holidays with your partner (another post I read this morning that was so dumb I won’t link it). I’ve had a thought, we of the internet say, I will put it online.
Which leads to the second problem—making laws for everybody out of your thoughts. I was tempted to do this yesterday. I’ve been trying to work out regularly, mostly because I’m vain, but also because I have always a sharp pain running down my arm in the morning that is exacerbated when I approach my keyboard. The only thing that makes it go away is a certain level of desultory weight lifting. I’ve concocted several exercises that dissipate it almost entirely but I have to do them every morning for them to work. I don’t, of course, so that I am always in the place of “beginning again.” I thought, as I was doing my stupid stretch thingy with the weight that I should blog about this and give advice about how to “begin again.” That would be a great post. Then I would tell you that you should do it—there are some spiritual and godly reasons why you should always “begin again.” It was going to be fantastic, but then I was distracted by some other things and didn’t bother.
Are you not “best friends” with your wife? That’s great. You don’t have to be. Men the world over do not expect to have any friendship with their wives. In some cultures, it is unseemly to be observed talking or joking with your wife. Women, in some contexts, barely even have souls and certainly don’t have minds, and it would be a waste of time to cultivate friendships with them. Here in America, friendship is complex and difficult category, often, as the author rightly points out, confused by a culture confused about sexuality.
This is rather akin, I think, to the turning of the “Pence/Billy Graham Rule” into a universal law for everyone. Are you anxious about sitting down to the groaning luncheon table with someone who is not your wife? That’s great. You don’t have to. Likewise the people who insist that those who do “follow the rule” ought not to because it dehumanizes women. The insistence that the rule must not be followed is itself another law. It’s possible that many good and godly people will decide for themselves who they want to lunch with, and that will be ok. There are perhaps a few men I would be willing to spend an hour over a burger without my husband or their wives being there to crumble the bun onto the table. On the other hand, I have a whole mental list in my head of people—actually men and women in this new brave age—to whom I would say, “Oh sure, we can have lunch, but I’ll be bringing my husband,” adding quietly to myself, “you weirdo.”
Here’s why you should be friends—even best friends—with your wife, especially in a culture where she is imagined to have a mind and a soul.
One, you are a painfully shy introvert who loathes small talk and has an utter horror of a “night out with the guys.” This does not make you effeminate or a lover of Hallmark movies. It just means you have a very small social bucket that is quickly filled up and slops onto the floor, and not in a good way.
Two, your wife’s intellect is superior to everybody else’s of your immediate acquaintance and you enjoy talking to her about everything because you and she share the same interests.
Three, she is your refuge from the slings and arrows of the world—both spiritually and intellectually. You don’t have to argue with her, but you can, because she has taken the trouble to know that you like to argue.
Four, if your friends know you as well as your wife knows you…that is potentially weird.
Five, I guess Adam was not as holy as Lewis and Trueman and was also a lover of Hallmark movies.
Six, I guess maybe Jesus’ “love of the church, his bride” is not really a friendship love? I’m not sure. I thought maybe the Christian’s friendship with Christ was a rich, nuanced, deep thing that could be reflected even in marriage.
Seven, men who bare their souls to their wives more than to any other living creature make good churchmen. This is primarily because they want to be with their wives all the time which mitigates against the natural pull of the sexes away from each other. I have a horror of too much sex-separated ministry. It’s fine, of course, to have a men’s bible study and a women’s bible study. There are a lot of embarrassing things in the Bible and life that are easier to talk about without a lot of the other kinds of people wandering through the church hall. That said, evangelicalism seems to have a special love of the Let’s-Never-Do-Church-Altogether phenomenon. There’s the women’s this and the men’s that and the children’s special something. Why can’t we have Christian Education altogether (except for the children, who have theirs, for reasons of sanity)? Why are we always having to be divided? As a clever person commented on Matt’s post early this morning, evangelicals love to make much of the huge differences between men and women, as if they are not even of the “same species.”
I mean, of course it is quite an unreasonable expectation for all people in all time and space to be “best friends” with their spouses, and marriage is stressful enough anyway. There is no reason to add to the law. Most people starting out in marriage don’t know each other well enough, nor themselves, to apply that term to their spouses or to anyone. But marriage is a great and terrible narrowing, a stripping away of so many layers, until the soul and body are bare. The author is right that this is a greater and more encompassing category than simply friendship. But, I would argue, the friendship portion comes more sharply into focus the more you go away from all the cares and preoccupations of the world and towards each other, which is why it is such a beautiful image of Christ and the Church. Every moment spent away from the other gradually comes to feel like a burden. But, you know what? This is not a law. If you never experience marriage this way, that’s totally fine. If your closest friend is someone else, that’s ok. There’s just no good reason to insist that all other Christians experience their marriages the same way you do.