It Is Not Good for Some Couples to Be Alone

The upshot is that two boys or two girls should not be a couple at all because that exclusivity is not what friendship is for; it is, in fact, an obstacle to the full flourishing of friendship.

Two people, presenting themselves as a couple, approach a priest and ask for a blessing before the congregation in church.

Let us think this matter through.

Back in 1989, when I was a young professor at what was then still a Baptist school, one of my students asked me to write him a recommendation. He wanted to be an instructor at a Baptist summer camp. He alerted me to one of the questions, which was whether the candidate tended to form “exclusive friendships.” If so, as I understood the matter, he would not be a good fit for the camp.

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You might suppose that the question was a sly way, or a tactful way, of asking whether the candidate leaned toward homosexuality. Perhaps so, but even at the time, when I had yet to understand why the Church taught what she did about sex, I understood that the question was broad in its import. Of course, any exclusive friendship would be entirely out of place at a camp swarming with young people.  But more important than that, the exclusive friendship is itself not a healthy thing.

Usually, in such a friendship, one of the two is needier than the other and will seek to take up as much of the other’s time and attention as possible, viewing as a threat any of the other’s readiness to take on the outer world and make new friends. But friendship, by its nature, is or ought to be nonexclusive: you may feel that your best friend is like your brother, but neither you nor he wishes to have no more such friends; that would be like wishing you had no more brothers. Friendship, particularly among boys and men, is directed outward, to the world; think of two men leaning against a car, facing away toward something far off in time or space, remembering an incident when one or the other played the hero or the buffoon, or coming up with some strategy to defeat an enemy—which may not be a human enemy at all but rather a basement that won’t drain, coyotes in the woods, or a shifting tide that is washing out the marina.

When it comes to healthy friendships, it’s the more the merrier. Your best friend is a better friend to you because of the friends you have in common, as the friendship itself is oriented to comradeship, the allegiance of the team. This comradeship, in its masculine manifestation, has historically been a crucial element in the ascent of the human race, one which the Church has hitherto neglected to consider deeply, if only because no one has ever before doubted its goodness or necessity.

The upshot is that two boys or two girls should not be a couple at all because that exclusivity is not what friendship is for; it is, in fact, an obstacle to the full flourishing of friendship. But there is more.

It’s not a new thing in the world, the disappointment a boy or girl may feel when his elder brother, or her elder sister, or some close friend who is more mature and readier to enter a stage preparatory to adulthood and marriage, should become more interested in romance and so have less time for fishing, baseball, slumber parties, and so forth. I believe that everybody has had some experience of it. All at once, my older cousins weren’t so interested in playing baseball or going bowling together on a Saturday night, and I felt that they had somehow left me behind. I was lucky, though—I had a lot of other cousins my own age and a little younger, I had a kid brother and two kid sisters, and the neighborhood always swarmed with boys and girls.

In any case, it is right that each sex should grow interested in the other and leave behind not friendships but their childishness. But, for reasons I have not the leisure to examine here, for some young people, for whom friendship has always been tenuous or fraught with unhealthy emotional weight, the naturally powerful friendship-attraction of boys for each other and of girls for each other is narrowed to an exclusive attraction with something of compulsiveness about it, and then comes puberty and its surging and chaotic drives of the flesh.

I have said nothing so far about moral evil. I need not. When God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” He did not create another man but, rather, woman, like him in his humanity, unlike him in sex, so that “for this reason a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife, and the two shall be one flesh.” Had Adam merely needed company, somebody else to help tend the garden, it is as Aquinas says, God might have created another man, or better yet, a veritable host of men. They still would not be, and could not ever be, one flesh.

It is not good for two people to be alone, unless they are man and woman in marriage or preparing for marriage, because marriage is the only human relationship for which exclusivity makes any biological or anthropological sense. Leave sexual action out of it. Why should a man and a woman present themselves as a couple, unless they are married or they are, shall we say, courting, practicing for marriage, and hoping someday to be married? 

Otherwise, what sense can it possibly make for John and Mary to spend so much time in each other’s exclusive company, to set the other as mysteriously “special,” indeed as a powerful discouragement against the forming of friendships generally, or against either his or her falling in love with someone after the ordinary way of nature? Such a John and Mary should not be a couple. Indeed, we may well ask in what sense they can be called a couple at all. Theirs is either a dysfunctional friendship, stifling, consuming, stalling healthy development, or it is a mere notion of the mind, a nothing.

But if they are living with one another and are going to bed together, that is fornication, a falling-short of marriage, or a parody or a betrayal of it. And in no such case may John and Mary ask for a blessing before the congregation, unless they wish publicly to express regret for what they have done and an intent to amend their lives—which will require separate living quarters, immediately; and perhaps also an intent to marry.

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Here we do come to moral evil. There is no reason for an unrelated man and woman to share the same quarters unless they are married. The temptation is great and the occasion of sin is immediate and constant. Two men or two women may well share the same quarters—think of Oscar and Felix, that odd couple of happy memory—but not if they are sexually attracted to one another. That will, again, present a great temptation and an immediate and constant occasion of sin. In both the heterosexual and the homosexual case, there should be no living together.

But if the two do live together, and it is widely known, then when John and Mary or John and Bill present themselves as a couple, sexual action is presumed, as they well know. When you say a word or you make a gesture, you intend the common and presumed meaning of the word or the gesture. In our society, if John and Bill, two grown men, are holding hands, hands are not the only thing they hold, as they know everyone will see, and as they want them to see, because otherwise they would certainly not do so and leave themselves open to such a gross misinterpretation. 

The lesson to everyone who watches the priest bless them as a couple is precisely that that which makes them or purports to make them a couple is also blessed. In the case of John and Mary, you are blessing the fornication; in the case of John and Bill, the sodomy. And that lesson implies that almost nothing of what the Church teaches about sex is to be taken seriously.

Does this conclusion condemn certain people to loneliness? Only if further natural maturation is deemed impossible. The moral law, meanwhile, is good for everyone; but in one respect or another, it will be a “hard saying” for each of us. Nor do we require of it that it provide for each person, in this world, what the world calls happiness—indeed what we may well feel, often mistakenly, as our only hope for happiness.

The Cross may please a saint, but for the rest of us, it is heavy, it chafes the shoulder raw, and we get to hear mainly snickers and jeers as we carry it. But the Cross is true, and it brings life.

That said, I will end by reminding everyone that our abrogation of the principles of sexual morality has brought us a world remarkable for its loneliness and mirthlessness, as we should have expected. This latest loud rattle of that moribund revolution is no shout of joy but the gasp of a self-defeated people. The revolution must be rejected, tout court, for the sake of everyone. The Church must not even appear to give it her approval. A body ridden with gangrene will die unless God should work a miracle; and a miracle is precisely what we now need—not to pretend that sin, of whatever kind, smells like roses.

[Photo: Blessing of same-sex couple at Historic St. Paul Catholic Church, Lexington, KY (Credit: Outreach Magazine)]

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