This post is devoted to an often underestimated aspect of interpersonal relationships and in particular of gay interpersonal relationships, namely the value and meaning of deep gay friendships.
To introduce the topic, I quote a mail I’ve received by a thirty-two-year-old guy.
“I don’t have a boy, that is, I don’t have a couple story in the sense that this expression commonly has. I have had occasions but it was not exactly what I wanted. Bet just on one person, if things are fine, can lead to happiness, but if things go wrong or just don’t go good as hoped, it leads to long periods of stress when the relationship crises and slowly falls. I have experienced such things a couple of times and, frankly, I don’t intend to repeat it. I don’t know if this is a renunciation, a way to put apart the idea of finding love, but frankly I don’t think so. The myth of the ideal companion of the so-called blue prince does not convince me and frankly I think that my personal well-being depends essentially on me and on what I do more than on another person who should give me happiness, or rather the other person can be important, but if the relationship works, the story must be built together and one cannot expect everything to rain from the sky with the arrival of the blue prince.
At present, as I said, I don’t have a boyfriend, but I have a special friend with whom sometimes there is a bit of sex, but it happens rarely, we are essentially two friends who love each other, who appreciate and respect each other, who understand that they can very well have each one his own live, but first of all we speak clear to each other, we don’t tell lies, and I think it is for this reason that our relationship goes on. Since the last meeting when we had sex, two months passed, in these two months a couple of times we had sex by phone, I know it looks shabby, but it has never been so for us, it’s useful to confirm us in the idea that there is also that kind of interest between us, but I would like to emphasize that it is not for sex that we are, so to speak, together. Our relationship is based on other things, which, viewed from outside, may seem stupid and of no significance, such as our way of communicating security to each other about the fact that we continue to love each other, and above all, to speak clearly. When he felt the need to stay with another guy, he told me it the simplest way. I frankly knew that this fact would not crush our relationship, which went on, for a while without sex, but with the same mutual attentions, with the same emphasis on the idea that we are happy to be together. He has spent a long period of trouble with the university and has lost a couple of years, if I have to tell the truth, this fact has created me many more problems than the fact that he was with another guy, a very serious guy who really loved him. When he came out of the negative period and began to study, he made me know, without much emphasis, that things had changed for the better, because he knew that this would make me immensely happy. I believe that at the base of our relationship there is the certainty that we will continue to love each other, of course without any kind of constraints, but we will certainly continue. I know he will not forget about me and that there will always be our highest sincerity. When I hear him by phone, I really want to close the phone call pointing out that I’m very happy to have spoken with him, and I’m really happy, he is less expansive, but he knows I’ll always be fine with him. In fact, we’ve known each other for 10 years now and our relationship has never really gone into crisis. In short, we are a certainty for each other. I do not know if this means being a couple, in a way we are, but only in a way.”
Another testimony can highlight the central value of the so called small things.
“Dear Project, for me today it’s a beautiful day! A few days ago I had a chance to know a little closer a beautiful guy I knew even before but very superficially. We talked and he somehow surprised me. I asked him if he had a boyfriend and he told me no and added that he wasn’t looking for boyfriend but for something else, that is, he was looking for real friends. I don’t doubt that this answer has cooled my enthusiasm a bit, but then we talked about so many things and I appreciated a lot what he said. We talk many times on skype, we joke, we’re together for hours, but we always say that it’s just a friendship. I find it difficult to consider him just as a friend, for me he is much more, but he insists that we are only friends, although friendship is not at all trivial, certainly there are no sexual prospects but I realize that he in a way loves me really. He told me one thing that made me think a lot: “I’m gay, but I’m just looking for a true friend, you are a very good and affectionate guy, and I’m fond of you but I’m not in love with you, I’m just fine with you” I wondered what’s the difference. Is the difference in having or not having sex? I don’t know what to think. One night he comes under my house unexpectedly and we go for a pizza and then we stay in the car talking, I think we’ll have some sex, but it doesn’t happen, I tell him I’d be expecting it but he answers: “I told you, I’m just looking for a true friend, if you’re not ok with this, you have to tell me clearly.” I think I offended him and probably he wouldn’t call me again, but that’s not the case, after three days he comes another time under my home, I come down to him and he tells me, “Just friends?” and I tell him, “Ok!”
A third interesting testimony comes from a forty-year-old single who created a relationship of friendship with a fifty-year-old single.
“He’s ten years older than me and he did his experiences, but I also had my stories, and as a result we tried to avoid getting together like a couple just dreaming to realize what we hoped for, we chose to stay on low profile things, simple but real. We often call each other on the phone, we often talk about work, because we work in very similar areas, mostly when we feel in times of difficulty and when we need to vent a little. He has problems with his older parents and has to deal with them because he has no brothers or sisters. I see him rarely, I can hear him by phone every day, but we never end up in ritual or repetitive phone calls. We start from work problems and then talk about anything else. Occasionally I propose a pizza, but rarely we can go really to have a pizza because he is bound by the family and then we talk by phone only and sometimes talk just a little. We never talked about the possibility of transforming our relationship into a true couple relationship, first of all because it would not be possible for logistical reasons and then because it is a hypothesis that really does not interest either him or me. We just feel that way. So things work. There is the phone call at least once a day and occasionally there is a pizza, but when there are serious problems we always talk and even for hours. Perhaps it will be an attempt to remedy solitude, but somehow it works and we experience the positive effects of such things. He tells me that he feels quiet now, that he no longer has the feeling of having failed in his life, that he has recovered a prospect for the future so that he will not age completely alone. I tell him I feel comfortable with him, and that’s true. Certainly this was not my dream of so many years ago, but my dream had nothing real, while my friend (I do not even say my companion) really exists and is a fundamental point of reference.”
These three documents, which represent different but not standard ways of experiencing gay affection and sexuality, are quite common situations far beyond what people believe; are actually three different answers to the crisis of the traditional couple model. Relationship models inspired by traditional heterosexual marriage have been in crisis for many years in the same heterosexual field and the attempts to apply them to the homosexual field have proven to be functional in a relatively small percentage of cases: stable and rigidly monogamous homosexual couples exist and in the time of HIV it is certainly not a negative fact, but gays who no longer seek a couple’s relationship of that type are now very numerous. New models are being formed, as the three mails clearly show. Let us now try to understand what is behind these new models.
It is first noted that sexuality is not the determining factor of the relationship, in some cases it is present in a sporadic way, that is, it is not excluded a priori, in others it does not explicitly enter into the relationship and is indeed deliberately kept far away. The basis of these relationships is the affectivity, and the central value is always speaking with the utmost clarity, namely, not hiding anything from your friend-companion. Sexual fidelity is not a founding element, but the honesty in declaring one’s own feelings is it.
Secondly, the absence of formal ties is often stressed: the relationship is totally free, it resists precisely because it is wanted and renewed day by day. Paradoxically, stability stems from the absence of formal ties.
Third, affectivity is cultivated through a series of reciprocal attentions that show an interest to the person of the companion. That interest may be sexual, but it can also be simply affective, it can sometimes result in a love without sex, in a relationship that is an “almost family relationship”.
The apparent internal weakness of such relationships makes them more rare and more stable than almost matrimonial relationships based on sexual fidelity. In other words, in order to create affectivity-based relationships, you have not to conform to models but you must have a certain experience of affective life, but that is why, when these relationships arise, they are the result of a well-meditated choice made by people who have now gone beyond mythical visions of couple’s life.
If you like, you can join the discussion on this post on Gay Project Forum: http://gayprojectforum.altervista.org/T-gays-and-special-friendships