I received many observations on last week’s post, Loneliness of Marriage and most agreed that just being married doesn’t bring happiness. I’m reading Wesley Hill’s book this week, Spiritual Friendship, and he opens by explaining that marriage and friendship have changed over the years.
From centuries ago to at least the early part of the 20th century, marriages were not expected to fulfill every part of a human beings desire to be loved. In ancient times, they were intended to produce children to help in the family business and male heirs would carry on the paternal name and heritage. Marriage was protection for a woman, guaranteeing that she would be cared for financially, even when her husband died and the responsibility transferred to her husband’s family.
It is only recently that the division of labor in a marriage has become blurry. Early 1900’s saw the man as the sole provider in the family who would go off to the field or the factory to earn a living. The woman was responsible for caring for the children, preparing food for the family and the general upkeep of the house. She also was the principle caregiver if other family members were in need such as elderly parents, or widowed aunts.
In those early times, no one expected a husband and wife to be “best friends”, in fact they both had other relationships which they cherished. Men went off to play golf, drink scotch and smoke cigars periodically, and women would have a group for lunches out, as well as visits with other mothers with children in tow. Periodically men were called to war and went off on extended journeys bonding with other men in their military group. Women left at home were often surrounded by family members and friends who helped with the household and sat with them while they waited for their men to return.
The marriage picture changed during WWII when men came back from war, but women remained in the workforce. Marriages and child-bearing are delayed as both men and women have other attractions such as a successful career and a desire to have individual identities before marriage.
Our social norms of the past 50 years are snuffing out old-fashioned friendships. Men are afraid to associate with other men too closely for fear of the label of “homosexual”. Women also may not foster too much closeness to be labelled as “lesbian” although less so then men. Neither group has time for friends as they navigate through complex careers where longevity is no longer assumed, and two incomes are required to support most lifestyles.
Society’s emphasis on sex pervades our friendships as single women are always suspect of trying to “steal” a husband away, and a friendship between even opposite-sex couples where one is married and one is not is always looked at with hidden meaning.
This post leaves unanswered questions for us today:
Is there no longer a need for friendships?
In John 15:13 we read, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.”
So if there is no greater love (not spouse, not family), why have we abandoned friendships?
Is it possible to resurrect spiritual friendships (non-sexual ones) and take the pressure off the marriage bond to fill every need and be everything for another person?
Blessings, my friend,