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Friendship Isn't a Watered Down Love
Your thoughts on making an idol of marriage
This week, I’m sharing highlights from your discussion on friendship being treated as a second-class relationship. Next week, I’ll share selections from your (very lively!) conversation about reproductive asymmetry.
Claire put together a list of ways friendship is treated as less than romantic relationships:
I think the most significant thing I've seen is that unmarried individuals don't have some special superpower to never be sick or dependent, but outside of religious life there aren't recognized structures for people to give and receive care in friendship on a sustained basis. At my old job, I could take sick leave to care for my sick husband—but not for a sick friend, or to watch my friend's kids while she was sick. It's nearly impossible to add friends to health insurance, and in many areas you might face housing restrictions on living with too many unrelated/unmarried friends. In Maryland, it's illegal for my son's godmother to babysit him in her home a few hours each week if we swap childcare, because the swap is considered “compensation” and she's not related to me by blood, marriage, or legal adoption—the state considers it “unlicensed daycare.”
That last is particularly jarring, as my family starts to consider post-pandemic childcare help. Nothing seems more natural than occasionally pooling children with a few other parent friends. It can feel like relationships are narrowed into a dichotomy: family or professionalized.
Claire went on to make this excellent point:
I think one thing our current vocabulary lacks is a way to talk about something as a unique or particular experience without the lack of it being lesser.
Sophia talked a little about her experience in her own tradition:
Being Baptist, I don't have a tradition that even allows for a form of consecrated virginity at all. It's not good, of course, that for Catholics the religious life is often portrayed as a second-best option, but you do at least get the option. Over here we get told a range of things from "woman's chief end is to get married and have children" (wrong) to "some people have the gift of singleness, temporarily or permanently" which always leaves the assumption that, of those, the temporarily single state will be more normal. You're supposed to be content in your single state until it ends. People (like me) who take this literally and are so happy in our single states that we don't want them to end, become an enigma to everyone else…
Religious celibacy is always a contradiction of the claim that earthly relationships are the highest and most important part of our lives. Even for those not called to this vocation, they offer encouragement that every life can be a life of love and service, regardless of whether you get married or “succeed” in the eyes of the world.
I really appreciated this point by Katie:
I can imagine that sometimes it might take more imagination to love and support your single friends. It's tangibly easier, in some ways, to show up with a gift for a wedding, to make a meal for someone who has just had a baby, or to be the one to make the drive to your friend's house if she has several kids and can't easily get away. We have practical rituals for those things already in place; we know the "script," so to speak. It might take more effort and creativity to show up for someone who doesn't follow these steps in their life, but your single friends will appreciate it.
When we lack this kind of “script,” we can feel like our love has no outlet. One small way to create a script is to be interested in your friend’s birthday, baptism anniversary, or other special days, so you have a regular prompt to make space for your friendship.
I often mark my calendar with prayer reminders for friends when they have an exam, a difficult meeting, or some other obstacle up ahead.
Rosemary, a single, celibate woman said, rightly, “Being lay, single, celibate, and called to live out your apostolate in the world is the default state, the normal thing, and should be regarded that way.” She went on to give a few suggestions of better ways to live out this truth, which included:
Being clear that marriage is a vocation that you are specifically called to, not the basic expectation of adulthood.
Supporting its lay, single members in both finding and living out the apostolate to which each is called. Off the top of my head, one way this could look would be small groups for singles not focused on finding a spouse but instead focused on living out the work God is calling us to by virtue of NOT calling us to married or religious life.
That second recommendation reminds me of beguinages—communities of lay women living together and sharing their life in common. There are a lot of zoning reforms I’d like to see, and one big priority is more room for friends to buy homes where they can share their lives.