They can be the best of things and the worst of things. As somebody who is single, friendships are massively important to me. All of us need intimacy in our lives. Even if sexual intimacy isn’t biblically permissible for single people, the possibility of emotional intimacy remains. It is why I love talking to people who get me – those who understand my sense of humour, those who know what I am thinking without me having to say anything, and even those who can gently mock some of my eccentricities, such as a tendency to apologise every ten seconds.
All of us need intimacy in our lives.
The good news is that singleness can provide time and opportunities for friendship. I suspect I am still in contact with more people than most of my married friends – especially those with children, who seem to function as full-time chauffeurs carrying offspring to birthday parties, swimming lessons, and other such ‘wonderful’ events.
And yet, if you talk at a deep level to those of us who are gay or same-sex attracted, with most you will probably hit some pain around the theme of friendship. Sometimes, that can be uneven friendships. There can be the appearance that, as somebody single, I need my friends more than they need me, particularly as they can look fairly self-contained within their family unit. That disparity can make me feel somewhat needy, which offends my pride. Alternatively, it is very easy to have unrealistic expectations. Deep down I want a friend who is always around, can be consoling when I’m lonely or stressed, is keen to have fun when I want to relax, and has an ability to read my mind such that they respond perfectly on every occasion. Not surprisingly, that desire tends to result in disappointment or excessive anxiety when, for instance, they don’t respond to a WhatsApp message within five seconds, especially when the blue ticks reveal they have seen it. Often this isn’t particularly sexual – there is no danger of anything inappropriate taking place. But it can leave us bitter or pained that our friends haven’t been all that we wanted them to be.
Are there any useful ways forward? Clearly, giving up on friendship is a bad idea – it really isn’t good for us to be alone. Self-awareness, though, can be useful. I’ve learnt that when a friendship becomes awkward, the probability is that I’ve burdened it with too much expectation rather than that my friend has been useless. That has prevented bitterness creeping in, though it has tended to lead to me apologising repeatedly, which apparently gets mildly irritating.
I’ve discovered over the years that several friends are better than one.
I’ve also discovered over the years that several friends are better than one. It isn’t wise to expect one friend to be everything that I need. In part, that’s because of limited availability and a recognition that different friends contribute to different areas of my life. The person who is good at listening to my problems may not be the best person to relax with whilst watching football.
It is also good to recognise that friendships are best when we are seeking to contribute to them rather than just receive from them. It may be that some of us reading this need to recognise that we have just become demanding rather than consciously listening to our friends talk about their lives and challenges.
But perhaps it is Psalm 146:3 that has helped me most:
‘Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.’
In context, that’s probably a warning not to have too high expectations of governments to sort out our lives. Yet, it takes on an added resonance for many of us. Maybe it is some prince-like figure we are looking for, who will be able to remove all our pains and frustrations? And yet, this verse speaks about the fundamental inability of any human saviour to do that – whether a close friend or even a spouse. They really can’t save us from all our difficulties, not least because they are mortal like us.
The rest of the Psalm tells us where to look. ‘Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God’ (v.5). After all, God alone is ‘the Maker of heaven and earth’ (v.6) and the one who lifts up those who are bowed down (v.8), especially those who have been left lonely in life such as the orphan or widow (v.9). And in Jesus, we have one who has experienced the agonies and challenges of singleness and who draws near by his Spirit.
Some of you reading this may be in the deeply painful position of a friendship that has got confusing. My suggestion is simply this – put that potential prince with all their flaws next to the God who made you and who, with deep compassion, watches over you. Then, in line with Psalm 146, begin to encourage your soul to praise God. With God in his rightful place in our hearts and minds and the limits of human beings clear in our thinking, it is then possible to get back to making friendships one of the best of things.