In some ways it’s like everyone else, and in some ways it’s not.
When I was in college, I fell into a long term sexual-romantic relationship with one of my friends. At the time, I wasn’t “gay” (I was “same-sex attracted”), and we weren’t “dating” (we were “friends”). Our sexual struggles were simply “fallings” into sin, which were resolved by going to confession and by reiterating our commitment to “friendship.” Because I wasn’t “gay,” I didn’t set up the appropriate boundaries, social structures, and conversational and emotional expectations that you would if you found yourself spending all of your time with a romantic partner. And because we weren’t “dating,” we didn’t discuss these things, or even really think we needed to.
Ultimately, that relationship didn’t work. I think that the limitations of our language (especially our language of love and friendship) prevented us from having many conversations and expectations we needed in order to cultivate a healthy and integrated relationship. When he started dating a woman (or I did), the two of us didn’t feel the need to rethink our relationship, because we were “friends.” And she didn’t need to be concerned about my emotions, we seemed to tell ourselves, because we weren’t “gay.”
You can see where this was going. Eventually, he shared the more complicated aspects of our relationship with the girl he’d dated for about a year, and my half-decade relationship with him ended in shambles.
Years later, I decided to just call my next relationship “dating.” “Data collection,” I defined it. Of course, “dating” doesn’t quite get at it culturally. I want to do “the Catholic thing,” and I’m committed to a “plain reading” of the catechism.
But “dating” does open up natural avenues for much-needed conversations. We need to discuss boundaries, expectations, and what this relationship means to us. Rather than falling into the amorphous non-committal adolescent facades of contemporary American friendship, even “bromantic” friendship, we want something more intentional.
And moving in to an intimate intentional relationship with someone is emotionally and socially irresponsible without having, at least on the periphery, a view towards some form of stabilizing commitment. Again, “dating” seems more apt in modern parlance than “friendship.”
Ultimately, I wish I could speak about friendship with the romantic connotations given it, at various times, by Aristotle, Cicero, Aelred, and Newman. And perhaps one day I can. But today I’ll call it “dating.”
In case you’re wondering, it’s going pretty well.
In next week’s blog post, I’ll discuss a few historical-philosophical reasons why I prefer to frame these sorts of relationships in terms of “dating,” “boyfriend,” and “partner,” rather than “friend.”
More on Catholicism and homosexuality here.