Near Molong, NSW 2011

Life and Male Friendship 2

 Continuing... The thing is, men don't usually have real friends.  We have 'mates' and acquaintances and members of the team.  But not friends in the real sense of the word.  Intimacy-- the mark of friendship-- is usually excluded from our relationships.

Little girls, as they grown to womanhood, go through stages of bitchiness that are brutal and often despised by  men and boys.  However, that bitchiness is a stage in the development of friendship.  They learn how to be friends and intimate.

Take two couples who have tea together.  By the end of the evening the men will have talked about footy, politics, cars, the stock market... The women, elsewhere in the house, will talk about their children, period problems, coping with their husband, their fear of breast cancer, and getting old.  They may well have wept together and embraced.

The women are friends, the men are mates.

This is so because boys growing up have a physical brutality and cultural bias against intimacy.  As a child I knew, and bitterly experienced, that any sign of weakness (which intimacy inherently involves) would be exploited.  I walled my feelings in.  I did not risk friendship-- it was not to be had.  But of course, I longed for friendship and intimacy.

I gained some as the en-culturated 'ockerism' and brutality of a group of us was over-ridden by awe of the vast Australian bush on our bush walking trips.  Campfires warm the soul of an Australian man in a most unusual way.  Those who would not be seen dead in church, will talk religion around a fire.

This intimacy was not enough, so I took a mate in the other sense.  I married a woman.  Here I found uncomfortable intimacy.  It was uncomfortable because I did not know how to be intimate.  I was a poor listener.  I could feel only a little.  When it came to being a friend, I was a toddler still!

It was real.  It was good.  It is better now, after years of learning.  But it is still unhealthy.

This is because of two unfortunate linkages.  The first is sex.  This friendship is bound up with a deep twenty year sexual relationship.  So like most men I have trouble separating intimacy and sex.  So I am at risk of affairs if I am intimate with a person other than my wife.  I look for intimacy in sex.  And as a typical male I would avoid intimacy with men because of a fear of homosexuality, or being thought homosexual.

Yet it is with men that I need friendship.  This is the other unfortunate linkage.  Male friendship breaks the bondage that comes from having a wife or female partner as our primary (read 'really only') friend.

For not only does sex get confused with intimacy  and friendship, but so does Mother. My first experience of intimacy was Mother, and perhaps this is why I am so breast fixated!  She was primarily my healer when I was brutalised at school.  She provided some balm of intimacy to the wounds of my soul while Dad was still out working.

So I learned at an early age that Mother = Friend = Carer = Woman.  With this I learned that men are absent (i.e. Father), distant, and cruel.

The problem, of course, is that Mother is cruel too.  Some mothers are outright abusive.  But the best of all Mothers held absolute power over us, and got cross, and lost her temper at times.

Two small boys at the beach

Thus there is a great confusion.  When life is hard and stressed, to whom do I relate -- mother, or wife?  We know the boys who "never leave home," even the married ones. When I regress to earlier behaviour in my pain, who am I asking my partner to be- friend, or mother?

And when she is stressed and goes ape and all my insecurities rise up, the fear of angry Mother, and the desire to please Mother, can stop me being a friend for her.  I begin to need her to help me in that stress, when she  was the one calling for help!

The only way out of this loneliness has been to seek friends who are not women.  To become intimate with men.  This I am finding hard.  My whole cultural baggage stands in the way of it.  The fear of friendship struggles against the hatred of loneliness.

I remember from Sunday School days that the disciple whom Jesus loved, lay with his head upon Jesus breast. (John 13:23)  I think that picture of male intimacy (translated out by the NRSV and RSV) sticks in my mind so strongly because it is something we so badly lack.  Even as little boys its oddity struck us.  We asked what it meant... how did Jesus love him? We did not know then what a 'word of god' it was to us about the wounding our culture was inflicting upon us.

The same gospel says Jesus 'came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.'  John 10:10  that picture of male friendship would be one place to start seeking a more abundant life.

October 1999


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