Harold Kushner says something in his book, Living a Life that Matters, which I agree with 100%:
“One of the saddest commentaries on American life is that we have made it so hard for men to have male friends.”
He feels that we have taught men to either view other males as rivals or customers, but I believe that homophobia is the primary reason why men can’t have close male friends.
The Victorians preached that men and women could not be friends–not even within marriage. Men and women were both encouraged to turn to members of the same sex for emotional fulfillment.
Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.– Oscar Wilde
Forget the fact that Oscar Wilde was actually gay; here, he is actually expressing the sentiment of the age. Victorians didn’t need Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus to tell them that men and women have completely different ways of thinking and interacting. They not only understood it, they embraced it.
A visit to the Biltmore House proves this through its very architecture. Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt had separate bedrooms, both decorated to their own tastes. Women congregated in the salon after dinner, while men went to the smoking room or billiards room (conveniently located next to one other with an adjoining door).
By all accounts. Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt were very much in love throughout their marriage; their separate apartments was not an indication of their emotional distance. It was just accepted at the time that men needed to spend time with other men and women with other women. He and she were not supposed to be friends, but husband and wife. (Maybe the fact that they had their own personal space and their own sets of friends helped, rather than harmed, their ability to love one another.) Today, however, people are encouraged to treat their spouse as their best friend… which makes it rather difficult when you need to vent about your spouse to a friend who can be both sympathetic and detached.
Historian Stephanie Coontz agrees with me that a growing fear of homosexuality has driven a wedge between same-sex friendships, especially among men:
[In the 1920s] people’s interpretation of physical contact became extraordinarily ‘privatized and sexualized,’ so that all types of touching, kissing, and holding were seen as sexual foreplay rather than accepted as ordinary means of communication that carried different meanings in different contexts… It is not that homosexuality was acceptable before; but now a wider range of behavior opened a person up to being branded as a homosexual… The romantic friendships that had existed among many unmarried men in the nineteenth century were no longer compatible with heterosexual identity.
A blog post on The Art of Manliness says almost the exact same thing:
There are several reasons why men were so damn affectionate with each other back in the day. First, men were free to have affectionate man relationships with each other without fear of being called a “queer” because the concept of homosexuality as we know it today didn’t exist then. America didn’t have the strict straight/gay dichotomy that currently exists. Affectionate feelings weren’t strictly labeled as sexual or platonic. There wasn’t even a name for homosexual sex; instead, it was referred to as “the crime that cannot be spoken.” It wasn’t until the turn of the 19th century that psychologists started analyzing homosexuality. When that happened, men in America started to become much more self-conscious about their relationships with their buds and traded the close embraces for a stiff pat on the back. The man hug was born.
(The author of the post also agrees with Rabbi Kushner that business and social competitiveness also contributed to the dissolving of close emotional bonds between men.)
I know when my books come out, there will be intense finger-pointing and labeling of Anselm and Micah’s relationship. (Look at all the jokes that went around about Sam and Frodo.) Although I’ve been conscious of repeatedly saying or hinting that they’re not gay, the fact that they have such an intense and loving relationship will confuse Americans, who can only understand male relationships as emotionally non-existent or gay; there is no room in the middle for anything else to exist.
Anselm stood, and walked slowly over to Micah. He put his hand behind Micah’s head, pulling him in so their foreheads touched. “Yameh echjahni de naishomeh echahre,” he said quietly, repeating the same words he spoke to Micah nearly five hundred years before: I take you for my brother.
Micah sighed. Anselm knew he had given up before he even said anything. “Imu dod cho, imuo dod omeh yaechmehi dodi,” Micah repeated: Not with flesh, but with blood are we joined.
Anselm tightened his grip on the back of Micah’s neck ever so slightly. “Don’t ever forget that,” he said quietly, his voice barely above a whisper. “I’ve shared my blood with you. I’ve shared my thoughts and feelings with you. We’ve risked everything for one another for the last five hundred years.”
“We ought to be able to share a woman, is what you’re saying,” Micah interrupted.
“If it works out that way.”
Micah sighed, then stepped forward, hugging Anselm. “I love you,” Micah said quietly.
“And I you, naishomeh echahre.”
The current title of my second book, Devotion, is primarily referencing Anselm’s devotion to Micah (although like my other titles, the word applies to more than one character and situation in the book). The opening quote is from the story of Jonathan and David, and is meant to tell the reader that the relationship between Anselm and Micah directly parallels that of Jonathan and David.
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David,
because he loved him as his own soul.
And he stripped himself of his robe and gave it to David,
and his garments also—
even his sword, and his bow, and his belt.
Then Jonathan said unto David,
“Whatsoever thy soul desires, I will do it for thee.”
I Samuel 18:3-4, 20:4
It has only been in the last 50 years or so that people have begun describing David and Jonathan’s relationship as homoerotic or homosexual. To men who have severed in combat, however, the idea that they would give everything to their brothers in arms seems perfectly normal.
I actually based Anselm and Micah’s relationship on accounts from Sam Watkin’s Civil War autobiography, Company Aytch. Sam often speaks with great affection about his friends in the Army. For him, it’s nothing to share a scarce blanket with another man on a cold night. Can you imagine two modern men out in the woods on a cold night with only one blanket between them? Their first thought would be to cut the blanket down the middle and each one take half.
Anselm and Micah, however–like all pre-20th century men–wouldn’t think twice about lying down to together and sharing the blanket.
“Are you going to exchange your double bed for two single beds?” Rose asked Anselm, as she helped him put a set of her old sheets on the bed he had to share with Micah. Having just arrived in the country, he, Micah, and Yitzchak had nothing but a single suitcase of clothes each.
“It is not bothersome to Micah and me. It was once very common to share a bed. We are accustomed to it.”
At that moment, Micah walked in, quite obviously surveying the progress. He grinned devilishly and said something, making Anselm laugh.
Rose looked at Anselm questioningly, hoping he would explain the joke to her.
Anselm looked at her, then looked down, almost embarrassed. “Micah is not fit to be around a lady. I will be sorry when he learns English.”
“Did he say something naughty?” Rose pressed, growing more curious.
“Yes. He made an unseemly comment about sleeping naked.”
“Oh,” Rose said, a little taken aback.
“That also used to be common,” Anselm hurried to explain. “People did not wear clothes to bed a long time ago, even when they shared a bed with another. And most people shared a bed with another—sometimes with several.”
Rose couldn’t help but make a face. “Thank goodness for progress.”
“Yes,” Anselm agreed, although he did not really seem to care one way or the other. “Everything is more separate now.”
Although social customs regarding friendships have changed, Anselm and Micah have refused to go along with it. (And why should they? Their relationship was perfectly fine and normal for 430 years, and would probably not arouse suspicion in other countries, even today.)
As Micah flowed through the security gate with the rest of the disembarking crowd, he saw Anselm standing quietly nearby, watching for him.
“Naishomeh,” Anselm said quietly, opening his arms to Micah.
Micah dropped his bag and hugged Anselm tightly. Micah could feel the bewildered and disapproving stares of the humans passing by, but he didn’t care; it wasn’t any of their business.
“I’ve missed you,” Anselm said in a low voice, in Cainite.
“As I’ve missed you,” Micah replied.
So why do Anselm and Micah so openly show their love for one another, when I know people will be quick to label them as homosexuals?
For one, it’s historically-accurate. Anselm and Micah’s relationship should seem old-fashioned because it is old-fashioned.It’s appropriate for the time and place where it was formed.
Secondly, it’s psychologically-accurate. I don’t think it’s possible for two people to spend so many years together, plus go through war together, and not have this kind of bond.
And thirdly, I like me some bromance. (The fact that such a word has entered American slang gives me hope that maybe Americans will come to accept more loving relationships between men.) I like to see men hug–not a stiff-armed man-hug, but a real, “I love you, brother” kind of hug.
Why do I like watching two straight men hug? I have no idea. But I do feel pity for men who can’t develop a real emotional connection with another man, and/or doesn’t feel free to express it.
Physical contact is necessary for all humans (otherwise you might end up talking to a volleyball). It’s truly unfortunate that our society tries to label all physical contact as sexual, when that’s not true of our species or any other. No one accuses two male cats of being gay if they are lying together in a heap.
How twisted and perverted has our society become when we sexual everything–from children to same-sex friendships? We can’t even advertise web hosting without having half-naked women in the picture (yes, I’m condemning you, GoDaddy.com).
Is it any wonder people don’t know how to have a good relationship with either their friends or their spouses? We no longer have any sense of normal. Everything has been reduced to sex, and if we don’t want sex, then we are denied all physical contact. And in the absence of nonsexual physical contact, it becomes difficult to build close emotional bonds with others.
And maybe that’s why I like to see two men hug: it’s normal and healthy.
“There is a kind of holiness in true friendship, because it does for us what organized religion tries to do, to make sure that we are never alone when we desperately need to not be alone.” – Rabbi Harold Kushner
“God is not found in people; God is found between people.” – Martin Buber