My life is in something of a nadir, which elicits an unoriginality in my interests, owing to a horrific development in the life of a friend of mine. Real friendship is something quite rare and very special. Frs. Chadwick and Hunwicke have already put in their two cents, so I thought I would share mine.
The term "Romantic friendship" is largely forgotten today, or only recalled in a re-constructionist setting meant to justify modern homosexual relations. Historically it was not so much the opposite of that, but something entirely un-related. I have a few friendships that in past times, say a century or two centuries ago, would have been called "romantic." A romantic friend is someone who is a friend for the sake of the soul and not the setting. In our day, we often acquire friends because of common personalities, common activities, common workplaces, and the like. Once those circumstances tergiversate, the friendship fades to grey and blackens into a long lost memory. Romantic friendships are rare in history and even rarer today because they delve past the external shells of the person and enjoin people in a very personal way. Romantic friendships are not sexual precisely because they are experientially different from husband-wife love, which reflects the creative love of God and the practical need for friendship to maintain a family. These friendships are vital because they allow us to know other people and for them to know us at the same level of a spouse, but in a way which a spouse cannot. Indeed, the care for one another latent in deep friendship ought to prepare one for the greater, vocational love of marriage.
Romantic friendships usually develop during formative education years, or at least mine did, when people's souls are cracking the egg their parents laid over them. Friends who have little externally in common can become quite close and hew even closer as they share the same growth, ingraining one into another's essential memories of life. Even if that friend disappears, he will remain omnipresent in the survivor's mind, who still recalls the various parts of his life, his schooling, his trips, his triumphs, his defeats. Friendships like these do not require continuous presence, but can be resumed at differing stages of life. I rather think Orson Welles' friendship with Ernest Hemingway was like this, even if one would not call it "romantic" in my use of the term. In these friendships, I have often bought dinner or been given a cigar not because anyone owes the other anything, but rather because we view each other as extensions of parts of ourselves. One such friend furnished me with a very generous number of [real] Cohiba (Cuban, not the American) cigars!
These friendships are often mistaken for homosexual relations because modern society is thoroughly incapable of seeing the world through spiritual eyes instead of material eyes. American neo-puritans cringe at the sight of the human body. During the second Bush's administration the statue of the Spirit of Justice was curtained off because its exposed breast bothered Attorney General John Ashcroft. American liberals, like their European counterparts, cannot fathom friendships beyond in-the-moment encounters nor can they understand sex outside of a casual, existentialist expression. No wonder most modern readers think Charles and Sebastian from my favorite novel, Brideshead Revisited, were gay. Sebastian? Certainly. Charles? Certainly not! They were two people emerging from their molds and whose eyes were not yet stained with the dirt of worldly pursuits. Their friendship ended when Sebastian's mold threatened to re-encase him and Charles' artistic interests partitioned him from the Flytes (Lady Marchmain did not help). The sexual perceptions of this kind of friendship by modern[ist] eyes never fails to amaze me. It was not until I moved to Texas that I discovered that one man touching another (the sort of jovial arm-around-the-shoulder one used to see in photographs) was now perceived as lustful or queer. One wonders if this is because today one's friend from the office is primarily a friend because he works in the office? Or if one's friend from the golf course is primarily a friend because he plays the same eighteen? Is friendship in the more serious, penetrative expression of past times really so obliterated and buried?
My own experience with "romantic" friendships tells me otherwise. I am far from convinced that we live in any sort of renaissance of traditional relationships between persons—far from it. Yet, as the functional view of friendship and the hyper-sexual love relationships pervades, it will become a bore for a concentrate minority that includes myself and many of the people dearest to me, and perhaps even you!
photo credit: Michael Maher