Thursday, October 18, 2012

Intimacy vs. Friendship

Back in my days with director Jiman H. Duncan, one of his "actor exercises" was to cultivate a kind of "intimacy" within the troupe.  At some point during each rehearsal, we would sit in a circle and share.  The goal was to share the deepest and most vulnerable parts of our emotions, to bear our souls in a kind of group therapy session so that we could be free with our emotions on stage.

I was about 19 or 20 at the time, and I thought that these were the most amazing encounters I had ever had.  The acting troupe grew very close and I thought these people were my best friends.  It was an intimacy that I relished.  I could be myself around them, and we grew to know each other almost as well as we knew our own families.

Then Duncan left for Boston and the truth came out. 

One of the actors tried to take over as director, and we suddenly spent all our time bickering and forming factions.  The troupe broke up and we never saw each other again.  It turns out that none of these people was my friend, except for Bill, and he had been my friend from outside of the troupe and away from rehearsals.

Does this mean the intimacy was false?  No, it means the intimacy was real and the friendship was false.


A few years later I had what I call my summer of "emphatic love".  I started dating a college student who was "sensitive".  She was a poet who had a thing for the writer Annie Dillard - Dillard being a naturalist lady-Thoreau, only less insightful and more bitchy - and she (my girlfriend) was also a kind of Hitler-youth, the first lover of Nietzsche I had ever known and very much like the Ayn Rand-ites who are with us today: she hungered for the superman, or at least for a devil-may-care Randian architect who would tear off his shirt and have his way with her.  In short, she was pretty messed up.  But so was I.  So we had something in common.

We became utterly emphatically and vehemently intimate - sexually, spiritually and psychologically. 

But we finally broke up and it became apparent that we never really liked each other.

The intimacy was real but the friendship was false.


Later, I had a long-lasting relationship with a very spiritually sensitive and intelligent young woman, who was not at all messed up, and our intimacy - which was never physical - was quite profound in other ways.

I made the mistake of thinking we were friends.  But when push came to shove and the chips were down, I learned the lesson once more - the intimacy was real but the friendship was false
For one thing, she bolted when things became inconvenient.  For another, she showed no interest whatsoever in exercising what I eventually saw was the most important element of the love of friends - sacrifice.  Florid language and spiritual communion were fine and dandy; the mess of being a friend in need when things "got real", when they were gritty and messy, was quite another.


And I'm sorry to say that when it comes to physical intimacy - i.e., fornication - I cannot recall the names of any but a few of the women I used and who used me - in those old days when I was a single atheist and it all seemed like fun - a kind of empty, hollow fun.  But fun.


And I've said before that all of the friends I had before my conversion I lost once I became Catholic and serious about it.  I was more "intimate" with some of these friends than with others - but they were all friends, in that we all cared for one another and were willing to put ourselves out for one another - to make sacrifices out of love.  That none of these friendships survived the Catholic Church does not mean that the friendships were false; but it does mean that they could not stand the strain of my becoming such an utterly different person.


And then there's my wife.

A woman who will tell me the truth even if she knows I'll scream at her for it.  A woman who sees right through me and who knows me better than anyone and who would simply die for me if I needed her to.  We are intimate; we are friends; I am blessed.


This is all so fantastic.  Do you see that?  This incredible gift of love - the love of friends, the love of spouses - this utterly supernatural thing that we abuse so often: it may accompany intimacy or it may not.  We may know our co-worker in the next cubicle "intimately", better than we know our children, but we may have no concern for him or her in the slightest.  We may know (in the biblical sense) the girl we're sleeping with this month, with whom we're sharing physical "intimacy", but we certainly don't want her staying until morning.  We may enter into an artificial or contrived "intimacy" with fellow actors or poets in rehearsal therapy sessions, or with fellow super-Catholics or lit majors who share our religious delights, but if we really don't give a crap about the other - well, then, it's just not friendship, and it's just not love.

What an amazing and intricate web this gift of life is!


Mark S. Abeln said...

Interesting, and painful.

Boethius says that when Lady Fortune removes her favor from you, she leaves you with your true friends, which is of inestimable value.

A friend recommends reading Cicero on the topic of friendship, which proved to be influential with great theologians in the Church.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Thanks, Mark. And then there's "Timon of Athens", one of Shakespeare's "problem plays", that's all about the shallowness of most friendships and how the hero, once abandoned by Lady Fortune is suddenly abandoned by his false friends. Good looking rich guys are popular; Job somewhat less so.

Timon then becomes a literal "cynic", living with the dogs and renouncing humanity.

I'm tempted to re-read "Timon of Athens", but I may end up being just as tempted to move into the dog house and rail at passers-by.

Then again, not bad if you can get the work.

Anonymous said...

It is so true the words in this blog. You provide solid answers for people who have been through at least one of the cycles you described like myself.


richard said...

I would add: Friendship freely given and freely accepted.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful insight. I wish I would have understood this prior to my marriage. At it's dissolution, I realized that although I was intimate with my wife and felt that we were friends, she never displayed the characteristics of a friend that you describe.
As I became Catholic the scales fell from my eyes and the truth came out in utterly painful ways. I pray that any couples entering into the sacrament of marriage learn to be true friends.