FRIEND, Not "BEST" FRIEND
It was perhaps the most uncomfortable spot I can remember being in,
answering the anxious questions of Carl's parents and his fiancee. Exam
week was just over and tomorrow Carl and I would graduate from university.
I had just emptied a few of Carl's belongings from his dorm room into his
car and driven to his parents' home. Carl [not his real name] would not
attend the graduation exercises. He had just attempted suicide. Although
he had not succeeded in hurting himself, he would receive treatment in a
mental hospital for several weeks.
"Why?" This was the question which his parents and his fiancee now asked
me. "Why did Carl do this? What is the matter?" They felt left in the
dark by the mental health professionals who did not have the liberty to
answer their questions. So they turned to me, his friend. And I knew the
answer to "Why?" And they knew that I knew. But I could not answer them
frankly and candidly either -- at least not here and now. I did let a few
hints drop. I saw Carl's suicide attempt as a cry for help. Carl was to
be married the next month and ....
His father drove me back to campus. On the way we talked. As we neared my
dorm, he finally guessed it: "You don't think Carl is gay, do you?" There
it was, now I must answer: It was his orientation, but not, as far as I
knew, his practice.
It was hard to be Carl's friend. And this was merely the culmination of
four difficult years of being Carl's friend.
We had met at a church youth convention the summer between high school and
university. At the convention, we had been members of a gang of about a
dozen guys and girls. At the beginning of our freshmen year at university,
I met Carl again and we soon become friends. Despite the fact that he was
a commuter, and I a "dormie," we saw quite a lot of each other those first
few weeks of school. After a month or two Carl began to call me his "best"
friend. Soon I learned that he liked to talk a lot about personal
problems. I liked to talk too; I had a lot of answers and advice and I
enjoyed playing the role of a newspaper advice columnist. Actually, I was
pretty naive. Gradually Carl revealed to me that he had struggled in the
past with homosexual temptations, but he had gotten over that. He had
changed, he said. And I believed him.
In the early spring, with a female member of our convention gang, we went
to visit another girl "gang" member at another university. Carl and I were
put up at a friend's house sharing a room. Though no homosexual acts took
place, that night I learned that Carl was not yet over his homosexuality,
as he had told me. And my knowledge of this meant that my problems being
Carl's friend were just beginning.
In my mind, the implications of being Carl's "best" friend suddenly
acquired a whole new, repulsive meaning. I was convinced he looked at me
as a lover, or potential lover, not just as a friend. I was being courted.
Everything we had done together had been a date. My immediate reaction was
anger and rejection: only just now did I realise this. It was time to
break up, immediately, completely, and finally. Carl had been dishonest
with me. This was how I felt at the time. I spoke to him as little as
possible the rest of that weekend and avoided him for the next two weeks.
But we had made elaborate plans for a spring vacation camping trip in just
a few weeks to the Florida beaches along with two friends of mine. I
couldn't back out now without explanations. Maybe I could just grit my
teeth and endure the spring vacation trip and then cut him off. But he
seemed so emotionally dependent on me; he would be devastated if I turned
my back on him completely. But how could I explain to anyone my problem of
being Carl's fiend? Whom could I confide in? What would my girlfriend or
room mate think if they knew? Would they cut me off? What would my
parents say? I can't tell anyone, that would injure Carl and break faith
with him, right? But what if I don't tell anyone and don't cut him off
completely and then sometime later it becomes generally known that he is a
homosexual. Won't people think that I must be gay also? These thoughts
filled my mind. There were risks involved with being Carl's friend.
I wanted to help Carl and be a friend to him, but how could I? I struggled
in prayer over this. The Holy Spirit convicted me that I could not reject
him completely. It was not easy for Jesus to be my friend, either. I
would be a friend, but I could not be his "best" friend. Being "best"
friend meant having no other close friends or else risk jealous hurt and
anger; it meant I was supposed to spend a lot of time with the "best"
friend alone; it meant an emotional attachment that was foreign to all the
normal friendships which I had with other guys. Being "best" friend meant
a homosexual type of relationship even if no sexual activity was involved.
I would remain a friend, but I would have to protect myself somewhat. I
would have to distance myself a little. Carl would have to do things more
with me and my friends, not just with me alone. I would avoid the long
personal problem / psychological / philosophical talks. I didn't have the
answers. I didn't know how to help him other than by just not cutting him
Carl moved into the dorms at the start of our sophomore year. But I was
never to be his room mate -- and I can't recall his ever asking me. I
think he understood I required more distance than that would have allowed.
In the ensuing three years, I periodically would see Carl develop emotional
attachments to other males, suffer some degree of rejection, and go through
times of emotional crisis. At such times especially he would seek me out.
He needed to talk .... right now. I was no longer the self-confident
newspaper advice columnist type answer man. I was more of a sounding
board, a relief-valve. Most of the time I could talk "right now," but not
always. Sometimes I had exams to study for, sometimes I was spending time
with other friends, sometimes I was with my girlfriend. And if I was not
available immediately, I sensed that Carl felt in some measure rejected
again. And yes, I was not always the perfect friend either. I did not
always feel like talking with Carl about the latest crisis. The reality of
his pain I did not doubt, but I often lost hope that there was anything I
could do to really help him. I don't need any extra problems," I sometimes
felt. However, the degree of distance between us now gave me the freedom
to be his friend, to talk with him, occasionally to do things with him and
enjoy the time. There seemed to develop an unspoken understanding between
us of the rules of our friendship: 1) Do not look at me or think of me or
act toward me as if I were a potential lover; 2) If rule #1 is broken, I
will reject you; 3) We have no claim on each other, other than that of an
ordinary Christian friendship. Gradually throughout the course of our last
three years of university he regained my trust.
Although this story (chronologically speaking) ends on the dark note of
Carl's attempted suicide and subsequent stay in the psychiatric hospital, a
better story, I am convinced, begins with these same events. A decade has
passed since that commencement. Carl is now living in a different state,
but we have kept in contact over the years. Once again he is claiming to
be changed from his homosexuality, and one again I am believing him, though
now, with a greater awareness than before that all of us still struggle
with the "old man." Am I being naive again in believing the change to be
real? No. If believing in the Spirit's sanctifying power to change lives
is being naive, then I am naive. But I think even those who doubt the
Spirit's power are able to see a change in Carl. It hasn't happened
overnight, to be sure. But the crises are infrequent and must less severe;
there is less dependency, less emotional attachment to same-sex friends.
Overall Carl seems happier.
And me? Being Carl's friend has helped me to realise that the claims of
"ordinary" Christian friendship are strong: they cannot be easily
dismissed when the going gets rough. Being Carl's friend has shown me
that, although humanly speaking and humanly thinking we may despair, yet
the power of God's grace and providence working in the lives of His people
I share my story in the hope that it will benefit in some way both those
who struggle with homosexuality and those who are their friends.
(name withheld on request)
For further information about homosexuality or about other areas of sexual
brokenness, please contact:
LOVE IN ACTION
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ADELAIDE SA 5001
Phone (08) 371 0446
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