“In order for men and women to have sex with one another, to avoid causing a lot of disruption and wrong action in society, they have to do a lot of difficult things.”
Imagine for a moment a society in which friendship is sacred. Imagine a society in which a friendship, a sacred friendship, means a platonic relationship between fully mature adults in which both people share an abiding concern for the well being of the other, spend time together on a regular basis, and come to know the intimate details of each other’s lives.
Fully mature adults, in this hypothetical, would exclude most young people. In the world of the sacred friendship, most people under thirty would be viewed as neither capable of, nor interested in, a true, sacred friendship. In such a world, the ideal to which a morally upright person would aspire would be the cultivation of a small, close group of friends, beginning at that point in life in which one became capable, emotionally and spiritually, of maintaining a sacred friendship.
In this imaginary world, the casual friendship would be seen as a denigration of the sacred friendship. To hang out with a group of buddies in a pub, and then lose touch with a change in class schedule, only to form new friendships, and so on, would be seen as violating the ideal of the sacred friendship.
And yet, in the world of the sacred friendship, the casual friendship would be tolerated. Sure, there would be the traditionalist who would rail against the casual friendship. But the progressive, forward looking thinkers would always counter with the same argument: Look, nobody here condones casual friendship. But we can’t stop young people from making friends with one another. It’s just a fact of modern life. We should help our young people manage their casual friendships in a way that is least disruptive and harmful, rather than trying to put a stop to these friendships. Because that just doesn’t work.
And so, in our imaginary society in which friendship is sacred, everyone – almost everyone – would in their youth continue to enjoy transient friendships, and share laughter over a pint in a pub, among people with whom they would not keep in touch.
On the surface, this imaginary world would look nearly identical to our own. And yet it would be different. The transient friendship being a denigration of the sacred, the lonely young man seeking friendship would be the subject of much eye rolling and snark. “Oh, he’s just looking for friends. Best of luck with that, pal.”
It would be different because there is a difference between tolerating something and celebrating it. (“Celebrating” isn’t quite the right word, but I can’t think of another.)
The analogy I’ve drawn between casual sexual relations and casual friendships is obviously a very imperfect one. But I think there are enough parallels to make the analogy relevant. When we are young, both sexual experimentation and transient friendships are an important part of our development. And yet sexual experimentation is treated as a frivolity, as something gratuitous, because it is set in opposition to sacred sexuality.
Nietzsche once said that there are certain things that a society says cannot be laughed at. Maybe so. But there also seem to be things our society says we must laugh about. For example, sibling conflicts in childhood, though a source of great pain for many people, must be treated in a humorous, frivolous way. And so too with sexual experimentation in youth. It seems almost mandatory – though perhaps, hopefully, this is changing – for an adult to discuss youthful sexuality in the framework of “stupid things I did when I was a crazy kid.” The corollary to this, for men, is that youthful sexuality (read non-sacred) is stripped of some if its tenderness, and becomes imbued with a kind of moron machismo.
There is an essay in Salon by Tracy Clark-Flory, In defense of casual sex, in which she discusses her distinctly non-sacred approach to sex. Towards the end of her essay, she quotes from Kathy Dobie’s review of “Unhooked”:
“We learn less about intimacy in our youthful sex lives than we do about humanity … Perhaps, this generation, by making sex less precious, less a commodity, will succeed in putting simple humanity back into sex.”
Less precious. Less sacred. Exactly.