I spend way too much time looking at fandom posts for my various fictional passions. I love seeing the things other people noticed, especially about the friendships and relationships in the stories. One thing that has been bothering me a lot lately is how often people try and force the idea that any two male characters who share any kind of intimate friendship are, in fact, a romantic pair, or should be. I’m not saying that this is never the author’s plan for these friendships, but I doubt it is the case as often as the fans insist. What worries me about this is that it seems to emphasize the idea that men can’t have a friendship with vulnerability, intimacy, or love unless it is in some way romantic. This is a false view of friendship, and can lead to a dangerous break down of real life male friendship. In Biblical Greek, there were four words for love, each with a different meaning, but each can, and should, be part of our friendships.
Storge: Storge is typically associated with a natural, familial affection, especially like that of parents for children. The desire to protect and comfort each other is a natural aspect of all friendship, and for male friendship, is a key aspect of our brotherhood. We are, in fact, called to be our brother’s keeper. This doesn’t mean we view our brother as weak, but simply that we acknowledge we all need someone to help us carry the load. As the wise, old saying goes, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” Friendship between men basically requires us to have each other’s back.
Philia: Philia is a friendship between equals. This one is, perhaps, the most obvious type of love for a male friendship, as the word appears in the definition itself. It is still worth looking at how we show this love. Often times, we seem to feel a need to try and establish a pecking order in friendships, seeking to be the “alpha” in our group of friends. This isn’t necessarily always a problem, since some personalities naturally tend to initiate and lead while others normally go with the flow, after all. In fact, having loosely defined roles in a friendship can make them more stable. However, we must always remember that we are ultimately brothers, recognizing the dignity and value each of us brings with us into the friendship.
Eros: Eros is often thought of, with its tie to the word “erotic,” as being a largely sexual passion, but it can also be understood as an intimate love. Now, this intimacy with each other should not, obviously, be universal in all of our friendships. How intimate we should be in a friendship is something we only know after a great deal of discernment, and should develop naturally as our friendship grows. This intimate friendship between men doesn’t require romance, but instead, trust and vulnerable honesty. The ability to share our weaknesses and failings, as well as our triumphs, with a brother who has been in the same battles, is crucial to our mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Agape: Agape is the love of God for man and of man for God. St. Thomas Aquinas defined it as willing the good of another. This selfless love is absolutely crucial for a deep, genuine male friendship. This love ought to be the central piece of our friendship with everyone, honestly. It is the cure for use, the idea that another person exists for our sake and for our benefit. In our friendships, it will make sure we recognize them for the gift they are and remind us that we need to be dedicating ourselves to seeking their good.