Redlining, Part IV of V: Oak and Orchid

So okay, let’s say my and Ryan’s friendship is like that: let’s say it’s made of steel underneath, and the other bits have just got to fall away. What about the eros — does that fall away, too?

Even if the answer is “no”, I’ll take it. What’s the alternative? Drop him because the friendship isn’t worth the price? I complained to somebody once, in the earlier days of my gayness, that it seemed like every time I got close to a guy, this sort of thing would rear its head.1 His advice boiled down to, “Maybe stop getting close to guys, then.” That was the last time I asked him for advice.

That’s not the case, by the way: it doesn’t happen that way with everybody. With some guys, it’s all friendship and no eros. Lord, I love those friendships, they’re like spring, they’re like cool water! And then with some, it’s all eros and no friendship. Yech, no thank you. When the eros evaporates like cheap body spray, there’s nothing left but greasy residue.


And then with some guys it’s clearly a friendship, but with some kind of semi-permanent foreign element, a live-in enemy, something I have to guard against and occasionally struggle against. That’s how it was with Sal, but I refused to feed the eros, until it finally got starved and, I’m pretty sure, dropped away completely. Kind of like rubber band ligation for hemorrhoids.

If Ryan were a priest and I were a single woman, or if he were a nun and I were a bachelor, and we were flat out in love with each other, that would be different. It’d be asking for trouble. The most we could hope for would be to maintain a permanent and painful state of suspension. The relationship would have no possible consummation.

When I say consummation, I mean that moment when a thing becomes what it is, when the truth of the thing breaks out, when the bud opens. Where lovers are concerned, the seed is eros and the fruits are many — marriage, children, diapers I guess, who knows what other mysteries. This is why, the first time a husband and wife have sex, we say that they have consummated the marriage: they’ve taken a concrete and irrevocable step into the domain of marriage, and can now begin to flower in earnest.

But what is the consummation of a friendship? I don’t know if there is one. If marriage is an orchid, with a bud that becomes a blossom, maybe friendship is an oak tree, whose purpose is not so much fruit as it is the deepening of roots, the widening of trunks, the recording of every passing year by adding another ring.

Oaks have acorns, of course, and friendship does have its fruits: things like old inside jokes, maybe. But the point is that the orchid and the oak are different organisms, two different kinds of tihngs. The more the orchid becomes itself, the more it tends towards the blossom; the more the oak becomes itself, the deeper its roots go.

An orchid is supposed to be delicate and voluptuous; but if an oak is delicate and voluptuous, then it’s not a very good oak. What’s good in a friendship, in other words, might be bad in a romantic relationship, and vice versa.

Then this is the question: can the relationship of two men ever be an orchid, or is such a relationship always an oak? If two men think their relationship is an orchid, are they just plain wrong, because that’s impossible? When I fell for S., was I an orchid for real? Or was I just an oak with an identity crisis?

1 Heh.

11 Comments on “Redlining, Part IV of V: Oak and Orchid”

  1. Liz says:

    First time commenting, but — wow. The image of the oak and the orchid is beautiful. Like, C.S. Lewis-level type of analogy. Thank you!

  2. Joe K. says:



  3. Gabriel says:

    Hmm …

    Well, first of all, love the post 😀 . As always.

    I’m not at all sure I can take the view of same-sex eros that you seem to be inclining toward. It is, make no mistake, an exhausting and intimidating experience. I get the sense that all eros is, even when it is consummated in wedlock. But, to take up your analogy, I tend to think — based partly on the history of Western literature and the relationships it embodies as its poetic ideals — that men can grow orchids together (and wow, that sounded even gayer than I was expecting). I suppose it might be a less common thing than oaks; as it seems less common for men and women to grow oaks together than orchids. Or maybe not.

    As far as that whole orchid thing, though, the chief thing I tend to point to, in defining a relationship as erotic, is wonder at the being of the beloved, including the physical being. Something a little like veneration; indeed, it is veneration, and can be made either sacramental (by placing it in the context of the Way of Affirmation, as Dante did with Beatrice), or a rival to faith and a first step into idolatry. I think it very natural but not inevitable for that kind of veneration to include sexual desire — quite apart from whether the lover ever seriously contemplates pursuing sexual union with the beloved. But, taking up that notion of wonder-love, I’d point to everything from Plato’s “Symposium” to “Brideshead Revisited” as containing samples of such love in which the specifically sexual desire is either absent or demoted, and yet remains eros (in my estimation).

    1. JBT says:

      Huh. When I read Brideshead, someone had told me in advance that the main characters had a homosexual relationship, but I forgot all about it and completely missed that element. Then later, after I’d finished the book, I went, “Oh yeah, what about that gay thing Chris was talking about? When did that happen?” And I could see the hints of it in retrospect, but for me personally, it didn’t alter the book in any way. Same thing when my best friend told me he was gay: it did sort of answer a few curiosities I’d had, but it certainly didn’t change anything. Maybe, we… I dunno, this is a notion I haven’t sat down and thought my way through yet, but maybe make too much of the distinctions between “types” of love? I mean, yes, we need to have those categories in place, just as we need concepts like say, the four seasons, for practical usage. But even though we draw an arbitrary line where the equinox makes it suddenly now Spring, that doesn’t mean it might not snow in May from time to time, nor that flowers mightn’t sometimes bloom in March. Sooooo, yeah, I don’t know what that means. Just a thought.

      1. Sarah says:

        See, I had the opposite experience. I am barely a chapter into ‘Brideshead’ and hardly even knew what it was about when I started, let alone that it had a homoerotic element. But from the time that the narrator says something about Sebastian’s eyes being on the tree’s blossoms and his being on Sebastian’s profile, I was like, “Oh. Huh.”

        I think relationships are sometimes– and in my opinion, in the best ones– there is an element of all kinds of different loves. There is a line in C.S. Lewis’ ‘Til We Have Faces’ where the man character speaks about her sister Psyche, and explains the kind of relationship that includes elements of many kinds of love, including the erotic.

        “I wanted to be a wife so that I could have been her real mother. I wanted to be a boy so she could be in love with me. I wanted her to be my full sister instead of my half sister. I wanted her to be a slave so that I could set her free and make her rich.”

        One could argue that this is unhealthy anyway because Orual’s love is rather selfish, as you can see in the last line where she says that she wanted her sister to suffer so that she could redeem her and presumably keep Psyche under onus to her. But the point is, I think that the deeper a relationship is, the more elements are added to it, or the more the lines are blurred between them, and this doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

        I think the erotic element can enter when you love a person so much that you want to be unified as closely with them as possible, and sex just happens to be the closest two people can get. I have felt this way before with people I am not even attracted to, per se. I just love them so much that sex seems like the only way I could properly express that.

        1. Sarah says:

          “There is a line in C.S. Lewis’ ‘Til We Have Faces’ where the main* character[…]” An important distinction for context’s sake. Sorry for the triple post.

        2. Theresa Zoe says:

          “I think the erotic element can enter when you love a person so much that you want to be unified as closely with them as possible, and sex just happens to be the closest two people can get. I have felt this way before with people I am not even attracted to, per se. I just love them so much that sex seems like the only way I could properly express that.”

          This personally explains something I’ve experienced and struggled with. For many, many years I was addicted to masturbation. After being set free from the addiction, I still went through relapses now and again for a few years. Some of the time, a relapse would occur after a great conversation or an enjoyable evening with close friends. Male friends. It was never that I was lusting after them or imagining being with them– it was simply trying desperately for a way to express my deep, non-romantic affection for them. Granted, I chose the disordered way. Praise Jesus (truly) that I don’t experience relapses like that any longer and have found other, much more constructive ways to express my deep love and affection towards my male friends, but I just wanted to say thank you for so clearly defining something I’ve known and dealt with but have not been able to define on my own!

      2. Sarah says:

        But I do really like your analogy of the four seasons, JBT. I think it expresses more succinctly what I mean about the “types” not necessarily being hard-lined, actually.

  4. richard says:


  5. Angela says:

    The Oak and Orchid. What a lovely image. In my humble option, (such as it is) we, men and women are all trees. Yes, all trees, but different sorts of trees, apple trees, oak trees, willow trees, etc. But my theory is, all us trees have budding light in us, and some light is passed down through marriage, and then that marriage trees make more light trees and then the light is shined out that way. Some trees don’t do marriage to another tree, but to God and shine the light that way through their interactions within their parish or religious community of brothers/sisters. Some trees are solitary trees, not completely joining in the marriage or religious community trees, but still their light is wonderful as well. Each tree light bounces off of all the other trees light to then have a wide, deep and diverse grove of light trees that continue to grow and expand throughout all the different tree efforts in their individual lives.

    But back to your post, someday perhaps God willing and blessed you’ll be a orchid oak someday with some lucky lady you love. But for now be the strong oak you are, because with your strength you are helping others. Like me and the others that you help out with your blog. Even if I don’t have SSA much that you post I can completely relate to. It helps to know I’m not the only one who thinks what I think at times. The doubt the unwanted desires, etc, etc. So thank you very much for all that you do.

  6. lori says:

    Long-time reader here, and sometimes when I read your posts (or tweets) you lose me a little, and that is a generational thing; I’m older and miss some of the references you use. Most of the time I am surprised about how universal are the struggles of man (and woman) – I don’t struggle the same way as you do but many of your feelings and worries insights are familiar to my own struggles … kind of “there is nothing new under the sun,” maybe. And sometimes you go deep and offer a wonderful new insight that I will be mulling over for a long time. This is one of those. I am once again blessed by you – thank you.

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