The Foundation of Marriage: Friendship vs. Eros

To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. ~ C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

As I was battling boredom this afternoon, I decided to get caught up on Boundless. In today’s article, “Making A Good Marriage,” Steven Garber argues that friendship is the best foundation for marriage. The idea certainly isn’t a knew one, but Garber argues it beautifully.

I was committed to trying to be different, to trying for the first time in my young life to enter into friendship with the young women of my life with no other motive than to love them unselfishly. In a word, to be a friend.

That required that I repent of the language that had so skewed my relationships through adolescence, particularly the notion that categorized some girls as “friends” and some as “girlfriends.” They were different kinds of girls; everyone knew that, and never the twain should meet.

Instead, as I tried to think christianly about girls and about friendship, my deepening convictions led me to wonder about the possibility of redeeming friendship, to see what it might be like to believe and behave as if friendship was not second-best, after all. In fact, to act as if it was God’s standard, His expectation, for unmarried men and women whether they were 20 or 60. As I began to question more and more of my cultural assumptions — feeling the tension of living in, but not of the world — I found myself less willing to go along with “the dating game” and all that it implied about exclusivity and intimacy outside of marriage. And for most of five years, I lived like that. Never perfectly, always struggling with and for integrity, yet all along the way learning the virtues of friendship.

What happened between that commitment and the decision five years later to commit myself to one friend, Meg, — now my wife of 22 years — is another story. We never had what would be called a “dating relationship.” […]

Years later, after watching many marriages, good and not-so-good, healthy and not-so-healthy, I am surer than ever that it is friendship that marks marriages that keep on keeping on. Marriage turns out to be a long friendship in the end; surprise of surprises, it is not a long date after all.

As I read Garber’s words, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’ comparison of friendship and eros in The Four Loves:

The co-existence of Friendship and Eros may also help some moderns to realise that Friendship is in reality a love, and even as great a love as Eros. Suppose you are fortnate enough to have “fallen in love with” and married your Friend. And now suppose it possible that you were offered the choice of two futures: “Either you two will cease to be lovers but remain forever joint seekers of the same God, the same beauty, the same truth, or else, losing all that, you will retain as long as you live the raptures and ardours, all the wonder and the wild desire of Eros. Choose which you please.” Which should we choose? Which choice should we not regret after we had made it?

Where Lewis suggests friendship as the best answer, Garber states it explicitly.

There is something about friendship, a redeemed friendship, that makes it possible for those outside of marriage and within marriage to care about the qualities of companionship, camaraderie and collegiality, characteristics that sustain relationships anywhere and everywhere. To put it another way, friendships that are marked by the gospel of the kingdom, formed out of fidelity to a biblically-informed worldview, are ones in which friends care more to serve than to be served. Thinking Christianly about relationships begins, and maybe ends, there.

There are many ways into marriage; each story is unique, including ours. But there is only one way into a good marriage, and that is through the vision and virtues of friendship.

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