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Lately a lot of atheist bloggers have been making fun of Trevin Wax‘s theory that gay sex is bad because men can’t be bros without being mistaken for gay anymore. And to be fair there are a lot of really laughable aspects to his theory: for instance, he seems to believe it is some kind of Inevitable Law of Nature that when one person gets more free someone else gets less free. (Maybe that explains the whole “we’re propping up dictators to protect our freedom” aspect of US foreign policy. America is just trying to hog all the freedom for itself.)

Despite that… well, I kind of agree with him.

Wax is right that many same-sex friendships avoid displays of affection for being thought of as “gay.” Of course, this is the result of homophobia and the fact that far too many people think of “gay” as an insult, not the natural result of gay people being public about their sexual orientation. But then he’s a homophobe clutching at increasingly desperate straws, what do you expect, rational argument?

There are very few ways of expressing affection in American culture that are not instantly read as romantic. “I love you”? Romantic. Snuggling or holding hands? Romantic. Thoughtful little just-because presents? Romantic. Commitment to maintaining your relationship over the long term or even spend your lives together? Romantic. Agonizing about whether to break up with someone, or crying into your ice cream when you fight? Romantic.

So therefore we tend to assume that all really intense friendships are really sexual or romantic. See the idea that men and women can’t be friends, the people who refuse to allow their romantic partners to be friends with people of the same gender as them and, yes, the homophobic fear that being friends with someone of the same gender makes you gay.

American culture makes a lot of really toxic assumptions about friendship. For one thing, we tend to assume that a romantic relationship– even if new and fragile– is always and everywhere more important than a friendship– even if old and deep. Sometimes the friends themselves believe it and end up ditching their friends for a romantic relationship only to return after the inevitable breakup. For another, many people seem to believe that friendship is something that diminishes in importance as you get older. In middle school, your best friend is the most important person in the world, and in college, bros before hos (fistbump); but soon enough prioritizing friendship means you’re a manchild who refuses to grow up, and you wind up forty years old with no friends but your spouse.

I agree with Dean Spade‘s wise words that we need to move towards treating friends more like we treat lovers and lovers more like we treat friends. To have boundaries with and reasonable expectations of our lovers, and to value, commit to, and deeply cherish and invest in our friendships.