You see, we grew up believing that everyone has a best friend that will last them from 2nd grade to 92 and then some, but I just don't think that is actually how friendship works. Granted, there may be a very select few people who have one friend like I just described, but looking around, I think they are very few and far between. I think in our minds we have defined the word "friend" as someone who is loyal until they die (or we die first) in every aspect of our lives, who is always there for us, who treats us how we want to be treated and who loves us unconditionally. What a great person that describes! So great, however, that it is non-existent! There is truly only one friend like that, Jesus. The rest are mere imitators and some are not even trying to imitate.
We live in a world where friendship is a badge, and the popularity contest of junior high is on display daily on our social media sites. Facebook lists those who select to be included on your social media page as your "friends." I would venture to say that in this aspect, Twitter and Instagram got this one more correct than Facebook by labeling these people "followers." Let's face it, (I hope this is not a shock to you), but Facebook, and social media in general, is NOT REAL LIFE! Those people are not your friends as much as they are your followers. Some may be your friends, but the majority of them are just your FB labeled "friends" who really just want to know and see what is going on in your life, or who just want to feel connected to others in general. Social media makes it easy to feel involved and connected as long as the light of the screen splashes across your face, but the minute you close that laptop or turn off your phone, that is when the loneliness of real life settles in and that is when real friends are important.
I think one thing social media has done that has hinders real friendships is what I call the Perfect Polly Phenomena. You probably already know exactly what I am talking about by the name, but let me elaborate. When we post on social media, we want people to see us at our best (because many are not our real friends), so we post full make-up and perfect angle selfies, we post the third cake we made that looks pretty because the first two fell apart, we post our kids in matching buffalo plaid and big red bows and smiles (not the snot and tear-stained face of the little girl who just wanted to wear a glitter tutu and red cowboy boots). We post encouraging updates, funny GIFs, humorous memes that poke fun of our own private hell we are going through, but are too scared to put it out there for everyone to see. There's a social stigma of being negative on social media so most people who are hurting will skirt around the issue using quotes or carefully worded statuses or memes and gifs or they ask for prayers, thoughts, and my personal annoyance "good vibes" as a way of begging someone to be a real friend to them in a really tough time, without outright begging. Often these are met with "praying" listed about 25 times and one or two people adding, "do you need anything?" I wonder though, how many truly follow up with prayers, or better yet, actions? I am guilty of this myself, on both ends of the spectrum. I have been the status poster and I have been the commenter, and I would venture to say that friendships are neither created nor strengthened by either. The person needing friendship may feel better momentarily, and then the screen light fades; it just doesn't last.
Another thing that prohibits the fairy tale friendship idea is that being in a friendship is purely a continual choice. Unlike marriage, there is no legal binding contract for friendship and a person can enter into a friendship with a decision and just as easily leave a friendship; there is no real process required. If you want to have a friendship that lasts until you turn 100, my thinking is that it would have to be treated almost like a marriage. Both people would have to have an understanding or thinking that neither would ever be able to walk away, even when and if they wanted to. Which in our world of social media friends and the "unfriending" being as simple as a click of a button, this type of rare understanding will likely become even more unheard of.
So here are my thoughts on what friendship really is, take it or leave it. I don't think most friendship is designed or intended to be a forever thing; that whole Best Friends Forever stuff, is very misleading! I think friends are for a time and sometimes that same friend is for different times or long times or short times. I have watched my two daughters grow up and even in elementary school, I watched as their circle of friends changed and evolved and some friendships died off, some faded and then rekindled in high school and some just flat out ended. Like me, there were times when they were devastated and clung to the erroneous idea that they would be friends forever. I think back over my life and see the same exact pattern. from elementary, to middle school, to high school, and throughout adulthood.
For way too long, I have blamed myself for not having a BFF. I have convinced myself and said out loud to others that I am just too awkward and not really friendship material to really have a BFF. What a load of hooey! (not sure how you spell that, but you get the idea) I have always been extremely close to my sister, and would say she is probably my best friend, but unlike other friendships, she doesn't have much of a choice; I am always going to be her sister. So that particular friendship, in my mind, didn't count the same. (I have come to realize how precious that friendship is and that not everyone who has a sibling has a friend like I am blessed to have.) I also discounted the friendship I have with my husband, because, "that's different." I even had a pastor say from the pulpit that "your spouse should not be your best friend." He was emphasizing the importance of relationships and friendships and connections with other believers, especially those of the same sex, but the statement made me feel even more inadequate in the friend department. My only two best friends, the only two I knew would be there for me forever, were my husband and my sister, which obviously were not appropriate best friends, so now what? Obviously I was defective in the friend department.
Don't get me wrong, I have had best friends, best girlfriends, even as an adult. These are women who were there for me in times of need, women I talked to often, women I enjoyed hanging out with, laughing with, telling all my dreams, fears and thoughts to. But every single one of those relationships has faded or ended or changed, every single one. And every time I felt that happen, I ached inside and felt a little bit less confident and a little more damaged as far as " friend material" goes. And I know I am not the only one because in the last few weeks, I have talked to several other women who feel the same. These are women I admire, women who are strong and beautiful and funny and kind. These are women who epitomize what others would want in friendship and they too are struggling, just like me!
Then I had a lightbulb moment, a paradigm shift as we say in the educational world: friendship is not necessarily a forever thing, in fact it is not usually a forever thing. Now I do not really like the cheesy, "Here for a season, reason or a lifetime" quote that you see all over facebook, but it has a bit of truth in it. I think most friendships fall in the second category, they are for a reason. I believe God created friendship and the desire of our heart to be connected to others. He is the BFF, the only one who truly is able to live up to the fairy tale definition of a forever friend. He knows that we need physical and emotional connection here on Earth and so we have friends here. Unfortunately we are human and screw it up so much that forever friendships are nearly impossible. What is possible is for us to have very deep and connected relationships, but maybe we need to free ourselves from the idea that they are forever.
I have good friends now. Although, I do not have anyone that I would say right now is my best friend that I love to hang out with (other than family),I do have good friends in different aspects of my life. I have great work friends that I love and talk to even outside of work, but our primary friendship is built around work. Many of us are in different seasons of parenting and marriage and work/teaching is our connecting factor, the reason for our friendship. That doesn't lessen the friendship and I know I could count on them for any number of things if I needed it, it just means that the connecting threads of that friendship would be strained if work was not strongly holding it together. I have had really close work friends in the past that when one of us left the workplace, the friendship intensity faded. My level of caring for them (and vice versa) did not fade, but we just did not see each other, have common things to discuss and lament or plan, and there is something to be said about being in close proximity with someone everyday for 8 hours or more a day. I still call them my friend, but we just are not as close. Some of them, I know we could pick up right where we left off, and some of them it would be really awkward. That is just how it is. It is not because I am not good enough or they are not good enough or anything like that.
I have friends in other aspects of my life too. Social media has connected me to people from high school that I was friends with (or maybe I wasn't, but they seem friendlier now), and there are people throughout my community that I would call friends. I am friends with my hairdresser ( she knows all my secrets), and friends with several cashiers at the grocery store and local department stores. As an educator, I run into former students and parents of current and former students fairly regularly and several of those I would count as a friend. There are friends of my mom that I also consider my friend, there are former employers, parents of my girls' friends, people I've met while speaking at events, and local business owners that I would all call friends. I wouldn't say any are my BFF, but I am blessed with many friends.
I have great church friends too. Church is something that I am intimately involved in and so it makes sense that I develop close relationships there. This one has had some serious ups and downs for me personally. Most recently, we left our longtime church of 37 years to go in a different direction of God's leading. He has given us a wonderful new church home, but we are starting completely over, especially in the friendship department. We attach all the spiritual connotations to things when we relate it to church and friendship is definitely one of those. We think our church friends should be different. They should never be the ones that betray us or hurt us, and yet that very mentality sets us up to be hurt more deeply. We forget they are human and sinful, just like we are, and therefore more than capable of hurting us. We hold them to a higher moral standard and we throw scripture out onto our facebook status about friends being closer than a brother or friends laying their life down as a show of real love. We tend to ignore the scripture about specks and logs in our own eyes and that we have all fallen short (all being the operative word here). I am not saying that we should mend every fallen friendship, trust me, some are better left alone, but I am saying that maybe we would not be quite as hurt if we remembered how flawed we all are. But back to my church friends, I am building up new ones. Like my work friends, these friends are all connected by seeing them regularly and having common goals, plans, thoughts, and interests.
I have many in my past that at one time or another I would have classified as my best friend, but we are now at a different friendship stage. There is my elementary best friend from Nebraska, Heidi. We played "Wonder Twins" on the playground, nearly every day and I remember fighting and not talking to one another, until the next day and then we were besties once again. Through the magic of FB, we have reconnected and although I won't say that we are at that Wonder Twin level any longer, I definitely would still say she is my friend. I have not seen her personally or heard her voice in 40 years probably, so I don't think we can classify the friendship as bff, but I do have a tender spot and great memories and we have talked online a lot and have a great connection still. Then I moved to Texas and at that time, schools in Fort Worth were still in desegregation with students being bused to schools around the city to help diversify them and we moved several times. I went to 5 different schools between 2nd grade and high school so my friends were changing often. I remember Lisa in 2nd grade and then Gila in 3rd. I remember a great group of friends in 5-8. I remember having school friends and softball friends and then friends at church because we went to church in a neighboring town. I even remember in high school having several different close friends, sometimes even dependent on which class I was in. There were college friends and then adult friends.
As I have watched my girls grow, I have seen this same thing. They have had friends in each grade level that were different sometimes than the grade before. They even had different good friends from different classes in high school. Which all got me to thinking, maybe we have it set up all wrong in our mind. Maybe we are setting ourselves up for heartache when we should be looking at this differently. Now I am not talking about those friendships that end drastically with betrayal and intentional hurt- don't cry over those, keep walking. I am talking about those friendships that we lament because they are not the same as they used to be or they have just sort of faded out and even when we try it seems to just not really be the same. Those friendships, we need to celebrate. They were in our lives for a time and gave us memories and a connection that may or may not evolve back into the same friendship.
I think of the stories of the Bible. I am sure the Good Samaritan and the man he helped felt very close and like best friends for the short time that the story depicts. However, my guess is they did not really keep in touch or visit one another after that. There was no real fall out, the friendship was built around a need and meeting that need and once that was done, it faded out. Now if they saw each other again, my guess is that hugs and sweet greetings would happen and they would likely refer to one another as "friend" but they were not that fairy tale BFF like we have built up in our head. Even those that are mentioned as being friends had time periods (likely years) where they just were not as close. Go back and read about Jonathan and David or Paul and Mark; they had disagreements, they even chose different paths sometimes. and eventually the two names are not mentioned together like before. They would probably still refer to one another as "friend" but by all appearances, it is a different level of friendship than it once was.
We need to learn to be confident in who we are. We are not the reason friendships change. Friendships change by design; friendships are not meant to be permanent. If friendships were forever and that longing for relationship and communion and connection was filled, then where would Christ fit? He is the only one who can fill that void of BFF, that fairy tale, permanent friendship of the one who is always there, who can be what you need, when you need it, every single time. When we expect others to do that, we are setting ourselves up for certain heartbreak. We get angry and defensive about friends who do not meet our needs when we need them to. We also let other down, because we live in a world that only portrays the good of life online and we truly do like dealing with the hard times; it is easier to go towards someone in a more fun situation than to help the hurting friend. We are selfish by nature. And sometimes, friendships are built on things that will not last. They may be built around one person helping another, and once that season is over, the friendship fades. They may be built around work or church or sports or a different commonality that once changed, makes the friendship more difficult to maintain at the same level. And occasionally, friendships are built out of selfishness of one (or both) parties and the end is not pretty or easy but inevitable. I have even seen friendships begin then end and later when both have matured, a much better friendship is formed.
So if you are struggling with friendship, know this, you are not alone.
- We all struggle with friendships (even those who make it look like they have 1000 of BFF's who are always at their house and doing fun stuff with them) Friendships do not change because you are screwed up (we are all screwed up), they simply change by design.
- If someone who once called you friend intentionally sets out to hurt you, give that relationship space and yourself time to think through the situation. If you feel you wronged the other person, you need to ask for forgiveness. If you were wronged, you need to search for forgiveness. Entering back into a relationship with that person is something you have to reason out and pray about, not something you should expect of yourself. There are several former friendships that ended with intentional hurts that I forgave the person, but have not felt the desire or need to revisit that friendship. There are a few that I felt compelled to try to mend things with the understanding that things would have to be different than before.
- It is okay for your best friend to be your spouse or your sibling. (they probably should not be your only friend though) You should feel blessed to have relationships like these that you can also call "friend"
- God has given you a desire for relationship and for friends.
- Jesus Christ is the only one who can fill the void for that perfect Best Friend Forever. He is the only one that can meet you where you are, love you unconditionally and meet your needs with grace and kindness. Everyone else will fall short. You have to first understand that and second decide how much "short" you are okay with overlooking so that you can have friendships.
Blessed more than I deserve,