I am pleased to introduce to you my guest blogger, Mary Beth Baker, who blogs over at Life in the Gap (check her out!). She gives us excellent insight and advice about friendships in this post. Thank you, Mary Beth!
To Have a Friend by Mary Beth Baker
I was a very lonely teenager. We were a transient military family, and picking up and moving every two or three years didn’t lend itself well to making lasting friends.
It all came to a head in tenth grade. We’d moved twice in the space of two years, and though I had many acquaintances, I had no real friends. It was the fall of 2001, and the country was reeling from the shock of 9/11, which was about to move my family yet again – this time to Arlington, Virginia. I hardly dared to hope that I’d make friends this time, but I took my fears and laid them at the feet of the Blessed Mother.
At the time it felt like a last-ditch act of desperation. In hindsight, I recognize the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit.
“Look here,” I said, directing my words at the placid face of a statue of Mary in the back of our parish church in New Jersey. “I’m lonely. I’m pathetic. I want friends, and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but I don’t have any. Could you please give me at least one close friend?”
Looking back over the dozen years in between, I’m overcome with Mary’s generosity in answering that prayer. I have had more wonderful friends –men and women – than I can possibly count, and now list a few amazing women among the dearest people in the world to me, aside from my family. But these manifold answers to my little prayer haven’t come without their challenges.
With my close girlfriends in particular, I have learned the truth of C.S. Lewis’ rather harsh words about people who “only want a friend”: “Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers” (The Four Loves).
The biggest hurdle for me in my relationships has always been a deep-seated need to be loved. My own insecurities transmogrify me into this hideous pit of need that threatens to suck the people around me completely dry – like those Progressive “rate-suckers” commercials, only so much less funny.
I think I speak for many single women in this: one of the biggest obstacles to maintaining solid friendships with other women is our own loneliness and our insecurity about being loved – or lovable. We chase romance as an ideal, often leaving our female friends in the dust, only to return when our romances fall to pieces.
We all have some experience of the “BFF,” the Anne of Green Gables-style “bosom friend,” the woman who will always be there for us, to hear our secrets, buoy up our hopes, assuage our hurts, and help us through our insecurities.
Yet how often are these friendships really based on nothing more than our mutual desire to be loved? Women are relational creatures, and the mutual need for relationship can in fact be the starting-point for a wonderful friendship. But too often it ends there, giving rise to neediness – and a lot of needless pain when one or the other ends up in a romantic relationship that fills the need to be loved far better than a girlfriend ever could.
Our friendships with other women have to be based on more than a mutual desire for love, or else they aren’t real friendship. Mutual affection is very nice, but it’s not the same thing.
Gut check: If every coffee date with your girlfriends devolves into a who’s who of the dating scene, or a litany of romantic woes, or a soliloquy on the guy who’s just started texting you, then it might be time to inspect your friendship and see what it’s really “about.” These are good things to talk about with close girlfriends, but they shouldn’t make up the whole relationship.
Recall that after the heady, joyous days of girlish friendship, Anne and Diana devolved into a lot of anger and hurt, especially on Anne’s part, after Diana got engaged. Thankfully, they managed to heal, but it’s an old, painful story that many of us, especially those of us who are still single, know all too well.
At 27 and still quite single, I have been “left behind” by many girlfriends, who have started dating and eventually settled down into married life. It’s a terrible position to be in. On the one hand you’re delighted for your friend, but your heart breaks because you’re “losing” her in a very real sense, sometimes you’re jealous of her happiness, and it can feel like your whole support system has come crashing down around your ears.
Thankfully, the truest friends remain even after they enter a romantic relationship.* Some of my married friends have made it a point to keep our friendship alive, and I’m deeply grateful for that. Yet their marriages have required me to let go of the idol of “our friendship” in order to come to love them the way they deserve to be loved.
It can be an incredibly painful process, learning that friendship is about so much more than “having friends.” It requires letting go of your expectations and moving past your insecurities so you can really love The Other as other – and not as an extension of yourself (think of girls who are glued at the hip) or a support for your times of need.
Friendship can’t be about “having friends” if it’s going to last. That’s what Our Lady has been teaching me bit by bit over the past 12 years. You have to die to yourself in order to be a true friend. The best friends recognize that their friendships aren’t strong because of what they get out of them, but because of what they’re willing to put in. They base their friendships, not in each other or in their longing for friends, but in Christ, the perfect Friend and the goal they’re both striving for.
Mary Beth Baker is a writer and editor in Northern Virginia. She blogs at Life in the Gap.
*To those women who are now happily dating, engaged or married, I make this plea: Don’t forget your single girlfriends. We want to celebrate with you, we’re intensely happy for you, but it’s difficult to share your excitement when you leave us behind. It takes a real effort on your part, but if you have close girlfriends, especially single ones, carve out space for them in your life. A periodic coffee or lunch date here or there, even a quiet afternoon in your home with your children, mean the world to us.
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