Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Fear of Friendship

“If you don’t have three to five good friends in your life, I mean women you are really talking to, that needs to be your number one priority right now.”

Those words felt like they hit me hard in the middle of my chest. They came from Sandi Patty, who was speaking to thousands of women from the stage at a Women of Faith Conference in 2009. I was sitting by myself, having been given the ticket by a new coworker who wasn’t able to attend the Friday session. I didn’t have five friends. I didn’t even have three friends.

I had many acquaintances, after all, I go to a large church. But people that I could say I’m “really talking to”? There was only one. And if I’m honest with myself, I don’t know that I was “really” talking to her. She was talking to me, but I didn’t share as much with her as I should have. There was so much I was afraid to let anyone know. I’ve known her for 15 years, and I was still afraid that she would reject me if she knew what a mess my life really was. It was completely unreasonable to believe that, because I don’t do that to other people, but my fear is rarely rational.

When I was a little girl, a friend was someone to play Wonder Woman with, run away from the boys with, and stay up too late at sleepovers with. All you really have to do to be friends with someone is be about the same age and know how to play nice. Occasional fighting over toys aside, making and being friends is uncomplicated.

Over the years, though, something happened. Making friends became scary. Keeping them became hard. I’m not really sure what it was that changed things for me. I’m sure that moving around a lot during my childhood had something to do with it, but many people grow up that way and still manage to keep friends.

I had friends all through my elementary school years, and a best friend in middle school and high school, until my family moved from Oregon to Southern California in the middle of my Junior year. After that, I struggled. There were a few people I would “hang out” with or go see a movie with, but I had a hard time finding anyone that I could really connect with. My college years didn’t produce lasting friendships, either, other than my husband.

After I got married, making friends kind of stopped being a priority. I had this idea that all I really should need was my husband, so I looked to him to fill all my emotional needs. Unfortunately, that didn’t work too well for me. My husband is great, but there are certain things he doesn’t get. Girl things, like hormonal mood swings, chick flicks, decorative towels in the bathroom (as in why they should be there, but you don’t actually use them), or how miserable shopping for a new swimsuit is. He didn’t get that sometimes I needed to just talk things out, even if there wasn’t a way to solve the problem. At the time, I didn’t even know that the reason we had such a hard time communicating about anything serious was because I just needed to talk about it and he would get frustrated that he couldn’t solve the issue for me.

I know that I can talk a problem to death, but the thing is that even if there isn’t a solution, sometimes I can’t relax and accept it until I have expressed all the thoughts running around my head about it. That’s what great girlfriends are for. Husbands can learn to go through this process with us, but it doesn’t come naturally and they usually still struggle with the need to fix the problem.

After we had been married a few years, I tried to make friends with the girlfriends of some of my husband’s friends, but that resulted in a couple of disastrous situations that had me doubting my ability to be friends with other women at all. After that, I did what seems to be my defense mechanism after I have been hurt: I isolated myself. I convinced myself that nobody would want to be friends with me anyway, so I should just stop trying. I had my husband, my mom, my sister and my aunt, and that was all I needed.

The problem with this solution was that it wasn’t a solution at all. It just intensified the depth of my loneliness. It might have been different if my extended family lived near me, but my sister and my aunt were three hours away (in different directions) and my mom was four hours away. That distance makes it hard to meet up for a chat when you need someone to talk to or if just don’t want to face the fitting room at the mall without some moral support.

That weekend, at the Women of Faith Conference, I heard from at least three of the speakers the message that we need good friends. I started to get the point that God was trying to tell me something. I started praying for friends after that. I also started trying to find ways to connect with other women. It’s been a long, slow process, but I now have a few women in my life that I really trust. God has been faithful in bringing me ladies that are trustworthy and love me in spite of how sort of contradictory I can be.

When I started trying to be open with people, I was really cautious about what I shared and who I shared with. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because you don’t want to dump all your dirty laundry on someone you don’t know very well and end up with it being spread all over the church (or school, or whatever community you are a part of). But when I found someone I thought I could trust, it was like a flood gate opened. Suddenly all I wanted to do was hold on to this person and tell her all the stuff I had been going through that I hadn’t told anyone before. It was so nice to stop hiding my struggles and my pain that, looking back on it, I think I bombarded her. I thank God that she was strong enough to handle it and not get scared away.

Sometimes, after she and I had stayed out too late at the coffee shop and I had told her more than I intended to say, I would question myself and decide that I needed to stop dumping on her. Then I would kind of clam up for a while because I was afraid of how needy I felt and how needy I feared she thought I was. That didn’t last long, because I desperately needed someone to talk to, so after a while the flood gates would open again. Building a friendship with her was scary for me because I was making myself vulnerable and I knew that if she rejected me, it would really, really hurt. I knew, though, that I had to risk it, because being isolated hurt more.

We’ve been friends now for about four years and we’ve walked together through some tough life events. We’ve gone through job losses, family health scares, crises of faith and parenting challenges. Because of her, I have been relearning what it means to have a friend and how to be a friend. I learned that I can be who I am (not who I think I’m expected to be) and people will still care about me. I learned that I can admit that I’m not a very good housekeeper, and a true friend won’t judge me for it (or at least won‘t say anything about it J ). I’m now developing more new friendships and my confidence in myself and what I have to offer as a friend is growing.

I still have insecurities about it. I worry too much about what other people think about me. I over think relationships and read too much into conversations and off-handed comments sometimes. God has been showing me, though, that who I am, who he created me to be, is just fine, and if anyone decides that they just don’t like me, that’s not my problem. It’s theirs.

I believe that we all need special people in our lives that will hug us when we are hurting, tell us the truth when we need to hear it, encourage us to never give up and celebrate with us in our wonderful moments. We also need to be there for other people for all those same reasons. We need friends, but other people need us to be their friend, too. Other people feel isolated and lonely too. Sometimes, they’ve been there so long, that they are afraid to risk trusting someone not to hurt them.

So, here’s my question to you: Do you have good friends in your life? If your world were to fall apart today and something unthinkable were to happen, do you have someone you can call who will be there to walk through it with you? If not, can you at least begin to think about trying to develop those kind of relationships?

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

     Ecclesiastes 4:10

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