When I first moved to Virginia I knew I needed friends. It was easy to find girls like me.
That’s a rock solid foundation for a friendship: similar interests.
I found a friend, call her Debbie, who loved French class and good tea, talking theology and breaking out of the box in loving Jesus. She cared about organization (have I mentioned that I’m really organized?) and was a true servant.
Seriously, she was always available for me. I cried in her dorm room when I found out some horrible news and I felt comfortable enough to ask for help with my laundry when I was in a pinch.
She was faithful, too. She’d stand up for me and stuck by me when a few other friends badmouthed me.
Sounds like a perfect friend, doesn’t it?
Just when everything seemed to be going peachy, when I would talk to others about how great and stable, faithful and true Debbie was to me, her younger sister came to UVA.
I met and befriended her because I felt a loyally to her, through my friendship to Debbie.
Surprisingly, this angered Debbie. You can hypothesize all you want, you can call it jealousy or possessiveness. You can say I was short-sighted to expect to be friends with both sisters.
Regardless, Debbie confronted and turned on me in a verbal attack I’m glad I’ve mostly forgotten. The words were searing, they took advantage of weaknesses I had revealed and cut me off.
When I prayed and thought and in the end asked for another audience with her, it was as if I was talking to another person. She even mocked me for asking for another chance.
Debbie used our closeness to be cruel. She finished our conversation with warning me away from her sister and set me up for months and months of coldness. Anytime I tried to be warm she cut me off with sarcasm or belittling remarks.
About this time I began analyzing what I thought we had as a friendship.
Was it all my fault?
Could I do something to make things better?
But years later I see what was wrong. As Virginia Woolf says, “Truth had run through my fingers. Every drop had escaped.”
I didn’t realize the truth of two major things.
First, Debbie was quick to meet any need I had, but she couldn’t share a need of her own. She never let me help her. I can’t even imagine her crying on my shoulder or letting me do her laundry. She was needless. This was the first lie in our friendship. Now, I believe Debbie thought other people would judge her if she showed her needs. She, like all of us, believed everyone was judging her as much as she was judging them. In looking back I can see that any time I let her help me, she ended up feeling superior, stronger, more “together”. There is nothing quite so poisonous to a friendship as taking the moral high road.
Debbie could not admit to failing, to being wrong, to needing from me. But, ironically she did need something, she needed me to need her.
Second, Debbie disagreed with the cardinal rule for all my relationships: there is never a good reason to be unkind. Dale taught me that years later, but looking back I can see that it is a principle grounded in the heart of everything good about love. Debbie believed my friendship with her younger sister warranted cruelty. To date she remains one of the most unkind women I’ve been so close to.
Her about-face in how she treated me scared me because I felt as if I was involved with someone who had two personalities. It shocked and sent me on a looping road of what I had done to cause this.
But if there really is never a good reason to be unkind, then I can still ask and expect kindness even if I’ve made a mistake.
Looking back it would be easy to think of the years of being Debbie’s friend as a waste, as time lost with someone I am no longer close to.
But, I feel both sadness and gratitude. Sadness over Debbie and her current friendships (I know she continues to have trouble being close to anyone). Gratitude to God, for working a deeper awareness of love and how to build friendships. Love rejoices in the truth, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13. And I didn’t let the truth about Debbie come into my belief in how great she was.
I know I need to find women who really rejoice in the truth . . . about themselves. I need . . .
1- Friends who will let me help them as well as who will help me.
2- Friends who follow their unkindness with humility and apology.
3- Friends who don’t secretly believe they are better than me. Friends who I feel lucky to be close to and who count themselves lucky to hang out with me.
Good friendships will be natural in one way and hard work in another. But the naturalness will grow and the hard work will feel like a highway going somewhere, not a looping track.
Virginia Woolf described that naturalness well at a dinner party where she beautifully writes about the rich yellow flame of good conversation. ”No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”
What poor foundations have you found in your friendships? Will you share with us so we can build stronger friends for the future?