So far, in our Tough Cookie Series we have taken a look at The Demanding Friend, The Unaware Friend, The Disappearing Friend and The Unforgiving Friend, The Guilting Friend. We’ll close with the Confusing Friend.
With the Olympics these last few weeks I’ve noticed how meaningful each country’s anthem, played in their language, feels to the gold medalist. They suddenly hear their language, unique and special to their identity.
In friendship, we all speak a language unique to us. And our family of origin or our spouse know it better than anyone else. The key to good friendships is finding someone who wants to learn our language. And I’m not just talking about love language, I’m talking about the specific words we use that mean something nuanced to me or you.
When my husband and I find our son with a tummy ache, our first response is, “I’m sorry.” This is our family’s way of saying “I’m sad you are in pain. I wish I could make it better.”
But that’s just our family. When our babysitter hangs out with our son, she was intrigued that a two year old is so quick to say, “I’m sorry.” She’s surprised that he tells her, “I’m sorry,” when she scratches her arm on the hike.
She and most of the world use “I’m sorry,” to communicate personal responsibility in the pain. But in our family it means something different.
This doesn’t mean that the way we use, “I’m sorry” is the right way. It is simply our shorthand to empathize.
We all have ways to communicate unique to us, our language. But to others this dialect can feel confusing.
The longer you walk with a close friend the more chances you’ll have to face their confusing side.
We communicate one thing, but our friend hears something else. The only way out of confusing-ness is to learn how to communicate, not necessarily better, but more appropriately. Friendship is nothing if not learning another language.
Each friendship gives us new ways to communicate. In the end we’ll both know another language.
Friendship is one way immersion. Each friendship is a two-way language course, with new confusing ways of communication crossing and hopefully forcing each of us to stop and evaluate how to communicate better. We’ll both leave changed, not just one of us.
If your friend requires you to do all the language learning and has not learned your ways of communicating, guess what?
You’re being treated as a foreigner in your friend’s country with no emotional culture or language to share. Instead you need to be acting as two sojourners traveling to each other’s countries.
Sometimes it’s easier to spot these foreigner friends in other situations than in our friendships. You see the mother who requires her child to fit into her life from food to bedtime to travel. She makes no accommodation for her child’s sleep schedule or eating needs. The child’s language is being erased by the mother’s. Or you see the mother who terminates all her work, interests and outside-the-home hobbies for her child. She forgets what used to make her feel alive, she stops having friendships outside of her children’s friend’s parents. She loses her own language for her child’s.
Both mothers are losing something precious.
The same with friendships. We each have friends who have required that we learn their language. The question that is key is how have your friends learned yours? How have you asked them to change their communication for your needs?
If your friend asks you to text her back immediately to show you care, how have you (say you’re an introvert) explained that you feel close when your friend doesn’t expect to see you each week. How has your friend learned your language enough to respect and speak your language (maybe an email instead of demanding a get-together each week).
Confusing friends are normal, but one-way confusion leads, inevitably, to an imperialistic relationship. We don’t want to be the colony that our friend takes over and remakes her image. We all need to know that our language, even if it at first feels like confusing communication, is cared about enough for someone to learn our native tongue.
But if you find yourself learning lots of new languages with your friends, but not seeing your friend’s learning your language… it’s time to find a better friends.
Good friends want to know how to speak with you, in your language. And they will make the effort to keep trying, even if their pronunciation is off and their grammar silly.
They will try because they think you are worth it.