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Archive for the ‘confession’ Category

Let me tell you about a wicked cake.

We all want to make a great layered cake of friendship, but another rising concoction threatens our time and our love in friendships.

What goes into a frenemy relationship?

Terri Apter, co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships writes that “among female friends there is: a wish to offer support and see a friend thrive, on the one hand, and a fear of being left behind or out-shone, on the other.”

Women have love and unkindness mixed into every friendship.  Unkindness fueled by envy or insecurity.

Mix envy into kindness for a friend and you have a frenemy cake. This concoction happens almost spontaneously, rarely intentionally, always insidiously.  As Sally explained in A Gossipy Fine Line, frenemy behavior can be as easy as gossip.

Frenemy in Training

I see the frenemy cake rising in myself.

I come home after a long day spending time with a woman I don’t like. Actually she doesn’t like me, stinging me with little snippy comments, like nettles in my soul.  I hate being insulted without being able to put my finger on the exact insult. Women do that well, smooth as cream even when they’re working against you.

I loathed this woman more each moment I spent with her, wanting to not care, but caring deeply about what she thought of me.

I see layer one rising: insecurity.

I was bound by obligation to remain with her and yet longed to pull out my bag of thistles and give her a taste of my needles.  The battle I fought to not lash out left me mostly silent, often despondent and as my husband told me afterwards, looking like I was trying too hard.

Darn it all!  Why did I even bother trying to be nice when it feels like a losing battle?

Layer two rising on top: disgust with both myself and this “friend.”

So in the evening hours I took refuge in my hotel room with my books and music, my notebook full of observations for a writing project and a bag of cherries soothing my pin-pricked emotions.

I feel all the distaste for my own sex as I check emails, update on blogs, spend time lingering on friend’s updates thinking of things that are too embarrassing to admit.

Unkind things toward those I call friends.

Surely, not ME

Perhaps because I was hoping to outgrow it, I didn’t pay  much close attention to this spongy cake.

But now I’m sure, whenever I’m feeling insecure about who I am, frenemy cake is cooking in the oven.

One way to melt the power of frenemia, to resist the temptation to make my cake and eat it, too, is to throw open the door on the reality in my soul.  If you haven’t faced the frenemy in you, I can guarantee it looks a lot worse than you first expect. And like most messes I’m afraid it’s going to look a lot worse before it’s going to look better.

Confession

As I’ve written (I’m Worse, You’re Better), confession is all about owning things.

Confession is a lost practice.  We rarely do it, or do it only generally (“Yea, I gossip, sometimes).

Confession is like diving naked into a pool, it feels cold and stunning and in the end almost too good to be true.

One reason I follow Jesus is because he came for sick people he wanted to make clean.  As long as I remain convinced that I need to be cleaned up, every day, again and again, I can be a Christ follower.  Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

In one account of Jesus life I found this: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:

‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said,

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ (Luke 18:9-13).

Jesus praised the tax collector.

When I admit I’m insecure and unkind to friends, Jesus is right at my elbow, cheering me onward into honesty.

Like a woman who confessed at a recent retreat “Lord, forgive me for my one-upmanship”, we all can agree we have that problem, too.

Take a moment and consider what provokes you to cook up a frenemy cake in your soul.

What’s your first layer of insecurity?

Your second layer of unkindness?

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Earlier in my marriage Dale and I would find ourselves fencing along the same corridor.  We still have arguments that sound like same song, second verse.

The surface features change, we’re disagreeing about how often the living room should be picked up instead of when the bathroom needs to be cleaned, but the root cause is the same. So is the outcome.

Dale feels misunderstood, because I assume he’s trying to hurt me.

I feel annoyed and un-listened to because he’s assumed the requests aren’t top priority.

I’ll be full steaming ahead to make a really good point, when Dale will stop and say,

Do you think I would have done that, said that, meant that, to hurt you?

Ohhhh, yea.

My husband is not the kind of person who would hurt me, not on purpose.

It’s been years since Dale’s introduced this pause into our arguments, but only recently my therapist put it more clearly, “First of all,” she said, “Remember that you’ve married a wonderful person.”

True and easy to agree with most days.

But in the fiery frustration of the moment it’s much easier to assume he left the papers out because he knew it would bother me.  I mean, why else would he do it?!

To believe the worst, to imagine he’s plotting to annoy me, to think the most incriminating backstory, to fail to offer Dale the benefit of the doubt comes easily to me. It’s the rut I fall into most naturally.

But the times I’ve told him, “Okay, I know you would never do this intentionally to hurt me, but I was wondering (insert request here),” our conversation burst with mutual understanding and even a few grins thrown in.

Now, how does my friendship with Dale apply to girlfriends?

I wish I could say this lesson is easily applicable to girl friends. But I’ve known girls who hurt their friends on purpose: the longtime friend who snubs you at the reunion, the sister who pokes the sore topic, the colleague who drops casual hints that prove her higher pay grade. I once told a friend, “What you said really hurt me!”

“Good!” she returned.  I was completely baffled at her outright animosity.  Later, I learned she had felt hurt by me (unintentionally, but still) and was returning in-kind.

Girls do know how to hurt on purpose.  But I don’t think good friends sow seeds of malicious hurt. In fact this might be a good way to distinguish a good friend from a frenemy. If they hurt me I can bank on them doing it unintentionally.  For instance, I’ve had long time, safe friends confront me. They’ve hurt me, but not on purpose.  Their loving, humble, careful approach in asking me to consider something, with freedom and openness to hear my side speaks louder than my hurt.

Girl friends that I will keep near me do not hurt on purpose.

A few months ago a childhood friend, call her Lavinia, told her husband about a personal failing (PF) I shared in confidence.  Her husband, unaware of the secrecy of the PF relayed the story to a mutual friend, who I’d rather not know about my PF.

The day Lavinia realized what she had done, she called me.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, “What can I do to remedy this situation?”

Taking a cue from arguments with Dale, I had to ask myself questions:

  • Was Lavinia trying to hurt me?
  • Did this harm my ability to trust Lavinia in the future?
  • Was this a pattern of Lavinia’s in the past?

To each question I had to answer no.

Lavinia is a wonderful friend, someone whose heart is true, who is for me. Someone I can gladly extend the benefit of the doubt.

So I told her so, “I know you didn’t do this to hurt me or make me look bad.  Thank you for telling me what happened, for wanting to make amends.  But it’s okay.  I don’t see this as a make or break moment in our friendship.”

I could hear her sigh of relief into the phone.  After we chatted for a few more minutes I hung up and thought about how Dale had offered me the training wheels to easily coast into this moment.

I hopped off the chair to go find him and give that wonderful guy a big hug.

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I’ve always had a thing for guys with freckles, brown hair, blue eyes.   It wasn’t a phase. I married a guy with freckles, brown hair and blue eyes.

But back in grade school, Colin Benner (not his real name) had all three, a fact that was not lost on me.  I nursed a crush on him in secret from second until fifth grade.

Dale with baby Finn (who also has dark hair and blue eyes, no freckles, yet)

One afternoon in the Spring, Natasha Brown (also not her real name) came over to my house to play.  She and I lay on the large green hill in our front yard, inhaling the eucalyptus air and telling secrets.  I don’t think she asked me right away, but soon enough she said,

“Jonalyn, who do you like?” she asked.  I sat up, very serious and looked into her blue eyes, round as buttons, full of interest and attention.

“You cannot tell anyone!” I said. “Do you promise? You won’t tell anyone, especially him?”

“Oh, of course not, I would’t do that.” She was sitting up now, too. “I promise!”

“Okay.” And I reluctantly told her.

The shock of disclosing my crush left me feel exposed. I can’t remember anything else we said. I know I felt both closer to Natasha and more at her mercy, sort of like she held a power over me that could make us better friends.

The very next day, during P.E. our class ran the mile.  I noticed that while I was pushing myself ahead to get my best time, Natasha had paired up with Colin for the entire run.  That bothered me, more and more as I noticed Natasha never once looked at me as we passed each other. Those two ran side by side, preoccupied with talking.  I began to pray Natasha would remember her promise.

During dismissal, where we all stood in the box marked for fourth grade waiting for our parents, I hoped for the miracle of my mother arriving on time, even early.

Waiting an interminable amount of time, I watched Colin walk out and instead of standing with his tribe of guys, he walked up to me. Perhaps you will remember how in fourth grade you can crush on a guy for years without ever having talked with him.  As he approached me I began to tremble.

Colin asked, not unkindly, but with chutzpah that undid all my composure,

“Jonalyn, do you have a crush on me?”  No prefatory remarks, no “Hey, how did you do on your mile?”

Straight for the heart.

I was horrified, embarrassed, disgusted all at once.  All my anger surged at Natasha.  How could she? How could she totally sucker me in and then lie to me?

I remember responding with one inadequate word, “NOOOO!” my face beet red, my emphatic answer betrayed by my own blush.

My mother mercifully appeared at that moment to take me home.  I fled into the safety of our Volvo and must have looked so wretched that my mother inquired into my day. I started to sob and told her the whole story. That was the one and only time I recall my mother driving through the dairy and treating me to an entire candy bar, of my choice.  The Butterfinger I devoured soothed my tears, but it could not undo the mark Natasha Brown had left on me.

I never talked with Natasha again. She never apologized, and never invited me to play.

I returned the favor.

I vowed that day, a promise I kept for more than ten years, that I would never trust another person with my secrets, especially where cute boys were concerned.  No matter how much I was teased and prodded into the wee hours of slumber parties, I never told.

My fourth grade vow molded my friendships, even where trustworthy friends came into my life.

We get betrayed usually during formative friendship years by girls we thought were our friends.  I’d imagine you have a hamper of stories where girls have hurt you, laughed at you, made fun (subtly, of course) of you.

My solution was to cut my friend off as unsafe.  I also learned to hunt for safe friends, ones I could take baby steps to share my feelings and then watch like a hawk to see if they kept my secrets safely hidden.  Natasha made me very aware of gossipy friends and helped form what I want in my target friendships – those in my inner ring of privilege. In some ways she helped me choose better.

Can you think back to grade school and the vows you made?  Do you have any stories of hurting or being hurt? What do you think your childhood friendships taught you about friendship?

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“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a [sister].” Proverbs 18:24

During the first year of getting to know Sally, I found myself growing more and more irked with her style of returning phone calls.  To my mind she put me off. Where I would call friends back the day they called me, Sally did not.

After a week which felt like Sally ignoring me, I finally decided to confront the issue. I would let her know that I felt like it took forever to get together and that I felt like she was avoiding me.

I picked up the phone and called, instead of getting voicemail I got Sally’s sunny, “Hello!”

“I have a problem,” I said soon after her greeting.  “I feel like I have to call a lot of times to get ahold of you.”  As soon as I said it I felt a little whiney.  “I guess I’m just wondering if you really have time to get together and if you do, can you get back to me sooner?”

Sally responded so calmly, no yelling or attack back at me.  I can’t remember word for word what she said, but she did confess that when she heard my complaint her first reaction was to roll her eyes.

I was sort of flabbergasted that she told me that, I mean, she didn’t have to. Talk about honesty.  Then, she said, “But I don’t want to have that reaction when you call!”

I totally agreed, though inside I was wondering if I was a pain-in-the-butt friend, demanding and needy.  Sally went on to talk about how she was doing her best to get back to me and how it would help if I could be understanding of her schedule. She reminded me that we had been friends for over a year and by this time she hoped I would understand that she valued me and our friendship.

I remember thinking, “A year? Really? We’ve known each other that long?”  She didn’t inundate me with reassurances that she liked our friendship, she simply pointed to the evidence of time, interaction and intention she had already invested.

I hung up thinking that Sally was right, her record did prove she cared, but I was still sort of annoyed with myself because my insecurity and impatience had pushed me to make a hasty, confrontative phone call.

A few days later Sally and I were driving to a women’s Bible study together.  After we had spent several minutes talking about our last few days, she said, “I’ve noticed that when you have something to share you have this way of approaching  me, with a ‘ready, shoot, aim’ approach.”

It took a moment for me to even realize she was confronting me. All I could say was, “Really?”

The way she explained it, that I would shoot before I would aim was totally true.  It was so weird but I felt understood in my mistake. Sally’s little analogy (she is, by the way, brilliant with metaphors) was packed with knowledge and insight into who I was. Sally knew that I tended to jump to the confrontation before thinking carefully about what I was saying. She was telling me I was hasty and perhaps impatient, but in a way I could hear, even better, totally accept.

She didn’t shame me; she didn’t pull away her warmth; she was kind and even able to laugh about it with me as I realized she was right. I could even tell her I was sorry without feeling dumb about it.

Sally’s formula was simple and full of intentional love:

1- Talk about what you both care about, this allows you both to connect which is the point of your friendship in the first place.

2- Tell her how you’re feeling in a brief, clear way that expresses something that bothers you.

3- Return to your original conversation to be sure that both of you remember that you care about and feel warmly toward the other.

Fudge on 1 or 3 and the confrontation moment will have the potential to rain out your friendship.

My mentor in college once shared a painful experience about confronting her longtime friend.  They never made it to #3, her friend was so insulted that something she had done was hurtful she ended up attacking my mentor.

In the end her friend withdrew her warmth leaving my mentor feeling isolated and punished.  As she said, some friendships mistakenly feel that they can make it through steps 1-3, but in reality, can’t.

I remember and still seek this mentor’s advice, as her experience reminds me that sometimes our friends unintentionally seem to offer more than they can.  As she puts it, we can only continue to grow close to friends who want to know our feelings, even the painful ones.

The friends who long to know what we think and feel, in all seasons, these are the friends who stick closer than sisters.

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A few years ago, when I had neighbors I could see from my window, I noticed my fashionista neighbor in her short skirt and scoop neck top working outside.  Before I could stop myself, I was comparing.  If I stood next to her, which of us has the better body?  I thought twice about what I’m wearing before going outside to garden, guessing that she might be checking me out from her side window, too.

An Appetite for Competing

Who Gets Brad?

Why do we do this?  Maybe it’s because from a young age, we’re told to compare.  In People or Star we see Angelina Jolie pitted against Jennifer Aniston and realize that if these two perfections of female stardom and sophistication have to compete, then we’re doomed.

In Susan Barash’s book Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth about Women and Rivalry, she found that in all socio-economic levels and in all friendships women compete against each other, comparing hemselves to “friends, coworkers, sisters, even to their own daughters”.

When Barash interviewed women she found sisters envying each other, single women envied married women, married women having affairs envied their lovers’ wives, or happily married friends.  Stepmothers and mothers envied each other, as did first and second wives.  Divorced women envied those still married.  Married women envied the divorcees who had gone on to find a better life or better man.

One woman said she chose to live in a small town, “So there would be less competition”; other women avoided certain parties.  As she put it, “I don’t want my husband to meet too many single, beautiful women.”

Competing for WHAT?

We’re not always fighting for a man but we often are.  In today’s great recession, jobs are scarce, as are the chances to have some power (to run an organization, a book club, a bible study).  Good female friends are in high demand. If she becomes friends with someone else, will she still have time for me?

Good men are scarce, too (the Jolie/Aniston comparison game was usually over Brad, right?)  It is the repeating problem for women (and I don’t doubt of men, too) of wanting to be noticed by the opposite sex.  How much will we sacrifice to get this attention? In all of Jane Austen’s books she explores just how much a woman’s character kept her from compromise to land a good marriage.

How desperate are we to get what we want?

Hungry for Love

My rivalry swells from my insecurity.  If I hold back and don’t market myself, my books, my blog, my speaking niche, will there be enough of what I need left?

If I believe that you might be better than me in some essential thing I think I need to get ahead, then I will become afraid.  Fear, the opposite of love, ruins too many friendships. This is why John says in 1 John 4:18 “Perfect love casts out all fear.” The opposite is also true, perfect fear casts out love.

Women who are hungry for love fight more viciously for attention, like hungry seagulls fighting for a scrap of food. Envy actually points to our impoverishment.

Despite the women’s movement to change this problem, we still focus our rivalry almost exclusively on each other. The worse part: we rarely admit it.  OTHER women get all catty and into their own drama, but not us. Barash found that most women take several interviews before admitting that they suffer from envy.

Most women claim that they have the best, closest friendships among women.  I agree.

But Barash notes two forces that keep women from being honest:

1- The fear of feminists blaming them for destroying the beautiful picture of female friendship.

2- The pressure to look like the “good girl” who is not suffering from something as childish as an envy problem.

Owning it

I haven’t found a lot of friends eager to admit that they compare themselves with women who are younger, older, more beautiful, more successful, unless someone else admits it first.   We’re not eager to admit that we have salty glances, sour eyes for those in the “sisterhood.”

How can we admit it?

We might be The. Only. One.

But if you have the courage to join me, even with a simple comment (“I compare, too”) watch how many other competitors lay down their arms and step forward.  If you do, thanks for joining us in this sisterhood of confession.

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Since college, I’ve moved a lot. Each time, I’ll look around around at the grocery store, park or library and wonder if any of the women I’m passing will become my friends.

How do you choose friends, well? I mean, it’s a daunting job, finding good girl friends.

Books like Hayley DiMarco’s Mean Girls: Facing Your Beauty Turned Beast, Mean Girls All Grown Up: Surviving Catty and Conniving Women and Hannah Seligson’s New Girl on the Jobwork to address this problem.  In 2004, the movie Mean Girls, showed us, as one critic put it,  “a magnified, genuine portrayal of female friend relations”.

Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls

The secret is out; Women are often very unkind.

In 2007, Live with Regis and Kelly introduced “Mean Girls All Grown Up: How to Deal with Vicious Women” by highlighting celebrity catfights between Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears, between Cameron Diaz and Jessica Biel over Justin Timberlake.  The panel, made up of some psychologists and authors like Susan Shapiro Barash, included two self-titled “mean girls”.

The interview left me concerned, the show highlighted female unkindness, but the solutions felt thin. I bought Barash’ book Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth about Women and Rivalry and found her collection of interviews startling, her solution depressing.  I was just dipping my toe into a whole new subject.

The Worst Enemy

When my first book was fresh off the press, I summoned my courage and approached a wise Christian woman, a professor who I admired. I felt hopeful that she would be excited about my book, possibly even review it or endorse it. I sent her a copy, followed it up with a personal visit and several emails. She did not respond and was absent when I visited her office.

I followed my visit up with an email saying I could imagine she was busy, but I hoped one day she could find the time to glance at my book.

When I ran into her over a year later at a conference, I asked her about my book.  She made a wry face, and launched into a critic of my style, my metaphors and my historical inaccuracy.

“Really?  I would like to know where I was inaccurate” I said.

She couldn’t recall.

That’s when she admitted to not having read my book, but that her assistant had and informed her of these inaccuracies. Again I pressed her if she could remember any specifics or put me in touch with her assistant.  Without batting an eye, my professor excused herself from our discussion.

Unknown to me, a well-known, seasoned theologian was standing close by. He had heard the entire conversation. He walked up and pulled me aside.

“Let me tell you something,” he said looking down kindly at me.  “Jonalyn, this woman is single and alone.”  He paused and searched my face to see that it sunk in.  “You do know who the worst enemy of women is.”  I paused,

“Women,” I said slowly.

I have no doubt that women can be cruel to each other. It’s a problem out there with all those women, but it’s also a problem inside. I mean don’t we all have the potential to be at least a little cruel.

Terri Apter, co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships writes that “among female friends there is: a wish to offer support and see a friend thrive, on the one hand, and a fear of being left behind or out-shone, on the other.”

You could simple say women have love-hate mixed into every friendship, but the hate isn’t venom as much as it’s envy or insecurity.  Add envy to any friendship and you have a “frenemy”, a female friend who, on occasion, treats her friends as enemies.

A Place to Discover

If we all have frenemies, if we all have the potential to be frenemies, then we need to talk.
I have a friend who thought female friendships deserved more air time.  That’s Sally.  She and I decided we needed to pool our backgrounds together, hers in psychology, mine in theology and philosophy and our mutual interest in women’s studies to offer you a place to hear two girl friends write honesty about friendship.
Our hope is to spend time asking this question, over and over and in different ways:
How can I better love my girlfriends, allowing them to be themselves while keeping myself honest and open with who I was created to be?
Any ideas?

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