My heart dropped not only into my gut, but it burned a hole in the bottom of it. The woman on the other side of the table, who was trying to be helpful, had no idea that the words she spoke were excruciating to me at a bad time in my life, not to mention, humiliating. She was recounting a conversation she had with (what I thought) was a mutual friend. Turns out, the mutual friendship was not (to my surprise) mutual. In fact, it was the opposite and I felt the fool for not noticing. Instantly my mind jumped to many years before when, as a teenager, I was kicked and spit on by the friends I thought I had since first grade. I was informed they didn’t like me – and never did. A moment that crushed my soul as I wondered if I’d ever had any friends, or, in my naiveté and ignorance, everything was a joke on me.
There’s very little more humiliating and demoralizing than realizing that the people you think like you and are your friends, actually don’t and aren’t.
Then there are the friends who are not as overt as the previous examples. When it’s convenient, you are a dear friend. When it’s not, you are forgotten. This brings us to the question:
When is a relationship friendly and when is it a friend?
Over the years, I’ve had many a cup of coffee with those I consider friends. Yet, at the same time, most of those conversations, each person lovely in their own way, were not with those in which I currently maintain a close relationship. Perhaps some of those people didn’t like me as I supposed. And, in the same way, perhaps I didn’t like them as much as I was putting on. In either situation, friendliness is what love looked like for the moment.
Recently, Paola Lane received a contribution (which is featured in Issue No. 5:Love Lived) of a short poem/essay titled, “Am I Your Friend?”. Obviously written by one who has been stung in much the same way as I’ve recounted here. Haven’t we all had such encounters?
While it’s impossible to perfectly protect our hearts – or the hearts of those we may (unintentionally) hurt – there are mindsets and perspectives that can bring clarity to what KIND of relationship we have with others, and accepting that not every relationship should look the same.
An older woman once told me many years ago that all conflict comes from one thing: unmet expectations. Most of us are all too eager to make friends with those we admire – but, at times, they are not ready to make friends with us for whatever reason; and vice versa. This can be hard to navigate without hurt feelings.
Other times, we’re unable to give what someone else is needing from us. Also, we need discernment to see when we are a stepping stone to something (or someone) else. Instead of being hurt and offended when expectations are not met, a shift in our mindset can protect our hearts while honoring other people.
10 Mindsets to Help Clarify Your Relationships
- Acknowledge that not everyone is meant to be a friend. We need acquaintances as much as we need friends.
- It’s OKAY if you don’t want to be friends with someone. You can still be friendly and kind.
- In the same way, mentally & emotionally give others permission to not want to be your friend. (!) It will free both sides up to be pleasant and kind without offense.
- If you feel obligated to be in a friendship (or other relationship) that’s a sure sign you need to PAUSE and step back. Take all the time you need.
- Flattery is a tempting default for uncertain or awkward relationships but gives the wrong impression and thus, wrong expectations.
- Praying for discernment helps determine if someone is using flattery with you. Understand their potential position and remember they are mostly likely trying to be nice. Go back and recall points #2 and #3.
- Give yourself and others the freedom to be friendly acquaintances! Some people only interact at certain crossroads (work, church, charities, networking, etc). No need to expect to bring everyone into every aspect of your life (or theirs).
- Wisdom is taking time getting to know people versus jumping in whole hog because you feel like “soul friends” at the first meeting. (i.e. using caution before sharing too much too fast is healthy).
- Ponder what it means to you to be a friend. Consider that there are varying degrees of friendship.
- Accept that only a few people are truly meant to be a friend, friend – and that takes TIME to develop.
Finally, be intentional about your relationships. They ebb and flow, like seasons. Learn to adjust and be aware of the ebbs and flows within friendships. A mentor once told me to sit down and make a list of all the people I knew. I was instructed to create two columns: DIVINE CONNECTIONS (or Friends) and ACQUAINTANCES. After taking time to pray and meditate, I was to put each name in one of the columns, realizing that this isn’t a final list. Seasons change and this list will always be changing as people move in and out of the columns. This advice has helped me clarify how to invest my time in my relationships – AND to be aware of when those seasons in a relationship start shifting.
After being deeply hurt over and over, slowly God revealed how I needed to change my mindset and expectations regarding friendships. Remember that being friendly is not the same as being a friend. These shifts in perspectives release me from guilt, relax my expectations of others, and increase my capacity to embrace and accept each person without awkwardness on my part and in genuine love.
“Am I Your Friend?”, a poem pondering pain in friendship, and other great content can be found in Issue No. 5: Love Lived.