That’s What Friends Are For . . . ?

Is friendship based on commonality or necessity, or a bit of both? I often see Instagram memes saying we should be loyal and never abandon our friends. Just under those, there are posts encouraging us to leave behind those connections that “no longer serve you”.

Experts are always going on about sexual and romantic relationships, parenting, and work partnerships. But it’s friendship, with its many tiers and categories, requirements and limits, that is most baffling to me.

Maybe it’s because there are so many different kinds of friendships . . .

There’s the one that dates back to elementary school, where you barely talk to each other anymore but still consider yourselves “BFFs” . . .

There’s the “soul sister” connection, where you understand each other’s hearts very well and click whenever you get together – these are lifelong friendships, even if you live far apart . . .

There’s the relationship of commonality, where you’re on the same team, in the same environment, and while you may have few other like traits, you bond because you’re together on the same venture . . .

There’s even the Mom friendship, where you hang out with some lady, drinking tea and chatting, because your kids are the same age and like to play together . . .

All of these affinities have their way of ebbing and flowing, moving in and out of our lives. So, what’s the point? Is it unconditional acceptance and unwavering everlasting loyal support? Or, is it being true to yourself and recognizing when a friendship has reached its limit? Again, maybe a bit of both.

Case in point:

Some time ago now, I had to tell the truth to one of my good friends: that I needed some space.

Inside, I was thinking to myself, “We’re close, and she’s told me countless times she loves me unconditionally. She will thank me for being honest and sharing how I feel, even if it hurts. This will bring us to an even deeper trusting place with each other, because that’s what friends are for.”

I was fooling myself. My friend accused me of betraying a promise to always be there for her, and froze me out of her inner life.

Just like THAT.

I was utterly shocked at my own years-long misunderstanding of our commitment to knowing each other. Really knowing each other, I mean. ‘Cuz here it is . . . when I examined the conflict, I realized it was a persistent pattern of mine to squash my disagreement to preserve the connection. Out of loyalty and unconditional acceptance, I’d worked hard at ignoring certain intuitions that mattered to me.

When I finally did develop the strength and courage to share where I was at, my friend immediately shut me down. There was no forgiveness, no seeking out a higher level of truth and understanding and connection, no attempt to find out why I felt the way I did. She did not see me at all, only what she viewed as my betrayal because I failed to satisfy her expectations.

Now I must ask: is this true friendship? Was it ever? I guess I feel that truth, authenticity, and connection are the most important elements of any relationship. If my friend and I fell apart the very first time I ever dared to  disagree with her, then did our relationship ever have any strength in the first place?

I don’t know. I don’t know what will happen to that connection in the future, either.

The thing is, I refuse to open my mind and heart to people who will remove their affection when I act separately from them. If I’m not able to disagree, confront, or otherwise exist alongside my friends, then what kind of real trust is there? None. This was proven by how quickly and simply I was voted off her island. I had no chance of remaining there, unless I abandoned my own instincts.

So, yes, friendship can be about loyalty and unconditional acceptance, but that’s not all it is, or all you should look for. Real, lasting friendships do not fall apart over disagreements, even significant ones. Real friendships involve openness, forgiveness, listening, sharing truth, and commitment to closeness, even when there has been a rift. Real friendships honour, respect and cherish the singular truth of each individual.

In fact, I’d venture to say there can be no loyalty except that which deeply honours the truth of the other. The first loyalty is toward the self, and your friends should support and encourage that wholeheartedly.

Regarding the value-laden terms “unconditional love” or “unconditional acceptance” – be careful. Be careful when you hear these words; they often come when you’re giving someone exactly what they want, and just as often they’ll be pulled back if you indicate any desire or orientation that does not match the other’s. There is no such thing as unconditional – maybe a parent’s love for their child . . . But in a friendship there are always conditions, and there need to be.

When people change, or change their minds, sometimes friends leave. They aren’t family; they are not your children. So, if a difference occurs, the friendship may end. And that is okay, even if it’s painful. It doesn’t mean you’re disloyal or have failed to accept your friend. It means you and your friend are on different paths.

Hanging onto relationships for notions of loyalty will give you a case of cognitive dissonance, will make you resentful, and will beholden you to individuals with whom you may not share the same ideals and values after all.

The importance in friendship – real friendship, as opposed to a shallow social acquaintance – is that you can share, tell the truth, disagree, and be accepted with love. And when I say acceptance, I mean that you are allowed to have a voice, you are allowed to disagree, you are allowed to represent your own perspective without the threat of rejection.

That is what friends are for.

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