It’s no secret that most of us are struggling in the relationship category these days. Perhaps your marriage or family relationships are good enough, and you seem to be content with that. But what of friendship? Do you have any deep, loyal, and honest friends with whom you regularly interact? If you do, you are blessed…and unusual. Most of us find that we are severely lacking in the true-close-friend category.
How is it that a society can be both more connected and more lonely than ever before? Yet, we are. We have scads of Internet friends, and we tell ourselves that it’s good enough. But is it? I don’t think so, and neither do recent studies.
The Bible has much to say about friendship and community (Proverbs 27:17, 17:17, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, etc.). It is clear that we are not meant to do life isolated and alone. So why is it that we lack so much in the way of meaningful friendships?
Obstacles to Close Friendship
1. Friendship is undervalued. It is seen as optional, and even nice to have, but many of us don’t think we really need a deep friendship. Our society exalts independence, so anytime we are seen as needy or not self-sufficient, we risk seeming weak.
Sure, we all want people to “do stuff with,” but what about someone to share our deepest fears and insecurities with? What about someone to cry with us when things break down? What about someone to speak truth to us when we are caught up in self-deception? The Bible reminds us of the beauty, strength, and power that come from having a dear friend (Eccl. 4:9-12).
2. Marriage and family relationships have supplanted friendship1. I appreciated the wording of this statement I found when I was researching this topic. While I wholeheartedly believe that if you are married, your spouse should be your very best friend, I also believe that it is not healthy for your spouse to be your only close friend.
To be transparent, this is where I have landed much of the time. And I’m discovering that it’s simply not fair to my husband to expect him to meet all of my relational needs. I think many of us find ourselves defaulting to family relationships (parents, spouse, children, other relatives) because there tends to be less risk involved, and it’s just easier. However, no risk, no reward. Friends outside of family offer us fresh perspectives and experiences that we otherwise wouldn’t get. They make our lives richer.
So many of us focus our sole relational attention on our spouse because, admittedly, marriage takes a lot of work, and we may feel tapped out. (Especially us, fellow introverts!) However, to hinge all of our sense of connection and joy on one single person really isn’t what God intended, I believe. Let marriage be marriage in all of its uniqueness, but let’s not neglect the lovely experience of a close friendship.
3. Close friendships have a high price. Man, oh man, this is probably the greatest deterrent of all! An authentic, close friendship requires time, effort, intentionality, and vulnerability. Sure, we may have many “friendships of convenience.” These are people who happen to be in our circle because we attend church together, our kids go to the same school, or maybe they live close by. These are the ones that we often do stuff with, again, because it’s easy. These are “outer circle” friends, I would say. And these are not the type of friendships that I’m talking about.
I’m talking about those one or two individuals that we have to actually plan to see. It might not really be convenient. And to have the kind of friendship that I’m talking about, we have to be real with one another. This means admitting faults and sharing fears. It means being willing to listen when the truthful words your friend speaks may hurt you. It means risking acceptance for the sake of honesty. It means showing up for someone else when you really just don’t feel like it. It’s messy. Yes, indeed, there is a high price for a close friendship.
4. Suspicion and fear. Perhaps it has always been human nature to be suspicious, but it seems to be elevated in our present cultural climate. We don’t trust easily, as a rule. We are always looking for hidden motivations when someone is inviting us to open up or to share. Can we really trust this person to keep our secrets?
This is a tough one, because, to be honest, you cannot trust everyone with your secrets. So – if you’re like me – this has been a good excuse to just never share at all. But I don’t think that’s the answer, either, because then, where’s that community and camaraderie that God has explicitly called us to? So, yes, we need to trust, and we need to share. But also yes, we need to be prayerful and discerning about who we become transparent with.
Not only are we generally distrustful, but we are also generally fearful. It’s the age-old fear of rejection, but, man, it’s as powerful as ever! We protect ourselves (and so stay to ourselves) because what if that other person ultimately rejects me? Especially after I have bared my heart to them? I want to protect myself from the potential hurt and embarrassment. But, again, this is not God’s way.
In any relationship, there is an element of risk. But as the saying goes: no risk, no reward. The sacrifice of never having truly meaningful relationships is simply too high to not be willing to carefully feel our way towards sharing and trusting another person. We don’t have to go fast, and we certainly don’t go about it recklessly. But the point is, we go. We do it. We take the risk.
5. We are looking for perfection. So then there’s this one. Yeah. I don’t like it, but I feel like it’s really true. We are obsessed with our own weaknesses and failures, but we are unwilling to have a friend who has weaknesses and failures. Because it’s those same weaknesses and failures that could cause them to hurt us or to disappoint us. We don’t really want a human friend, we want some sort of sinless super-being.
For me, this has kind of looked like always trying to find someone who I can look up to and learn from. I try to maybe start getting closer to someone who I think has potential. But inevitably, she makes a decision I disagree with or acts in a way that I just don’t like, and I think well, I guess she’s not the one, either. I am sadly serious! It’s almost as if I don’t want to waste time with a relationship when that person has flaws and needs, too. We probably don’t realize that this idea is guiding our thoughts, but if you struggle with relationships, this belief may be under the surface for you, too.
Friendship is meant to be reciprocal: she has flaws, you have flaws, you help each other. It goes back to honesty and acceptance. The more vulnerable you are willing to be, the more vulnerable she is likely willing to be. Then you can truly be iron sharpening iron, and you both are able to become more than you could alone.
Just because there may be obstacles to friendship doesn’t mean that we can’t work to overcome them! I have come to the point in my life where I realize that I really need some deep friendships to go forward and just to have more fulfillment. I intend to prayerfully work through the difficulties and take some relational risks in the coming months. What about you?