"And so, by circuitous and unpredictable routes, we...are at once drawn together, braided and plaited into a friendship. It is a relationship that has no formal shape, there are no rules or obligations or bonds as in marriage or the family, it is held together by neither law nor property nor blood, there is no glue in it but mutual liking. It is therefore rare....in all our lives it has happened so thoroughly only once."
- Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
I just happened to come across this passage in the book I'm reading at the same time that I was mulling over my thoughts for this post. It's just perfect--a little nugget dropped down from the heavens. I've admitted already that I don't have a clear philosophy on friendship, but over the last few days I have discovered something that may bring me one tiny step closer to clarity.
And this paragraph is exactly it. Friendship is unique, so different from our other relationships. Family love is unconditional, marital love is sacred and bound by vow, but friendship? There is nothing to bind friends together "but mutual liking." And that really is a beautiful thing. I have some lovely friends in my life whom I like to pieces, who bring me a lot of joy.
But I think this is also the very quality that can make friendship so perplexing. This relative scarcity of glue to hold the relationship together, the absence of rules, and the inevitable difference in expectations held by the two friends. Wallace Stegner is right to conclude that friendship--true, strong, and lasting friendship--is rare.
I've long struggled with acceptance when it comes to friends--it makes me feel vulnerable to say that, but it's true. I'm much better at acceptance in my marriage. I chose my husband, my eyes were wide open when I said "yes," and I decided to love him forever no matter what. We've accepted each other for who we are, all the while trying to be better and to make each other better, but knowing we will always have flaws and shortcomings. The important things all align and everything else is just a part of being human.
Acceptance of family is also something that I think comes fairly naturally to me and to most people. I will love my parents and my brothers no matter what--I couldn't help it if I tried. No, we aren't a perfect family, but these are the people God has given me. They gave me life, they grew up alongside me, and I accept them.
With my friends, I have a much harder time determining what acceptance means, what it looks like, when and how I should do it.
If a friend makes a moral decision you can't agree with, should you support her because this decision makes her happy? Should you accept her and her choice, even if your instinct tells you it wasn't right? If your core values don't align, how do you deal with that? Do you honestly tell her how you feel or decide to keep quiet, so as to avoid any kind of disagreement? What if your expectations for the friendship are vastly different? Do you accept whatever she can give or do you admit that the friendship is draining you and letting you down?
Mutual liking is wonderful, but what about everything else?
As a Christian, I believe wholeheartedly that I should love everybody. Love my neighbors as myself. Love even my enemies. I try to do this, and only by God's grace do I succeed some of the time. But I don't believe Jesus was telling us to be friends with everybody. Some friendships become detrimental, even when you both really like each other. Some friendships start to make you feel unhappy and disappointed, despite all of the qualities in that person that attract you.
There are no guidelines on this. No rules to be followed. And I would guess that all of us women have struggled with our friendships in one way or another, so let's talk about it. What is your philosophy? How do you choose your friends? How do you maintain your friendships? What do you do if the friendship becomes strained? I would love to know.