Monday, March 4, 2013

No Glue But Mutual Liking

"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 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.


  1. These are good questions! I think for me, acceptance ultimately means not imposing my values and opinions on others because what is right for me is not always going to be right for my friends. We accept because fighting against others is futile. Who are we to judge when we all have flaws? When it comes to friendships that feel truly toxic, however, or having friends whose choices don't just reflect a different set of values but actually offend ours, you're right-- this is harder! I think if we can find a way to choose love anyway without feeling drained/victimized/belittled, then that is worth trying. I try to ask myself about my own role and whether I'm being unrealistic in my expectations of others and whether I contribute to the strain. Sometimes, though, that difference in core values is simply too great, even after respectful discussion about the problem, and it's okay to gracefully bow out. Part of acceptance can also mean accepting the end, wherein both people float along their separate paths in life. I like my friends to share some core values with me, but I also acknowledge that we will differ in many regards, and that's okay. If we start to question why we ever were friends to begin with, then I think it's time for some reevaluation and self-reflection.

    Wow, I could write forever about this! Great questions, Kate!

  2. Katie @ Loverly SheMarch 4, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    Kindred spirits are really few and far between. I find that a lot of my friendships need certain boundaries. I can enjoy spending time with a person, but like you say if core values don't align, you're never going to REALLY deeply connect with that person because those things are such a huge part of who you are. Those kinds of friendships tend to just bubble peripherally in my life and I often feel like I'm waiting for some of them to go deeper, but that can't be forced. It's either there, or it's not. You're right - such a mysterious thing!

  3. Thanks for all of these thoughts, Sarah! Sounds like you really have some clear ideas. That's great. I think the tricky part comes in the second half of what you wrote. There's such nuance in friendship, isn't there?

  4. Oh I so agree with that, Katie. It's one thing to accept that a friend has a different set of values than you do. But it's so hard to reach that deeper level, that close friendship, if those values don't align, even if you've accepted your differences. Few and far between is right, and so often I wish I could be in-person friends with my blog friends (like you!) who I feel are kindred spirits.

  5. Hm. This post really got me thinking. I never thought about it from that angle. Really, I'm the girl who is terrible at keeping friends because I just get bored/over it/ maybe I am just too introverted so keeping in touch is lame to me. Maybe that is why I like blogger friendships so much. A blate here or there is easier than weekly $10 salad dates, you know?

    But as for the questions you pose.... I agree that we don't always have to be someone's friend. Funny, really, cause I tell my pre-k kids "we are all friends" alllll dayyyyy longggg. But I guess I believe everyone must be tolerated, no, wrong word.... uhhh... I don't know. It is a hard thing to talk about, right?

    And how weird is it to "break up" a friendship? It's definitely not like a bf/gf breakup. I have broken a few up, though. Mainly cause the friendship took its' full course and we went separate ways. Even one of my bridesmaids... we keep in touch but it is just plain awkward because we aren't anything alike anymore.

    I'll keep thinking about this one. This is a great convo to start!

  6. Thanks Tina for all of these great thoughts. Oh yes it's very hard to talk about! When you say everyone has to be "tolerated" I think you're getting at what I wrote about being a Christian and loving everybody. Of course we shouldn't make someone feel badly for their values. But if they really conflict with our own, can we truly connect as friends?
    I'm sorry to hear about the friendship with your bridesmaid. Those kinds of situations are so so hard.

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