What is it about female friendships that can send us right back to junior high? Most of the time I tend to think that at 37 years old, I am well past all that girl drama. I have lots wonderful acquaintances, but only a very small handful of people I would consider my close friends, my “people.”
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Those are the ones I trust completely, the ones I can pour my heart out to, and the ones who I know will be there for me no matter what, the ones who are immune to all the jealousy and pettiness and cattiness that so often crops up between us women. They are the ones for which no explanation is necessary when we haven’t talked for a while, the ones who can pick up exactly where we left off, like no time has passed. The ones who understand that life gets crazy sometimes, and don’t take it personally.
They are the ones who won’t ever let me down.
Except, of course, when they do.
Not so long ago I found myself in exactly this situation. One of my very closest friends was suddenly not so close anymore, and I had no idea why. For a while I tried to blow it off, to brush away that gnawing gut feeling that something wasn’t quite right. And then, when the feeling didn’t go away, I even called to apologize. I told her I wasn’t sure what I had done, but it just felt like something wasn’t right, and that I was genuinely sorry for anything I may have done that had caused the rift I was feeling. She laughed it off and assured me that it was nothing, but still the uneasiness lingered.
I wondered if I might just be paranoid.
But as time went on, it became more and more clear that I wasn’t just being paranoid. The uneasiness remained and instead, this friend, the one I had trusted and leaned on, admired and looked up to, stayed up until all hours talking to, the one I would do anything for, was quite clearly no longer interested in my friendship. She stopped responding to emails and text messages and suddenly no longer had time to chat, even though I could see from her social media posts that she was making time for lots of other friends.
And then, in the moment I needed her most, she completely let me down. I had reached out to ask for help on a project that was very important to me, sent her both a long email explaining what was going on, and two text messages asking her to check her email. She ignored them all.
It crushed me.
All at once I felt like I was 14 years old again. I replayed every conversation, every email, every text message over and over again in my head. I cried. Then I got angry. Then I cried some more. What had I done?
Finally, feeling completely lost, I called my friend Edie to talk about it. As my accountability partner, I knew she would probably have some good advice. If nothing else, she would be a shoulder to cry on. I half hoped she would commiserate with me and reassure me that this other friend was just a jerk and I would be perfectly justified to never speak to her again.
But that’s not quite what happened.
While she did commiserate and fully understand exactly why I so was hurt and angry, her advice took me completely off guard.
I think you should give her grace, she said quietly.
Every part of me protested. But she is the one who should apologize! She is the one who hurt me! She doesn’t deserve grace!
No, she doesn’t, Edie agreed. But neither do we.
Chagrined and humbled, I promised to try to give grace, even if I didn’t feel like it. And wouldn’t you know it? Not 24 hours later, an opportunity arose. The friend who had let me down now needed me.
Friends, I had to dig deep. The last thing on earth I felt like doing was helping the friend that had just wounded me without an ounce of remorse or a word of apology.
But I did it anyway.
And you know what? It didn’t fix our damaged friendship. There was no dramatic change of heart, no “aha” moment, no tearful reconciliation. Just the opposite, in fact–in the time since, she has let me down several more times, and I have simply had to come to terms with the fact that our friendship will probably never again be what it once was.
But although it didn’t fix anything, it did make me feel better. It took away the bitterness that was filling up my heart and allowed me to let go of the hurt and anger I was feeling. It has also allowed me to have a lot more compassion, and to see that perhaps the problem isn’t something I’ve done, but maybe just a result of something she is going through.
It often takes a whole lot of effort and intentionality to be a good friend. It means being willing to put yourself out there and to risk being hurt. And, inevitably, because we are making ourselves vulnerable, there will be times where our friends disappoint us and let us down. They will hurt our feelings. They will annoy us. They will forget to show up or say something stupid, or make a decision we don’t agree with. They will be flawed and imperfect and inadequate. In other words, they will be human.
And although we may be justified in our anger or our hurt, the truth is that there have probably been plenty of times when we’ve been the ones to let our friends down, the ones who said something careless, the ones who didn’t come through, the ones in need of grace. At least I know I have.
In order to have a friend, we must BE a friend, and ultimately that means showing grace when our friends don’t come through the way we want them to. It means forgiving when necessary, looking for the good instead of the bad, and treating them the way we’d like to be treated, the way we’ve already been treated.
Even when we don’t feel like it.