Friday, June 23, 2017

When Your Best Friend Gets Married

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-36).
A few months ago I shared about a weekend getaway my sister and I shared with some of our friends. What I did not share was the conversation my sister and I had on the drive home from that trip. We both agreed that the weekend was just what we needed, but at the same time my sister felt like something was off. Something was changing. She voiced her frustration and fear of the way her friends were treating her now that she was engaged and soon-to-be-married. 

There is a dual effect when two people within a group of mutual friends become an item. One side effect is all the single friends in the group feel left behind and left out. An exclusive relationship means people will feel excluded to some extent. This cannot be helped, no matter how ambiguous or undefined you keep your relationship and no matter how much time you devote to your friends one-on-one. At some point, you have to give time and attention to your relationship and your friends cannot be a part of this. 

The other side-effect is the single friends, feeling excluded, decide to be more exclusive among themselves. It is true that single people often have a lot more liberty and free time than a married couple or even a dating couple. Naturally, they are free to do a variety of activities that someone who is married or someone who is a parent will not always be free to do. But sometimes we forget that marriage is not some sort of redefining restrictive cage and that just because someone is married does not mean they stop being their individual self and needing their individual friends. 

My sister Ruth, one of my best friends for practically my entire life, is getting married this weekend. This means a big change for both of us. I had to move out of our apartment. She moved in with her husband. Naturally this change altered the nature of our friendship. Being friends is not so convenient for us anymore. We will no longer casually see each other in the evenings. If we want to hang out, we have to be more intentional. Our commitments are a little more divided now and will be even more divided this fall when I go back to school. The question for us then is will we let this kind of change and division destroy our friendship? Because it easily can. 

I could resent my sister for getting married. I know it sounds silly but it is a very real temptation and has been the very real outcome in a lot of friendships that dissolve or turn sour when a significant other enters the picture of a friendship and someone inevitably becomes the third wheel (been there done that a number of times haha I am a third-wheel pro, believe me!!) So my sister is justified in being afraid that once she gets married, her friendships will dissolve. 

While I understand the temptation to harbor resentment, I ultimately cannot understand people who feed their resentment and act on it. I want to encourage my single friends to be good friends to their married friends, to their friends who are mommies and daddies, because those friends need you just as much – maybe even more than before - after they embark on their marriage life. 

How do we go about doing this? How do we go about assuring that our friendships stay intact, especially when it seems our friends are so absorbed with their relationships and marriages? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Accept the fact that things are going to change. Adaptability is essential when it comes to good friendships. If you are not willing to adapt and adjust and instead have your heart set on resenting change, God, and your friends forever, then your friendships will inevitably dissolve as a result of your own stubbornness. I cannot express how thankful I am for my friends who were intentional about staying my friend even when my life turned upside down, when my brother died, when I moved, when I was depressed and sad all the time, when I sucked at communicating and being a friend, and all of the other times I failed to follow through, show up, and be there for my friends. I learned something really important through all this, that if anything else, I wanted to be that friend. I wanted to be that person who will always be there and be true no matter what changes. If I succeed at nothing else in life, I want to succeed or at least improve upon this. 

2. Do not let your fear drive you to isolation. When change sets in, we can start to fear that our friends will leave us, forget about us, etc. This fear can drive us away, drive us inward, and cause us to isolate ourselves. Instead of being hurt when our friends inevitably leave us, we decide to drive them away first. Beat them to the punch. Sometimes we do this without even being aware of what we are doing. We fail to realize that our withdrawn, resentful, and fearful attitude is effectively driving our friends away faster than any change of circumstance ever could. We also fail to realize that this kind of behavior will in no way diminish our own hurt when we inevitably lose a friend.

I have had friends who I thought would be there forever suddenly disappear from my life without so much as an explanation. It is probably the most painful kind of hurt possible. For a long time it was hard to invest in friends and especially hard to make new friends. There was always that fear of being rejected, being left behind, and being hurt. But we can never let fear rule our lives. Decisions made out of fear are always the decisions we regret. Fear leads only to misery. 

3. Communicate. When you are on the verge of marriage and big life changes, it is really easy to be unaware of the needs of your friends. If and when your friend hurts or neglects you in any way, you need to tell them. Just talk to them. I hate confrontation with a passion. But it doesn’t take a lot of confrontation to say, “Hey, could we hang out sometime this week?” or “Hey, I really miss spending time with you.” Or “Hey, what you said earlier really hurt my feelings.” Even if your friend is absorbed with their own plans and future, they probably do not mean to intentionally hurt you and the fact that they are unintentionally hurting you will most likely bring them down to planet earth at least for a bit. 

But you have to communicate. I cannot stress this point enough. Because if there is anything I hate MORE than confrontation it is the passive aggressive cold shoulder. Don’t passively aggressively shut your friend out, resent your friend, and then disappear and withdraw on your friend without an explanation. You are only doing damage to your friend and yourself. 

4. Own up to your own failures. Here is the thing. Friendship is a two-way street. And when one of your friendships dissolves, chances are you had something to do with it. While it might be more comfortable to always put the blame on everyone else, you have to be willing to look at yourself objectively and call out your failures and mistakes for what they are. Because we are all bad friends sooner or later. God knows I’ve been a really bad friend to most of my friends most of the time. If I did not have friends who were willing to give me some tough love when I needed it and stick around even when I was the most withdrawn and pathetic person ever, I probably would be friendless by now.

We have to recognize that we all need an incredible measure of grace from our friends and we have to be willing to give that same grace, to forgive, to leave off bearing grudges and resentment toward one another. This kind of discord and division is not the kind of love we have been called to as the ones called according to God's purpose. Think of the love of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Think of how constant and unchangeable his love is no matter what we do or how many times we fail him! Think of that kind of friend and strive to be that kind of friend. Because that is the kind of friend each and every one of needs even though we could never, ever deserve it.

What are some suggestions you have for friends going through big life transitions? Do you have any suggestions of how to be a better friend to your married friends and friends who are parents? Please share! I would love to hear your input. 


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