What response does it trigger in you as a reader when I suggest the idea of a friendship mission statement? To me, it instantly sounds too intense, like woah!
And yet, you know what? We essentially have these for marriages! For marriage we sit down and discuss with someone what we want in life, we consider whether our futures could be aligned, we talk and talk and talk and talk. And yet for friendships, we often just allow ourselves to drift into friendships. No wonder there is often such confusion around friendships. I mean, does anyone truly sit down and carefully discuss with a friend whether they are truly compatible, as people would do for a relationshp, before trying to get closer? Perhaps some people do that. Perhaps many people, or even most people do that. But for me, the idea is completely alien.
This idea came to me after reading a post, I believe on Slate.com, one of those Agony aunt type letters asking for advice where a writer wrote in about her friend. The writer said that her friend had dumped her, because the friend thought that she as the friend was always the one reaching out. And then, unless I’m conflating a few different scenarios here, the friend tested the writer over a period of time to see whether the writer would reach out. The writer did not, and then the friend dumped her. And then in the course of relating this story, the writer said something telling: she as the writer was of the viewpoint that friendships could just be allowed to meander aimlessly, or simmer quietly in the background, on a sense of mutual understanding and goodwill until there was a concrete need to reach out. Or was it that she thought that there were times when one party would naturally contribute more in terms of reaching out, and other times when the other would take the lead, but over time it would more or less balance out. However, her friend was of the viewpoint that friendships needed active regular nurturing, and a failure to regularly and actively tend to the friendship or reach out to one another equated to neglecting the friendship.
So in the friend’s eyes, the writer was essentially neglecting the friendship and consistently leaving her to do all the work.
And reading this, I could see both sides of the argument, that is, I could see how each viewpoint could viably result in a healthy friendship. And part of me thought: “They could have discussed this beforehand.” But then I thought – who does that, with a friendship? And then I also thought that even if they had discussed it, they might not have been able to find a way to reconcile their different approaches.
Dumping your friends
I have read many blog posts about outgrowing your friends, or cutting out toxic friends. And it occurs to me that many of these outgrown friendships occur because people did not sit down and establish compatibility beforehand. Many of us are too sophisticated to believe in romantic love at first sight. And yet, with our friendships we often work on an expectation of platonic love at first sight. And then when these friendships collapse, as they often do, we are often so hurt, often as much as when romantic relationships collapse, because we have invested so much into them. Long story short: our friendships might not be as intense as our relationships, because we do not spend so much time with our friends and we are not as vulnerable to them as we are to our romantic partners, and they are not as closely intertwined in our lives. However, we need to establish compatibility with our friends just as surely as we do with our spouses, before investing so much of ourselves.
If you are going to be best friends with someone, I think that you need to sit down and discuss this with them. I think that like marriage, this should be a distinct stage, so that the two of you know that you are best friends. I think that you need to discuss your expectations. Just like with relationships, there is so much scope for mismatched expectations, where one person thinks that the two of you are best friends, and the other person thinks that you are casual friends. There is also huge scope for one party to be taking advantage of the other.
Sometimes these mismatched expectations only come out when there is an argument. Instead of waiting for an argument, you can be proactive.
Perhaps you could ask someone if they consider you their best friend. And then you could sit and discuss your expectations.
You know, I feel the opposite of smart as I write this post, as I have always known that I could not be romantically involved with a man unless he shared my faith. And yet, I have countless times happily set about building close friendships with people who do not share my faith, at all. One of my erstwhile friends actually used to mock at my faith. To be fair to her, I think that she did not despise my faith in itself so much, rather she could not wrap her head around the fact that an African could be a fervent Christian. Ultimately I unfriended her altogether for a different matter. However, I now realise that I could have kept her on as a freebie friend, so still showing kindness, care and consideration for her life, but realising that I had to seek advice and support from people whose values are truly aligned with my own.
Now I realise that while I can and I should be friendly towards everyone, except people I have had to walk away from for prudence’s sake, for my close friends I need to insist on people who share my values.
What this means is that, just like with a husband, I need to evaluate someone for two years before I try to get closer to them or accept their overtures of friendship.
And yet even where someone is a Biblist, that does not automatically mean that they and I will be best friends. What it does mean is that there is a potential for this. However other factors need to match.