Getting married didn’t end my need to date. Now days, I date women and the stakes seem higher because I have less time and more desire to find others who share common interests.
It’s the art of finding friends and, not surprisingly, middle & high school cliques didn’t prepare me well for this. I lived off campus in college and never experienced the intimacy and energy of dorm life. In my early twenties, I did a complete 180 in life and made my first-ever healthy friendship decision: I started over. While most people spent their 20’s attending weddings and going broke from gift registries, I was intently focusing on what it meant for me to be a good friend in hopes that I would attract some of the same.
Throughout my late 20’s I was lonely. It seemed when I finally started putting down roots of friendship, one of us moved. And seeing as we move a lot (although I’m pretty sure I recently put a disclosure in our verbal marriage contract halting such habits), each transition tempted me to retreat and develop the art of self rather than the art of friendship. I’ve learned to sew, hammer out an atrocious rhythm on the guitar, polished up some foreign languages, completed a degree, educated my kids, and immersed myself in the life of writing.
A life of solitude comes naturally to me, but I am called to live in community. Life gifts us reasons to celebrate and who wants to throw a party for one? Life also throws curve-balls and who wants to navigate struggles and sorrows alone?
My closest friends today are all over the country and admittedly we met because we took the risk of feeling each other out. Maybe we met for coffee and were surprised at how much our interests intersected. Likely we laughed so much, we left the café lighter and the hard things in life appeared easier. Perhaps we were raising children together at the same time and shared laughs over diaper changes and grumpy toddlers. Maybe we were hurting through the same struggle and our friendship was the discovery of an ally and fellow warrior as we huddled down and equipped each other for battle.
Outside of marriage, friendships are the second most essential relationship choice we will make in life, but what if we make the wrong call?
I can remember numerous times over the last several years when I believed I was entering into a sweet friendship only to discover that it quickly became a counseling relationship instead. And while I believe it is just as precious to be invited to invest in someone spiritually, this type of crisis-induced relationship is missing the mutual pouring-in and pouring-out as experienced in a healthy friendship. In fact, more than once I’ve found the sheer need of the situation is more than I am prepared to handle. Poor boundaries and my own misdirected need to bear the crisis for a hurting woman results in magnificent disappointment for both of us as I eventually realize—much too late—that boundaries must be drawn.
All that said, we moved a year ago and it’s probably time for me to venture outside and make friends. Before I do, I need to remind myself of who I am looking for, but also who I need to be.
So below are a few of the sacred boundaries I’ve discovered which create a sweet space of friendship. These elements will quickly reveal whether I’ve met a woman who will remain a dear acquaintance, or someone with whom I feel safe enough to peel back the layers of my life in self-disclosure.
- Our core is comprised of similar DNA. I lived a long time without Jesus. I had a lot of friendships of mutual destruction. I left that life still intact and I have no idea how. So, if there is one mistake I will never make again, that is living my life without Him. He’s the core of my being. He’s the reason I know what love means. He’s the motivation for living beyond myself, for I am selfish by nature. My deepest, most intimate friendships are with women whose lives are defined by this divine love and relationship. When I mess up, she shows me how to receive grace. When hard times come, she turns my face toward God. We speak truth. We give voice to love. In this way, my closest friendships are also havens of discipleship. I might show up ugly, but the relationship refines raw beauty.
- It’s a place to grow, not a place to vent. I grew up in a house where we were taught to critique our own work and the work of others. In so many ways, this has been a blessing, as I learned to strive for excellence in all things. However, this critical spirit has been toxic to my friendships. In my early years of navigating relationships, I often discounted a friendship before it began. In retrospect, I think I feared rejection, so I looked for reasons the friendship was lacking. In this way, I could leave it behind before someone saw me for who I really was and wanted nothing to do with me. While I still struggle, God has been sweet in reconditioning my thought life. I curb criticism by not giving voice to the negative. It doesn’t mean I’m not real about my struggles, it simply means that I am careful to invite God into those spaces which most frustrate me. I look for friends who do the same. After all, there are countless reasons to complain—but negativity kills the creativity of the soul. I’d rather find the limitless ways to praise—and breathe life into a situation that appears dead.
- We celebrate with each other. This is so basic. Healthy friends are excited for each other, not in competition with one another. I want to celebrate with my closest friends. I want to weep with them in their struggles. I want to share life in a completely organic and healthy way so that I share their joy and carry their sadness. There was once a season of my life when I envied the good things that happened to others. A promotion in salary, a contract for a book, the purchase of their first home. I was green with envy and this envy was isolating. By realizing my own blessings, I slowly morphed into someone who authentically celebrates God’s blessings and am no longer jealous for my turn. I’ve learned to be genuinely happy for others and look for the same in my most healthy friends.
- We are committed to family. I’ve chosen to make my husband and my children my full-time job. I look for women who speak words of edification about their children and their husband. These women will carry me through the days when I want to run away and enter the adult world of 9-5. These are the friends who, when my child has made a horrible mistake, will remind me of the investment I’ve made in their future. These are the women who, when my husband is driving me crazy, will challenge me to love him sweetly and intimately regardless.
Likely your boundaries look different. I think we treasure in others what we cultivate in ourselves. But I do encourage you do really consider which friendships give space and bring light and life, and which ones anchor you in a place of stagnancy. If you choose to remain in relationships of negativity, be aware of their reality and choose to interact accordingly. If you are in a place of forced solitude, then I just encourage you to develop in yourself what you desire in a friend. Be that friend for whom you are searching and trust God in his timing. But summon the energy to connect. Find the time in your calendar to invest. Put down roots, even in if you fear that you’ll just be transplanted. Take the risk. We are a body for a reason—we need each other.
If you have a moment, take time to share with me who you desire to be as a friend. Or share with me that moment you knew you’d found a friend for live who gifted life. Teach me, oh readers!
Or maybe you need to hop off this computer screen and make a phone call–there might be someone who needs that coffee date just as much as you.