October 12, 2016

Why Does Friendship At Times Feel One-Sided?

I was asked, "Why does friendship at times feel one-sided?" That question, of course, could mean many different things: why must I do all the work? Why is that one person in my life not reciprocating my overtures of friendship? Or: why is no one reaching out to me or helping me? I feel invisible.

No matter the exact meaning of the question, I understand the frustration behind it. It's so disheartening when we make ongoing efforts to extend friendship to other women and find them met with what appears to be apathy or, worse, disinterest. Sometimes it's not even that we feel hurt by one-sided friendship but rather we've just grown weary of it--the work and the feeling of responsibility in our relationships.
Believe you me, I understand. Simply by marrying a man called into ministry, I've been thrust into a wonderful and weird role that is much more weird than wonderful when it comes to friendship. Everything I'm about to say about this is said matter-of-factly, without complaint, and with a full embrace of where God has me: many of my relationships are one-sided. Not all, but many. I'm saying this only to say that I can speak to this. Many people believe the pastor's wife is surrounded by friends and has no trouble in this area. The truth is, there is much to navigate and one of the toughest is the feeling of being the responsible party in many one-sided relationships. It can be difficult to know with confidence that I am accepted and valued apart from my role, my performance, and how I make other people feel.

Now, here's what I'm learning from other women who are not pastor's wives: it's no different for them! Most of us are navigating many one-sided relationships, and this is very much a part of life as a Christian. We are called to love others, serve them, and lay our lives down. The narrative arc of the New Testament is that the believer is an initiator who is constantly moving toward others to meet needs. This, of course, is done in imitation and in honor of Christ, who really knows what "one-sided" looks like. The only way we can remain unjaded and unoffended in our relationships is to look to Him and know the extent to which He went to prove His love for us. That can help us keep putting ourselves out there for a lifetime.

Notice I haven't been using the word friendship but rather relationships. The majority of our relationships are likely going to be one-sided and sacrificial (parenting children, work relationships, blessing our neighbors, serving in the church), but should friendship look any different? Yes and no. Friendship will not ever be a 50/50 partnership. Sometimes women, due to stage of life or difficult circumstances, don't have the capacity to reciprocate friendship in ways we'd prefer. We may have an opportunity to serve a friend for season upon season who is just trying to keep her head above water and has nothing to offer us in return. These opportunities are blessings; friendship is not about keeping score.

However, friendship is mutual. I've thought about this a lot. The mutuality is how we know someone is a friend. In my role as a pastor's wife, I get to talk with a lot of women, and I absolutely love doing so, but because of this I've also had difficulties at times knowing who my friends actually are and who I can turn to when I need help. I finally realized that the distinguishing mark is mutuality. These women don't have to mirror my every word and action, but there is a genuine returned interest in who I am as a person.

Let's be honest: for all of us, this is going to be a small list of people. In fact, it may not be a list at all but rather just one person. And that one person is imperfect and will not reciprocate in all the ways we want at all times. I think this is where we often stumble: we think everyone else's list is really long and everyone is out there doing all the things with all the people and laughing and giggling and having the time of their lives. Everyone else feels accepted and as if they belong, and we're the losers sitting over in the corner waiting to be noticed. In reality, people are busy and when they hang out together there are a whole lot of acrobatics involved in making it happen. For a friendship to have evolved into a solid and easy place, it's probably happened through awkwardness and lots of lots of years. We're all in the same boat, is what I'm saying, pastor's wife or not, married or single, childless or with child, introvert or extrovert.

So what can we do when we feel friendship is one-sided? Here's what I do:

  • Ask myself: is it friendship or a relationship? Either way, as a Christian, I'm called to go toward others with love and acts of service, but if I'm calling it friendship when it is consistently not mutual, I may need to release some expectations--of that person and sometimes even of myself.
  • Mutual friendships are gems: rare and often hidden. Sometimes, in looking for friends, I keep going back to the same place over and over again with certain ideas and categories in mind of what that gem will look like and where it'll be discovered. I may need to expand my horizons and mine different places: women in different ages and stages, for example.
  • I look for what is given rather than for what's not. Sometimes, for example, I leave a conversation frustrated at how one-sided it was and I can start down a rabbit-trail of self-pity and resentment. I've learned to stop and consider what in the conversation blessed me. Perhaps she entrusted me with part of her story or paid for my coffee. She may not have asked me a question (my love language), but she probably showed some form of love and friendship. I just have to look for those small acts and thank God for them. I think having a gracious spirit rather than a critical one (something knowing God's love toward me has helped change in my own heart) toward other women goes a long way, because only then can we appreciate and receive small acts of friendship as gifts rather than being demanding, having unrealistic expectations, and keeping score. Other women can sense these unspoken demands and will back away, and then we're really in for some one-sided relationships.
  • Finally, and this is a doozy, I need to consider if I'm making my needs known to others. I am the queen of being hard to know (my Myers Briggs profile says that I am a mystery even to myself...ha!) and I very much resist asking for help. I've found at times that friendship feels one-sided because I've expected others to just know what I want or need. Am I even giving people the opportunity to reciprocate? 

What about you? How would you answer this question? What has helped you navigate relationships that feel one-sided?