Developing Friendships

I'll be the first to admit that I am just not quite sure how 'female friendships' are supposed to work.

It's one of those things that is so idealized in our culture. 

Yes, idealized.

Picture the majority of chick flicks. There's typically some kind of closest-bond-possible BFF friendship between women going on, right? They know each other so well. They go out for drinks together, talk about everything, share their's really appealing. But there usually isn't too much shown about how they got to that stage of friendship. Or the messiness involved in getting there.

But we all know that in the real world, the messiness is there. Because we've all experienced it. 

You won't get long into a friendship with another woman before encountering insecurity, jealousy, competition, manipulation, fear, and pretending.

That's the brokenness of our world. You can't escape it. And you can't pretend you have such a wonderful, ideal 'female friendship' that you've transcended the brokenness of the world and you just don't deal with those things. That's what our culture tries to tell us is possible: if you just pretend you're close enough, you will be.

But true friendship, true emotional intimacy, cannot come without the hard work of nurturing it.

And a lot of times, nurturing intimacy looks...NOT ideal. 

It looks messy. It looks like being truly vulnerable, not just pretend-vulnerable.

'Pretend-vulnerable' is where you jump right into the friendship and share stuff right off the bat that is waaaay too intimate for a beginning friendship. It's saying stuff like, "My husband and I just had sex. He's pretty lousy in bed. Ha-ha-ha." Or, "I really hate the way that other woman keeps such a clean house. She seems, like, sooo uptight. We should mess up her sippy cup cabinet while she's not looking and see if it freaks her out. Ha-ha-ha." Pretend-vulnerable can look physical too: holding hands, putting your head on your friend's shoulder or lap, playing with hair... I'm not saying that women can't do those things and have true emotional intimacy between them. But a lot of times, we do those things not as an honest representation of the deep friendship and trust is already established...but as a way to create a false sense of intimacy that will make us feel secure. 

It's like this. As women, we've all been told over and over by the media and by our culture that having very close women friends means that you yourself 'are OK.' You have a certain level of safeness, of security that comes through having a close friendship. A sense of significance.

And we all want to be safe. We want to be secure. We want to be significant. Those things are HUGE goals for us as women. And we see 'close women friendships' as one vehicle, one strategy, to get to our goals. 

But we don't really know how to do healthy relationships at all in general.

So we fabricate it. Through pretend-vulnerability. 

What, then, is the difference? What does real vulnerability look like? Well. I think it looks like this. You open your hearts to each other, yes...but slowly. You don't start with your deepest, darkest secrets and thoughts. You start with small instances of letting that other woman know what you think and feel inside. You throw something small, something slightly vulnerable out there...and then you wait to see what their reaction will be. Do they blow off your insecurity? Do they try to fix you? Do they tell other people? Can they understand? Do they listen? Basically, you let little moments of trust build on more little moments of trust. And you let them into your heart, little instance by little instance. 

You test the waters.

And that will probably lead to what real life is really like: something messy. In the process, you'll probably feel some of that junk I mentioned above: insecurity, jealousy, competition, manipulation, fear, or hiding. The next step is to let your 'developing friend' into some of your mess...and see where it goes.

This actually happened to me with two friends recently. I am like completely grappling around in a whole new realm in terms of emotional intimacy with other women. It's not something I've had much of before. I have a lot of women friends, but not close friend-friends, BFF type of friendships that are tried-and-true and real

(And, by the way, I think that is SO OK. But I'll have to explain why in another post.)

But anyway, I have two friends that I'm getting to know, and I've been letting them in to parts of my heart, and it's been a lot of fun.

But this week, I started feeling SO INSECURE about our friendship. I started worrying that once they got to know me more, they wouldn't like me anymore. I was feeling like I wasn't good enough, like I was annoying, like I was too arrogant, like they were talking about me behind my back and like they were wanting to get rid of me, that they thought they'd made a mistake in wanting to be my friend. All my old demons coming out to haunt me.

The insecurities swirled around in my head all week. They'd pop into my mind while I was folding laundry. As I was trying to fall asleep. When I was driving in the car with my kids. 

At first, I contemplated them. And I worried about them. And I thought they were true.

After a few days, I got the beginning of a handle on the thoughts, and I tried to stop thinking them. I started intentionally making myself stop thinking those thoughts whenever they'd pop into my mind. And that was pretty often, I'm sorry to say.

Next, I started weakly trying to remember why I should not think those thoughts. I tried to remind myself that having people approve of me will never make me truly safe or significant. I worked on remembering that God loves me, He's adopted me, He likes me. My worth and value aren't earned only if I can be perfect and never have any messes that might make people annoyed with me. My worth and value and significance come from the fact that God made me (He made me just the way I am, intentionally), and He has purposes for my life. If all I do is try to make people like me and suck up to them all the time, scared to 'speak up' and just happily be who I am whether they like me or not, then I will miss out on the purposes God has for my life. 

Those are some of the things that I started to tell myself.

And I realized, once I started to get my 'head in the game' again, that the best thing for me would probably be to talk about what I was feeling. To my two friends. And it would probably be the best thing for our friendship, too. Maybe not share ALL of what I was feeling, but to at least start to put some of it out there. With real vulnerability. 

Real vulnerability is letting people really see who I am, the mess inside, without an ulterior motive, without trying to manipulate them into liking me. Just showing up and saying something like, "Hey, this is how I'm feeling about our friendship. I've been pretty insecure this week. I've been afraid that you guys don't like me anymore. I know it's messy and it's not your fault, but that's been my experience." 

That gives the friends the opportunity to say, "Hey, you know what? Me too. I honestly have felt insecure in our relationship, too." Or they can say, "Thanks for letting me see that hurt inside of you. It's a gift to know you. I'm not feeling like I don't want to be friends. And I'm happy to know this vulnerable part of you." Their job isn't to make it better, or take responsibility...but to just see that mess in you (or in this case, in me) and to be there with you. Or to respond in kind with their own vulnerability. We can't make it completely better for each other, but just knowing each other in that insecure place starts the healing process.

And it opens the door for real vulnerability. Real intimacy. For real friendship.

And then, even, all that other girl-friendship type of stuff can start to happen, little by little. Even the head-on-the-shoulder type of stuff. Because it's like you can't put the cart in front of the horse. You can't pretend to be so deeply intimate when all you've shared is pretend-vulernability stuff. But when you build little bits of growing trust on little bits of growing trust, and then you let a friend in on some of the real stuff, the messy stuff, that's where true, authentic emotional intimacy is birthed. And that's like putting the cart behind the horse, right where it belongs

So I did that. I saw a great opening in the conversation to say to my two friends, "Hey...I've been having a hard time this week with some insecurities, because I've been imagining that you guys don't like me now that you're getting to know me more." So we talked about it. And they said, "Me too." And there was a deeper feel of 'women friendship' than there had been before. It wasn't perfect. It wasn't easy. It wasn't idealized. But it was real.