I don’t need friends

I couldn’t let our relationship-themed month go by without writing about one of my absolute favorite inter-personal topics: friendships, specifically with people of the same sex. And given this week’s deeply disturbing Supreme Court ruling on DOMA, it’s more important than ever that we talk about healthy same-sex relationships.

There’s a lot of debate these days about whether men and women can be “just” friends. (I enter this debate with as much vigor as anyone else, but always at the back of my mind I have to laugh at it. Everyone I know counts people of both sexes among their “friends,” so even as we question whether or not we can be friends, men and women ARE friends with each other…at least to some extent.) But no one debates that a girl needs her girlfriends and a guy needs his pals.

Except that I’m about to.

Zvieracie_pariky_2.2

I’ve been re-reading C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves,” and I spent a delicious Sunday afternoon recently perusing his chapter on friendship. You may perhaps be as surprised as I was by one telling statement: friendship is the least necessary of all human loves. We can’t survive or continue as a species without eros (romantic love) or affection (obvious example: kids need mom to love them), and theologically speaking we also need charity. But friendship we do not need. In fact, we enjoy it so much precisely because we don’t need it.

Looking back at my own life, I have to admit nothing has destroyed or harmed my friendships, especially with other girls, more than neediness, whether on my side or the other. “Need” automatically places a burden on the relationship, one that requires one side to act or respond in a particular way. If I “need” someone to be my friend, she can’t do so freely. She may answer my calls because she feels guilty, or doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, and she may even agree to hang out once in a while, but we won’t be equals in the relationship, and it won’t actually be a full, healthy friendship.

This is not to say I don’t occasionally need things from my friends, or they from me. Who hasn’t gotten the 2 a.m. phone call for a ride to the airport or the emergency room, or just a listening ear in a particularly dark hour? Any relationship comes with its share of burdens and requests. But the friendship itself — the relationship — is not a need. It’s a gift, and no one “needs” a gift, however much she might want it.

This holds true, of course, in “Platonic” male-female friendships, where they exist. In my own experience, though, I find it gets murkier here. From my observations (limited, I admit), women and men enter into friendship expecting different things. Women look to friends for emotional connection first and foremost. We like to spend time together, to talk, to establish a relationship based on shared stories as well as shared experiences. From what I can tell, men seem to seek out friends first of all based on shared interests and experiences, whether it be a shared faith, shared interest in philosophy, a love of football, or going out drinking on Friday nights.

The desire for emotional connection on women’s side can tend to look like neediness in male-female relationships, since that isn’t necessarily something a man wants or offers in a friendship. And once you cross that boundary, it’s often a point of no return for “just friends.” But perhaps I’m generalizing here.

Regardless, friendships between men and women can never be as free as friendships between women and women, and between men and men. I’m much more free to bring my emotions and thoughts to my girl friends, and to invite them to share that part of my life with me, because there’s never the “danger” of romance. Or at least, there shouldn’t be.

In short, friendship is free, by its nature. There’s no compulsion in friendship, and as soon as compulsion enters, it weakens the friendship. It can even destroy it if we aren’t careful.

I don’t need to have friends. I GET to have friends, and I get to be one. If you enter a relationship simply because you “need friends,” you’re setting the friendship up for failure — or at least, to be an anemic sort of friendship. We need companionship the way we need affection, in order to survive. But we don’t need friendship.

I’ve always found I stumble upon new friendships with surprise. There’s this “A-ha!” moment, when we both realize we enjoy the same things, or maybe we have the same reaction to a joke, or we have a shared love of F. Scott Fitzgerald or a shared desire to live in an attic for at least six months and churn out that book we’ve been planning to write for five years.

Perhaps I’m going a bridge too far, but I wonder, with the rise in homosexual relationships — and now the open door to same-sex marriage — what will happen to that freedom in same-sex friendships? As we blur the lines between men and women, we also blur the bonds that men can form with men and women with women. Already too many men avoid male friendships (aside from “buddies”) because they fear the stigma of looking “too gay.” Sooner or later, women may follow suit.

So it’s crucial that those of us who understand make sure our lives are fortified by strong, free, same-sex friendships.

And I want to take a moment to thank all of my friends, especially my girl friends. Thanks for being so delightfully unnecessary. Thanks for being the free choice I get to make on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. I love you, and I don’t have to love you, and I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual. What a gift.

–Mabel

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Guest Post: When It’s Not All about Me

Today’s guest post looks at the apparent contradiction between being “honest” (with ourselves, about ourselves, and with others) and being loving. Sometimes we have to be true to ourselves and open with the people around us. But is this always what charity demands?

 

It’s a pretty problem.  Your job requires you to see people—lots of people—every day; to talk to them, to work on them, to get them to produce for you.  Obviously, you’re going to dress professionally, modestly, etc., etc.  But what exactly does “etc.” entail?  What if you catch yourself wearing clothes you would never have chosen for yourself, or for a date, or for a party with friends—clothes that you chose specifically in order to make an impression on the people you work with?

It’s not a vanity issue, it’s an honesty issue.  When you dress up for the party or the date—or even Mass or dinner with the family—there may be a little prick of vanity in your desire to make a good impression.  But at least it’s an honest vanity.  You want to look your best.  For the job, it’s another matter.  You want to look their best, the best version of what they find attractive—and that may not be Who You Are at all.

Let me be repeat: this isn’t about modesty or professionalism.  Let’s take it for granted that even if plunging necklines or ripped jeans garner some extra attention from our audience, we don’t indulge them (or ourselves).  But what if you’re the original little black dress girl, and you’ve found that clients respond well to bright colors?  Or you’re a navy-suit type, and it turns out that your students warm up when you wear tweeds?  Should you feel guilty about dressing a part?

If you think this kind of conscience twinge is far-fetched, consider this scenario.  There’s a Situation—in your office, in your friend-group, what have you.  Philomena and Claudius aren’t speaking, and this really bothers Damien, who’s better friends with Philomena, but really thinks it’s her fault, and doesn’t want to risk jeopardizing the friendship, and so spends all of his efforts trying to get Claudius to apologize, which only irritates Claudius more.  Meanwhile, Hieronymus, whose intransigence caused the original quarrel between Philomena and Claudius, comes to you for advice about the Situation, as does Philomena.

If you’re lost in that chain of pride and prejudice, that’s fine.  The only significant takeaways here are (1) It’s Complicated, and (2) everybody is (to one degree or another) at fault.

With that given, what do you do when Hieronymus comes complaining?  Do you point out that HE DID start it all?  Do you remind him of how he steps on everyone’s toes—including yours?  Do you point out that the whole Situation might have been avoided if he, Hieronymus, were just a little more [bold, or patient, or hard-working, or polite, or whatever he wasn’t]?  Do you?  Did you?

I know I did; I know I have; and at those times when I’ve bitten my tongue instead—when I haven’t “been honest” with my confidants—I’ve usually suffered the pangs of conscience afterwards.  How could I pretend to tell them how to handle the Situation when I wasn’t being forthright about what I thought of it, and of them?  When I didn’t tell the whole truth?

Then the other week another friend needed advice.  In her case, it wasn’t about a Situation.  She was worried about Dressing a Part, worried that it might be dishonest.

“Look,” I said, after I had listened to her scruples at some length over a suitably soothing beverage.  “Look.  I really don’t think you need to worry about this.  The fact is, you think you’re worried because you’re not being honest with the people you see, because you’re dressing differently for them.  Well, fine.  You are dressing differently.  But it’s not like you’re pretending to be another person; you’re just limiting your appearance in front of them to a part of yourself, maybe to an underdeveloped part of yourself, or a part you don’t use very often.  You’re worried that you’re being dishonest, but are you sure that those scruples don’t come from pride or vanity instead?

“Do you really need to tell everyone who you are, or what you think about everything?  The impulse to let your audience know the truth about you isn’t about what’s honest, much less about what they need—it’s about what you want.  You’re not lying to them by putting on the pink dress.  You’re helping them get to where they need to be.”

My friend had started to nod slowly, as if light were gently breaking over the horizon.  But it struck me all at once, in a flash—a dose of my own medicine.

Did it really do Hieronymus any good to tell him what I thought about him?  Really?

Honestly, I had to admit to myself that it did not. My urge to tell him the truth—the whole truth—was no more an honest scruple than my friend’s concern over her rhetorically effective habiliments.  It wasn’t about what was honest, much less about what Hieronymus needed—it was about my need to get my frustration with him off my chest.

It’s a pretty problem, this little dance we all have to do between honesty and charity; and there is no sure-fire way to ensure that you aren’t violating either in your relationships.  Perhaps the nearest one can come to a solution is the old method of the saints: turn your gaze outward from yourself.

Gia Demoro is a writer who lives in Virginia.

 

 

 

 

When Community Bites

“You cannot pray with enemies in your heart.” 

Pope Francis said that this week, during a homily on the Lord’s Prayer. 

Last night I attended Mass at my parish church, and I was angry. Someone had offended me earlier in the afternoon — not on purpose, and with all the best intentions, but it hurt my feelings (or my pride), and three hours later I still hadn’t gotten over it. I sat in the back where I had a pretty good view of everyone else in attendance; this church has been my home parish for over four years, and I knew at least a third of the people there. 

And as I nursed my little hurt I found myself ruminating over every single hurt or aggravation any of the people around me had ever caused me, whether they knew it or not. Because let’s face it, belonging to a community of any sort can be really, really tough. I sat staring at the backs of my acquaintances’ heads and feeling lonelier by the second, and the tears welled up, and the typical Mabel “solution” presented itself almost as an imperative: maybe it’s time to move on. Find a new parish. Even better, leave the area at last, like I’ve been talking about doing for years. Start over with new friends who haven’t hurt my feelings — and whose feelings I’ve never hurt. Or maybe I should just shut down officially, shut everyone out, focus on work and prayer and family and forget about trying to live in this “intentional community” that’s so hard to keep track of anyway. 

Now I should know better than to take my pity parties to prayer, because inevitably I get a Holy Smackdown. Sure enough, it came right around Communion. It wasn’t a simple phrase or flashing lights or a holy fragrance wafting across my path, so it’s difficult to put it into words here. But it came over me then that I’ve been treating Christ like my personal possession and my convenient escape route when my relationships with other people get uncomfortable. 

You see, Lord, I said, It’s really easy to love you. 

But other people? Other people have hard edges, sharp words, mean looks, bad days, melancholy moods, rushed schedules, differing opinions, frustrating needs, sometimes bad breath and dirty nails. Other people can be very, very hard to love. 

And of course the only response I got to this inner tirade was a loving chuckle and a somewhat dismissive, “Yes, and?” 

I guess I can’t add a whole lot to that. Community is necessary not because it keeps us from feeling lonely or frightened, or because it cushions against our needs — though it can be nice in those ways — but because it wears away our sharp edges and forces us to be together and practice the kind of love that matters — the kind that just plain sucks sometimes. 

God never said, “Love one another. It’s easy!”

He just said to do it. You simply can’t claim to love him (really) if you haven’t got that part of the Christian life straight. 

 

Toxic Friendships: NOT a good idea. EVER.

We all know that toxins are never a good thing to ingest in any way shape or form. We are warned what to avoid and how to prevent poisoning ourselves. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if people had such warnings? I’m sure you can all relate to the problem of toxic friendships — aka, friends who not only do not lead you closer to God or to your potential as good, successful adults, but who actually lead you AWAY from all things good. 

I have had my share of these. To illustrate, I’ll give you a little anecdote. 

I graduated from college in 2010. I went to Franciscan University of Steubenville, and after spending 4 years there, fancied that I was at my spiritual high point. I thought I was SO spiritually solid that I was invincible. But after about 6 months in the “real world,” I was proved dead wrong. 

I spent a large amount of time with the “friends” that I had made post-graduation, and most of them were not Christian, let alone Catholic. I learned more than I ever wanted to about all things sexual, and over time the fact that I am not (and never have been) sexually active became more and more a topic of discussion. It became apparent that when they said they were going to set me up with someone what they really meant was they wanted me to finally “get some.” As if I had been missing out or somehow my life was less than it should be without sex. (I’m not against sex, for the record. I am just against sex outside the context of marriage. Call me old-fashioned, but that’s the long and short of it.) And while I never actually did get set up with anyone and they were not successful in their endeavors, I did find that I was much more desensitized to conversations, images, and ideas that just a year before would have shocked me and made me blush. Now they were commonplace to me. Those people….they were not friends. They should not have been allowed to be as close to me as I let them. They were not good people to have surrounded myself with for so long. 

But then I moved to Texas, which, although I did spend a good amount of time with others, also afforded me a lot more time alone than I had before. During this time I was able to focus completely on me; through a great deal of introspection I realized that, if I was someone else and I met me, I wouldn’t like me. I was able to spend an entire year working to refocus my mindsets, and to get back to the point where I was again disgusted and appalled by anything unGodly. And that became my goal for the year: to again become someone I was PROUD to be, someone who I would want to be friends with. 

I can now say that at this moment I firmly believe am spiritually better off than I have ever been before. I have more or less detached from those friends, and have strengthened my friendships with other good, wholesome young adults — not all are Catholic, but all have only my best interests at heart. I have strengthened my relationship with God first and foremost, and through Him I have been able to avoid the triggers I was previously unable to. 

Looking back I see more clearly just how much effect our friends have on us. It is vitally important to choose your friends wisely, and to align yourselves only to those who endeavor to lead you closer to God and to assist you to be the best person you can be. 

And also, when you find a friend who’s truly from God, make sure to tell them. When you mean it, you can’t say “I Love You” too much. It’s impossible. ❤

And I guess that’s all I have to say about that. 🙂

 

–Virginia 

This needs to be said

While we’re broaching the subject of dating, there’s something I’ve been needing to get off my chest for a long, long time now, related to the dating scene here in the DC area.

We gals can spend a lot of time complaining that “the men around here” aren’t proactive enough. And while that can feel painfully true at times, it isn’t. I think what we really mean is that the men we like don’t happen to like us. Frustrating? Of course. But let’s not denigrate all the men in the local area because the “wrong” ones are the ones reaching out.

In fact, I want to thank all the men in my life who have honored me in the past few years by seeking to get to know me better, and even — at times — asking me out. Obviously for now it hasn’t been quite right for whatever reason(s). Attraction remains a mystery, right? Some of us are comfortably returned to being “just friends,” and some of us have fallen out of touch or taken a big step back. And I’m afraid I’m the most awkward person alive when it comes to dating and all things that threaten romance, so I know I haven’t always handled things as graciously as I could have. Still, you should all know that your notice was flattering, uplifting, and encouraging, and I’m incredibly grateful.

I’m especially grateful to the men who have had the courage to pick up the phone and call. Thank you for stepping out of your comfort zone for me. Thank you for letting me know that I’m worth seeking out, beyond a Gmail or Facebook chat or the occasional text message — nice as those things are, of course.

Know that even though I’m not very good at expressing it out loud or in the moment, you have earned my lasting respect. By behaving the way men ought to and pursuing, you have helped me step into my role as a woman. I mean it from the bottom of my heart: thank you.

-Mabel

Simple Saturday

{Simple Saturday}

Joining a blogging link-up effort by Iris over at Country Girl’s Daybook

This weekend we’re hanging out with our grandmother and not making plans. There’s nothing like putting the city in the rear view mirror and driving out into the mountains for a couple days. Put the phone away, cancel all plans, and just be for a little while.

From Mabel: A shout-out to the amazing person who is mowing my lawn this morning. You know who you are. I owe you a plate of cookies…

From Virginia: To my poor, abandoned cat — I love you, I miss you, and don’t worry, I’ll be home tomorrow. And to my poor, abandoned sister — your painting is a work of art. No, really. Also, I love the weekend.

Happy Saturday, from both of us.

–M and V.

Guest Post: The Dating Game

And to prove we meant it, we’re starting off the June theme with a post that goes right for the meat. The below was written by two DC-area young adults who have been observing and participating in the D.C. Catholic dating/friending scene for years. We welcome your comments on their ideas, but will insist that all comments be respectful. Moderators reserve the right to remove any comments that come across as snide. If you have a personal grievance with the DC dating scene, or all members of the opposite sex, this is not the place to air it.  

Don’t Take Dating So Seriously That You … Never Do It

By Jaclyn Weber & Joseph Agnes

One of the most common intentions of Catholic young adults is to discern the best way to glorify God as they settle in to their careers and adult lives. While some go into the seminary or convent, most are called to marriage. Unfortunately, we the authors have noticed a number of important problems in the way Catholic young adults (at least in the DC area, and we’re willing to extrapolate beyond) approach the first step of the marriage process: dating.

We’ve broken these problems down by sex:

Men

  1. Men are unwilling to risk upsetting the social group norm, and they are often trying to be respectful of the woman by being absolutely certain she’s interested before acting.
  2. Men forget that women respect strength and courage, and that a lack of action on their part can be seen as cowardly.
  3. Men do not talk to women about women. They mostly stick to talking to men. And most men are clueless about women.
  4. Men are often not ready to be turned down if they express interest, and they can respond in immature ways.

Women

  1. Women expect men to know if they are interested. (Ladies, you have to remember that men are clueless about women, and thus will generally miss signs of interest.)
  2. Women don’t want to be too forward by pursuing, so they sit back and wait.
  3. Women don’t talk to men about men. They talk to women. And most women are clueless about men.
  4. Many women exaggerate the importance of a first date.

Boiled down, the major issue between the sexes is a lack of communication.

We decided to write this piece together specifically because over the last several years it has become commonplace for men in our social circles to talk to few women about dating…except for Jaclyn. And women talk to few men about dating…except for Joseph. With this experience, we hope to shed some light on how to overcome this lack of communication.

To start, men need to remember that asking a woman on a date, or otherwise showing initial interest, will only disrupt the social circle if men allow it to do so. Meaning, guys, if the young lady turns you down, play it cool. Don’t get upset, don’t react strongly – acknowledge her decision in a mature and respectful fashion. Remember, how you react to her answer will dictate far more about your future relationship – platonic or otherwise – than her answer in and of itself. It is just as hard for the girl to say “no” as it is for the gentleman to ask her out, so in most cases her answer is not designed to hurt or cause difficulties within your friend circle.

Women, if you’re interested in a guy, you need to show it. While it may be unfeminine to chase after a man, it is important to make sure he is aware of your existence and knows you are interested. A guy will miss your subtle signs. Men are not subtle beings, and women will simultaneously gripe about this while not changing how they act towards men they are interested in. So be a little more encouraging to the man. After all, maybe he doesn’t want to harm your existing friendship; he may be concerned about the larger social circle. So give him a reason to take the risk.

Women often assume that if a guy isn’t pursuing or initiating, he’s not interested. This is not accurate. Men may not have considered dating you because of the way your friendship developed. Or if you are part of a large social group, there may simply be too many people around for him to focus on you. Drawing his attention your way will almost automatically put the idea of dating you in his mind and focus his attention on deciding whether he is interested in you.

Also, men, remember that just because you don’t notice interest from a woman doesn’t mean she’s not interested. You may easily just be missing all the million-and-a-half clues she’s giving.

Women respect courage. Flat-out. Expressing an interest in a young lady will honor her, and even if she says no, she will be honored by your courage and the compliment to her. And if you play it cool, she will respect you all the more. Actually, this increases your chances of future dating, since she is likely to tell her friends about how cool and courageous you were – and nothing is stronger than the recommendation of a female friend to a woman. (There’s even the chance she may change her mind, since you’ve put the bug in her ear.)

One of the major cross-gender flaws in the young adult Catholic community is an unwillingness to chance one-on-one time with someone of the opposite sex outside of a group setting. We get stuck in the “comfort zone” of a group even though the risk of going on a date is fairly minimal, and the reward potential greater than the risk.

The biggest issue between the sexes is the simple lack of communication on just about everything. We have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and texting, yet we are unable to talk to each other. We have thousands of years of human interaction and study to rely on, yet we’re too often unwilling to broach any serious subjects with anyone beyond a small circle of often same-sex friends. In short, we must rediscover the art of interpersonal relationships.

To return to an earlier point, many women exaggerate the importance of a first date. It’s like the beginning of a friendship, at best, or a job interview at worst. While it is a critical step to testing marriage compatibility, it is not marriage.

Both men and women could try this low-risk strategy of beginning to muster the courage to go outside the comfort zone: Tell a trustworthy friend of the opposite sex you are interested in a person. For men, this allows the Women’s Wireless Network to tell the girl you are interested within nanoseconds. For women, this allows the male the opportunity to know you are interested, and gives him the chance to muster up his courage and ask you on a date.

None of us are getting any younger, and most of us want to find a lifelong partner sooner rather than later. While our suggestions aren’t perfect, they are intended to begin the process of breaking down unnecessary barriers between men and women. We hope they are helpful.

Jaclyn Weber is employed at the Arlington Diocese’s Office of Youth Ministry. 

Joesph Agnes is a D.C.-area Catholic who is involved in the young adult community.

 

 

June’s Theme

A new month, a new theme! 

This month we’re breaking away from everything LifeintheGap ever claimed or wanted to be. We’re diving in and getting our hands a little dirty. Yes, folks, June will be the month of relationships

Whether it’s dating, familial, friendships, roommates, or some combination of all of the above — we’d love to see your thoughts on maintaining healthy, happy relationships as a single “young” adult. 

Please reach out if you’re interested in writing a guest post. You can email the address provided on this blog or (probably more effective) contact us via our Facebook page (which you can “like” to the right of this post). 

As always, thanks for reading and for joining the conversation. We’re over 100 likes on the Facebook page. Next goal: 200. Please spread the word to help us get there!