friendship faux pas 101

friendships are hard. like ok, duh. please, ms. blogger, tell me something i don’t already know. what i didn’t know is that i had ideas about friendships that were more akin to unicorns walking the earth than anything resembling reality.

for instance, i didn’t know just how important proximity is to friendship. i happen to live in a town where i barely know three people, and those are loose acquaintances at best. i haven’t believed this was an issue. (total fail)  i thought to myself, i know lots of people. lots of really interesting people that have tons in common with me and when we are in the same room, buddy we really have a great time. the issue is that i am so very rarely in the same room with them… and the mountainous task of getting in the same room is… well, mountainous. it’s hard work. work that i generally find i don’t have energy for after chasing my very lovely, but emotionally and physically demanding 2.5 year old.

not being in proximity to people is an issue because the way real friendships evolve is just that – they evolve. over time. and not just over time (because i have waited YEARS for enough time to pass to be considered a friend – rookie mistake) but it also requires just sheer being together. being together minus pressure. now this… this i’m still learning how to do. So for your reading enjoyment, here are a few little friendship building faux pas you may or may not be aware of. i have been caught in one of the sneakiest friendship faux pas out there:   

#1 Coffee date Confessions: when you invite a potential friend or acquaintance over for coffee it can end up backfiring a little bit. ok, maybe a lot.  you may be saying, what? i love coffee dates with friends. yes, coffee dates with friends = a lot of fun, but not potential friends. coffee dates aren’t evil, but if that’s all you have, if there’s no time that you are together outside of one on one someone-has-to-come-up-with-something-to-say-to-avoid-the-uncomfortable-silence, unauthentic situations, then your friendship is most likely doomed before it starts. having coffee dates and nothing else puts inorganic pressure on people to perform and be interesting just like a… wait for it… a date. yes, we are essentially pursuing friendships the same way we pursue romantic interests, which if you have dated long enough you realize how inorganic dating is in the first place. you schedule a time, get dressed up, meet somewhere and then you proceed to be on your best behavior. don’t be too needy, don’t reveal how lonely you’ve been, or act too excited about being out without the kids, or share too much too fast, you don’t want to come across as needy or clingy or put too much pressure on your date and make them run screaming into the night because they can’t fill the black-hole need in you for companionship. no, you must play it cool. and you do. for about three dates. then you think, wow, this is great, we are connecting, we’re really building something here, regardless of the fact that it’s been all small talk up to this point. and you take a chance. you tell the truth. you get vulnerable.  maybe (if you’re anything like the queen of tears here) you cry. and then against all your best initial efforts to be cool, you’ve done it. you let the cat out of the bag and now they know you’re scarred and that you have needs and struggles and are interested in more than just “hanging out”, that you may actually need something from them. and the water grows cold and uninhabitable. you simply stop hearing from them. you killed it. dead.

there was no foundation for intensity like that to land. we are intense, complex creatures but we fill our lives with snippets of information and data in bite sized pieces about one another over Facebook, and the occasional longer form blog. it’s all one sided, in small doses and it feels  manageable. when you make the grand friendship faux pas of thinking a few coffee dates are enough to start unveiling the guy working the levers behind the curtain in your Oz, you need to understand that unless they are either  a) a counselor or b) horribly broken and codependent, they most likely won’t stick around for the rest of the dog and pony show, which i have come to understand is a perfectly healthy response, but still hurts like hell and feels a lot like rejection. it’s possible you simply didn’t know you were following a broken format. Coffee date confessions usually only lead to one thing. no more coffee dates. 

or maybe because of the years that have passed we think something has been built that doesn’t really exist. You believe you are:

#2 Fraquaintences: there are those acquaintances that you mistakenly thought were your friends.  you have a wonderful time when life happens to bring you together. for years, perhaps, you spend time with people occasionally – and beautiful things happen when you are together. you’re encouraged, you feel seen and appreciated, you laugh, you cry, you pray together. you leave knowing someone in this world values your existence on the planet. but then if you try to connect with the person outside of those annual christmas parties or random family get togethers, they just don’t respond. and you think, what’s wrong, here? we’re friends, right? did i make them mad? what did i do? why aren’t they responding to my text… then my phone call… then my heart-felt email explaining how confused i am at their silence. and then you have crossed over into – stalker acquaintance guy. (wince) 

the really sad thing about this is that you end up strangling the life out of what you have expecting it to be something it isn’t, effectively destroying the freedom to enjoy one another during the times you do see one another by putting unrealistic pressure on your sometimes-friend to be your all-the-time friend. maybe, like me, you didn’t know this rule.  maybe you didn’t surrender to the reality that proximity ultimately rules, against any desire to know one another, regardless how much you care for, or have in common with people or every good intention to “keep in touch”.. proximity rules. and if you try to buck this you will effectively kill what it is you do have; an acquaintance you enjoy spending time with when you’re in the same room together once or twice a year. this can’t be forced into the close friend category no matter how much you believe it can. there is no such thing as a fracquaintance – i made it up. (because i’m awesome like that)  it is impossible to walk through life with someone you don’t actually spend time with more than once or twice a year. this may sound obvious to someone as smart and insightful as yourself, but it’s something that i didn’t accept until i actually destroyed a dear acquaintanceship.  in reality it’s not awkward except for the couple times a year we see one another, but it’s pain i really wish i would have avoided and would have… if i had only known. which leads me to the last of my friendship faux pas:  

#3 the things they never tell you: we’ve all done it. stopped hanging out with someone because of that annoying detail of their lives. but what about when it happens to you? maybe you have a rambunctious 2 year old that screams in the background while you’re on the phone. maybe you don’t brush their teeth. maybe they can’t stand your spouse. maybe you just talk. too. much. or unknowlingly put undue pressure on people for what they can’t give. there are countless deal breakers that we encounter all the time when attempting to build friendships. but more times than not these are the things they will NEVER tell you. they’ll just fade away into the unreachable background of your life and it’s over. and you have no idea why. my sister and i were talking about this today. is it a failure on our part for not having the guts to speak up? are we failing one another by not stepping up and telling each other the truth for the sake of real connection? we see people around us that are obviously in pain, loneliness – separated from others for any number of reasons. yet we don’t reach out because it would mean we have to be honest about what annoys us, or we’ll have to have a conversation that would just be uncomfortable. so we choose to live life disconnected from one another. i don’t know. i’m just asking questions here. 

the truth is, friendship is hard work. and it requires being intentional with one another. there are so many sad, lonely, disconnected people in this world, and we have so many ways to connect with one another but the connections often end up being empty and evaporate with the slightest wind of opposition. 

i find myself longing for the days of living in community that i knew as a child, surrounded by family and friends, where the old men sat on the porch of the farmers store and the children played in the tobacco barns and turned in empty coke bottles for a nickel. where when you were struggling with a difficult phase of your toddlers life you could talk to other mothers – in their kitchen – and cry and be loved by actual arms around you instead of a “like” or an emoticon on your Facebook post.

we don’t live in that world anymore. we live in the one we’ve created with technology taking the place of actual connection and we know it, but have felt incapable to do anything about it, and don’t know what to do to change it. not logging into Facebook doesn’t change it. pressuring people to be in your life doesn’t change it. wilting away pining for the days of yore doesn’t change it. but i hope that understanding the reality that friendships are still made and built and grow through the same way they always did, regardless of how society has changed, will help us. we have to be realistic about what it takes to connect with people. it’s not instant. it’s not guaranteed by any formula or checking off boxes of accomplished tasks and invitations. it takes what it always did. time, intentionality, showing up for each other and most importantly it takes grace for one another. 

i deeply value my friendships and acquaintances. there are a few that will stand the strain of distance and time apart and i am forever grateful for them. but i find myself in the position of being alone in this town, so now it’s time to put in the work of finding those new friendships that are waiting to be discovered, and proceed with my eyes open, not falling into the faux pas that have killed so many fledgling friendships in the past. i pray for wisdom all the time. i pray for the same thing for you, dear reader. loneliness is not our fate. failed friendships and pain isn’t either. we get to choose and hopefully we can share the truth with each other to make those choices more evident and stop expecting friendships to magically happen. 

what friendship faux pas have you seen derail friendships? i’d love to hear about it.

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