Toy Story may have been the first to make the line “you’ve got a friend in me” popular, but it’s basically been my unspoken motto for years. I have always dreamed of having that inseparable, totally amazing best friend. Every time a new friendship started, I hoped it would be THE ONE.
Sometimes, that friendship would work out… for a while. As long as I kept in touch, made plans to spend time together and talk, listen, and sympathize, gave them a birthday gift each year, and interacted with them on social media, we stayed friends. As long as I made an effort, they would typically let me. And I kept at it, hoping that they would become as interested in being my friend as I truly was in being theirs. That maybe one day, they would text me first and want to get together — and not just to tell me about their new pet, problem, or crush.
But each time, that special friendship didn’t quite work out. At all. Things would be good for a while until I finally noticed something: I was initiating almost everything. I started conversations; issued phone calls, invitations, and gifts; and committed a lot of time to these perceived friendships. I went out of my way to show interest in their lives, listen as they talked about things that were important to them, and make them feel special and loved. I didn’t have entirely selfless motives; I was hoping to get a best friend out of the deal. But I wanted to be there for them and help them as much as I could; to be the friend to them that I hoped they would be to me. Perhaps instead of being so desperate for a friend, I should have considered the type of girls I would even want to be friends with. I mean, this is what I was dealing with:
The attention-seekers ~ “It took me way too long to realize that you shouldn’t be friends with people who never ask how you’re doing.” The first group of perceived friends wanted all of the attention all the time. They gave no apology for taking up tons of my time talking only about themselves. In the name of being a good friend, I would listen to endless complaints and rants, just hoping that talking would make them feel better. I would offer them some biblical advice and attempt to encourage them in the Lord, only to be met with more complaints (usually about the same thing) the next time we spoke. If I got brave enough to interject something about a time when I had a similar experience that related to the discussion, they listened wordlessly until I was finished speaking before resuming their monologue. (“Enough about you…back to me.”) No matter what tact I tried, the attention-seekers never respected my time, advice, or kindness; they took as much as I would give them as long as I would give it.
The hit-and-miss girls ~ “I decided to put as much effort into contacting you as do with me – that’s why we don’t talk anymore.” This group just didn’t make an effort. They were generally willing to hang out if I asked and seemed content to let me make all the effort, but they didn’t express any disappointment if we never saw one another, talked, or spent time together. They just didn’t try. No amount of effort or care or concern on my part impressed them enough to invest in me the way I had invested in them.
The part-time friends ~ “I am not a contestant. I will not fight for a spot you’re entertaining others for…” The third group was much more subtle than the first two because these girls really seemed to care. They asked about my life and offered their help. They actually seemed like good friends and were fun to be around; they seemed to think I was great too – until one of two things happened. Either someone they liked better came along, or they became too busy to make time for me anymore. Suddenly the wonderful feeling of having a friend was replaced by the realization that I wasn’t nearly as important as the new girl or the newest thing in my friend’s life. Instead of trying to regain the lost attention, I would usually wait for my part-time friend to remember me or move on. No matter how good this person’s intentions were, I realized I couldn’t count on them to be the committed friend I needed.
So, can you relate? Although dealing with these people can be extremely disappointing and frustrating, I want to encourage you to do two things. First, be friendly. Proverbs 18:24 shares this seemingly obvious truth but sometimes this gets overlooked in its simplicity. Even if you’ve had tough experiences with the groups I just described, you shouldn’t stop being friendly. You won’t find good friends sitting back and waiting for them to come to you. Don’t give up on friendship; instead, become more aware and quicker to identify the people in these categories before you invest too much time and commitment to the relationship. You can be friendly without being friends. Don’t hesitate to reach out, but enter cautiously into friendships.
Secondly, keep reaching out! Even if you know people who wouldn’t be the best friends, don’t stop reaching out to them. It could be that God put them in your life for you to have a ministry to. If you go into the relationship with the mindset of serving, you can ungrudgingly be a friend to them without expecting their friendship in return. Ministering to others without return expectations frees you from bitterness and hard feelings. I’m finally starting to see what true friendship looks like and let me assure you that it looks nothing like the one-sided relationships I had convinced myself that I needed. Pray for the right kind of friends and be the right kind of friend. “Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.”