I just ended a friendship.
I feel relieved, but I didn’t want to do it. There’s still a bullet-list in my brain of things I was tucking away to talk to her about. I miss her. I also accepted that we needed to grow separately.
Our friendship did not begin healthy. We both brought some trauma to the table and neither of us dealt with conflict well, or often at all. We eased into unhealthy patterns: her mismatched or miscommunicated expectations of my behavior led to conflict, which we ignored until the edge of the initial anger burnt off, and then she would pretend nothing happened, so I did too, and that cycle would repeat. But I didn’t want to give up on her: Jesus offered grace, so I thought I should too, and I did for a long time.
To stay her friend, I slowly made myself lesser. I was not allowed to be as talented, wounded, or intelligent as her, or she would become upset. We couldn’t share friends. I learned to make myself smaller and moldable, more available to become what she needed, and it became difficult — near-impossible — to set boundaries without triggering a more severe conflict. But sometimes things were good. We could laugh together. Talk for hours over tea. The good times made me want to minimize the ways she hurt me.
It must be said that this is an incredibly reductive explanation of a complicated friendship. I didn’t do everything right either. But the point is that the friendship became unhealthy because there was no grace in it. She always felt like I owed her more of my time, attention, and money.
And I started to believe that, and I became anxious and physically ill because of it. I questioned my own actions constantly. I didn’t feel safe in my own mind.
“Am I doing too much for her?” I asked another friend.
“I don’t think you should have to ask that question,” said this other friend, grieved on my behalf.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Corinthians 13:4-7).
These were the words I had in mind for myself. These were the ways I tried to love her well: I tried to be patient, kind, humble, selfless, graceful, and forgiving. I tried to bear her pain and endure her demands on my time and attention. But I did not ask for boundaries, and my body and my mind began to suffer for it.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body (Proverbs 16:24, ESV).
Conflict with my friend added to other pressures in life. The lack of grace sapped both our souls and hurt our bodies. I lost my appetite and twelve pounds, struggled to hold attention, felt panicked and paranoid often, and a whole host of other symptoms of anxiety.
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).
As she demanded more of me and I felt I had less and less to give, we totally lost the ability to encourage each other towards kindness, excellence, goodness, and selfless love. I began to feel like less than a person, and that’s when I sensed the deep-rooted illness of the situation.
For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well (Psalm 139:13).
By not asking for boundaries and by allowing the friendship to continue in this way, I was not respecting myself. I was not honoring the inherent value of my own personhood. I can be like Jesus, but I can’t be Jesus. My friend can not find complete satisfaction and salvation in me.
I am not sure that I handled things well. But with as much gentleness as possible, I asked for time and space to heal apart from her, and I prayed that God would soak the whole mess in His transformative grace. And I finally feel some peace.