Friendship: befriending and defriending

As I’ve previously stated this blog is primarily for me. It’s a place where I think ‘out loud’, reflect on different things,and assess where I stand – and how much I’ve changed in my opinions – on different topics. Most of these issue stem from ‘real life’ because I’m neither particularly good at, or interested in, hypothetical musing.

Friendship. It means a lot to me, I value it, it brings colour, hope and a touch of realism to my life. But what is it? Why does it matter?

One definition of friendship it that it is a relationship between friends, and is usually based on mutual liking and respect, between two or more people or even people groups or nations. Synonyms include: relationship, friendly relationship, close relationship, attachment, mutual attachment, alliance, association, close association, bond, tie, link, union; amity, camaraderie, friendliness, comradeship, companionship, fellowship, fellow feeling, closeness, affinity, rapport, understanding, harmony, unity; intimacy, mutual affection; cordial relations.

Scripture states that it is not good for mankind to be alone, and my interpretation of that is that that we have an inherent need for others that goes way beyond our desire for a soul mate and partner. Recently the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said that her political party was there to keep another party ‘honest’. I like that nuance, and it’s part of what I feel real friendships give us as individuals. They move beyond the superficial, and provide relationships which help us hold up the mirror on our own behaviours, attitudes and give us the security to effect change where change is needed. There is a parity between friends, a mutual accountability, and it’s always effected in an environment of trust. Those conditions and indeed the relationship itself needs to be cultivated and nurtured, but when good a real friendship can really help us mature and grow.

Befriending is an interesting word. It means more than making friends with someone. One dictionary puts it like this:

to act as or become a friend to (someone), especially when they are in need of help or support.e.g “he makes a point of befriending newcomers to Parliament”

Another

To make friends or become friendly with; act as a friend to; help; aid: to befriend the poor and the weak.

In Christian circles there is something called friendship evangelism which carried (for me) some of the same connotations. Befriending a person because they need Christ is rather different from sharing your faith in Cheist with someone who happens to be your friend, and in the normal course of that relationship. I have a deep founded problem with friendship evangelism if it’s based on befriending, because it seems ethically suspect. I want my friends to meet Christ through me, to see Him in me and long for that same loving relationship for themselves, I want my friends to see how my life is being transformed by God’s love and hope for that saving grace for themselves. I absolutely don’t want to befriend folk in order to share the good news with them, but rather long to live alongside people where the Kingdom of God reaches down and touches them both through me, and in spite of me.

To my mind there is an inferred lack of parity in the befriending kind of relationship, an intentionality on the part of one to take on the other as a friend because that person is seemingly in need. There might be all kinds of real positives that come out of this kind of relationship, but it is not one between equals – there is an implicit mentoring implied, so to my way of thinking, it’s not really friendship.

Not all friendships last forever. Some are for a season, or during a particular set of circumstances for example. We have all probably had childhood / university friends who we lost contact with after school or college, or work mates or neighbours who moved away. There were also those friendships which didn’t work out at the time. The minor – or major- tiffs that served to emphasise an incompatibility between the two people, and so the friendship either never got started properly or was severed In some cases a confidence was broken or something was said that became ‘the final straw’. Former friends, in different circumstances and for different reasons, choose to go their separate ways. Sometimes one friend lets go more reluctantly than the other.

The break up of good friends, the breakdown of relationships in which lives were truly shared at a deep level, is never easy, indeed it’s often really painful, and not always civilised. In some instances, however, it is very much needed – in order that we grow. In the non-virtual world a break up always something tangible, although a slow decline of friendship with its gradual parting of the ways is perhaps less so.

De-friending is something different, though that difference isn’t easy to explain. It’s  a much newer term, and is used predominantly to mean the act of removing (a person) from the list of one’s friends on a social networking website, such as Facebook, although increasingly may be used to mean the act of ending a friendship in the non virtual world.

In some cases the process of de-friending is simply just a slow decline, a recognition that friends are no longer friends or that friends have become mere acquaintances or the friendship never really took off in the first place, and so a friend is quietly dropped, de-friended, deleted from the list. At other times people decide to have a “cull” to reduce their social network to more manageable proportions – a bit like compiling a wedding invitation list and realising you have to draw a line somewhere – and so – somewhat arbitrarily or so it seems to others – it is decided who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. It’s not necessarily visible, not like those awful in-out peer groups at school, but it’s the virtual equivalent.

The worst kind of de-friending, however, is when a real life friend, one you see or hear from regularly, deletes or limits your access  to them on social media and other forms of non face-to face communication without warning, reason or explanation. There might be perfectly good reasons for this, but the lack of discussion or communication about the decision can be very hurtful because the environment of trust is damaged by the very act of defriending or blocking.

Good friendships are worth fighting for! The very best tool in the fight is a willingness to communicate well. It starts with me …but can only work if the other person is ready to tango too..

We must become quick to love, slow to take offence, and desirous of communicating lovingly with each other – listening and sharing – and being willing to work at keeping ourselves and each other honest. It isn’t always easy to confront a friend – I hate doing it and shrink back from doing it – but it is an investment in the friendship to do so. As I already said, the holding up of a mirror for each other is for me one of the most important aspects of friendship. Our failure to do it – lovingly – is never in the best interests of either person. De-friending, I believe, is a passive aggressive act and it never  helps to build bridges or overcome difficulties. The antidote is opening up dialogues which help the friendshipto flourish or at least finish well!

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