Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Friendship Mistakes (How to End a Harmful Relationship in a Loving Manner)

When I was eighteen, I was involved in two harmful friendships. We ended up in a cycle of mutual negative influence. I wanted desperately to impact these young women positively and to minister to them with the Gospel, but it was not the right in my life for me to do that.

The first young woman, who I will call Aurora, lived in my apartment complex. We went to school together and were in a couple of the same classes. I don’t remember how we began to develop a friendship—whether we started talking on the bus, walking back from the bus stop, or some other instance—but we did. Within a few months, I was inviting her to youth group with me, and she was inviting me to the secular afterschool program activities. We’d go to community events or spend time in my parents’ apartment (never in hers) and talk about mutual interests, school activities, and whatever else struck our fancy.

Although she was my friend, I didn’t approve of a lot of Aurora’s behaviors. She smoked, swore, and (if I am remembering and interpreting the signs correctly in retrospect) was a self-harmer. Her overall attitude toward life was negative, and when I spent time with her, I found myself being more negative as well. She also had friends that I did not consider positive influences (for the same reason that I later ended our relationship). Over time, I began to realize that our relationship was having a poor impact on my own attitude and behavior and that it needed to end.

The last time we ever spent any extended time together was pretty much a typical day in our friendship. We were hanging out at my parent’s apartment, talking. Then she got in contact with another friend—one of the previously mentioned friends that I considered negative influences—and invited him over to my parents’ apartment (without asking my thoughts on the matter). Before her friend arrived, she wanted to go buy more cigarettes, so she asked me to walk to the gas station with her. Not wanting to condone her smoking (and being upset with her choice to invite someone to my home without my input), I said I would not go. She said she’d be back in about an hour.

As soon as Aurora left to buy her cigarettes, I went to my mom and asked for her advice. I told her I needed to end the relationship and asked her how, but she didn’t have an answer, so I started looking for an easy way out by myself.
Earlier that day, I had received an invitation to go to another friend’s house (just down the street) that I had rejected in favor of spending the day with Aurora. I seized on that invitation as my “easy-out”. I told my mom that when Aurora came back, she should tell her I forgot she was coming back and went to another friend’s house. I ran down to the other friend and asked her to hide me while I avoided the other person, and we spent a couple hours playing games while I ignored my responsibility to Aurora as a friend and as a Christian.

Aurora confronted me later about my behavior, but I shrugged it off with noncommittal responses and tried to avoid the topic. Finally, she told me that if I was going to treat her like that, she didn’t want to spend time with me anymore. For the rest of the school year, we ignored each other when we passed at school, aside from the angry looks she would give me, looks that I undoubtedly deserved (and I deserved much worse). We haven’t spoken since graduation.

The second young woman (I’ll call her Jasmine) came into my life in the winter of my senior year. I’d been in the town for six months or so, and she was having difficulty getting connected after moving in halfway through her senior year. As with Aurora, Jasmine and I had some common interests which sparked our relationship. I started spending time with her both at school and away, going out for coffee (or the sugared, frozen beverages we substituted for coffee) and spending hours together talking. Jasmine and I were close; on our graduation day, I bought her a bouquet of yellow roses (yellow symbolizing friendship) because she once told me no one had ever bought her roses before. She hugged me, cried, and thanked me over and over again.

Unfortunately, our relationship was not always that positive and supporting. Jasmine struggled with her self-image, dealing with eating disorders. When she would compliment my appearance (which I quickly realized was a remark on my confidence, not my appearance), I would argue with her about how beautiful she was, insisting that she was prettier than me. I didn’t realize that her needs went much deeper than that. She needed to know her identity came from an outside source—from Christ—not to be assured of her identity as beautiful physically.

Jasmine had values that were different from my own. As a Christian, I believed sex should only be within the boundaries of marriage; on more than one occasion, she suggested (only half-jokingly) that she and I take a camping trip with two boys of our choice, in two separate tents, and spend the night doing whatever we wanted with them. I also believe that Christians should not get drunk, but on graduation night, she and I went out bar-hopping with the rest of the graduating class. I (despite the fact that my mom had told me only to drink when we were at Jasmine’s house for the night) had one drink while we were out (a clarification: drinking was legal for 18-year-olds in the country we lived), and she had a few. We had another friend (who had not been drinking) drive us back to her place that evening, where her mom served us strawberry champagne and other drinks. Several girls and a couple boys stayed the night at her house that evening. (While I slept in a different room from the boys, one of them was intoxicated. Were I in the same situation today, I would go home rather than remaining at a co-ed sleepover, and I would never approve of my daughter making the same choice—to stay—that I did that night.)

When I left for college, Jasmine and I did not keep in touch. She stayed in the same town we graduated in, while I left for the US. When I came back over a break, I hoped (selfishly) that we would not run into each other and I would not have to deal with the relationship which I knew was a negative influence. My hope was unfounded. Walking home from the coffee shop one day, I saw a familiar figure walking toward me. Hoping (stupidly) that she wouldn’t recognize me, I crossed the street. She crossed too, and when I was within hearing distance, she said, “Did you think I wouldn’t recognize you?”

Being the sinful human I am, I cheerfully lied. “No, I didn’t recognize you! I wasn’t really paying attention. I had my headphones in.” We stopped and caught up for a few minutes. I don’t remember what we talked about or how the conversation ended, but I’m sure that the insincerity in my friendliness was apparent and hurtful. We haven’t spoken in years, but we never had the clear-cut end to the relationship that we both needed.

For those of you (especially adolescents) that are involved in a friendship that is negatively impacting you—especially a relationship that is leading you to reject your faith—I have some guidelines for you on how to end that without being unnecessarily hurtful. I wish I had known these before I treated Jasmine and Aurora the way I did.
  1. Pray, read Scripture, and talk to others. If the relationship is in opposition to Scripture or is causing you to behave in a way that is contrary to God’s Word, you need to leave. Christian peers and mentors can also help you make the right decision; sometimes an outside opinion is what you need to see the relationship with an unbiased eye.
  2. Be honest with yourself and the other person about your needs. Kindly explain why you feel the relationship needs to end. Don’t hide or try to ignore them like I did. You need a clean break, and they need an honest answer about the relationship.
  3. Set boundaries for what the “end of the relationship” looks like. Will you never speak to each other, or is it ok to say hi when you pass on the street? Can you attend events together with mutual friends, or do you need a complete break from contact?
  4. Decide when and how, if ever, the relationship can be repaired, and communicate that to the other person.
  5. Listen, but remain strong in your convictions. Undoubtedly, the other person will have something to say about the end of the relationship—whether positive or negative. Affirm their feelings (acknowledge the hurt they may be feeling) but don’t let guilt over upsetting them force you to stay in the relationship.

If you are in a situation similar to mine, I hope this helps you make a better choice than I did. Because we live in a broken world, relationships will be hard, they will end, and the endings will be painful. No matter what, though, there is peace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, who heals all broken relationships—not necessarily during our time in this broken world, but in the Last Day, when we are restored to Him in perfect unity.
Since that time with Jasmine and Aurora, I have grown. I have seen that my actions toward them was sinful, I repented, and I have been forgiven by Christ. Because I lost contact with those two young women, I have not asked them for forgiveness—nor do I believe that attempting to reconnect with them would help heal the hurts I caused back then.

To Jasmine and Aurora, if you are reading this: I am so sorry for my behavior toward you. There is no excuse for the way I treated you. I certainly was not modeling the love of Christ. The only reason I can give for my actions is that I am a sinful human being, with every need for God’s grace. Though I did not show you God’s love, I pray that you would see His grace through the fact that He has forgiven me despite my numerous sins and shortcomings. And finally, I ask that you could someday find yourself able to forgive me, not because I deserve forgiveness, but because I need it.

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