Is he a true friend?

Last year I wrote regular columns for Fervr about friendship and this year I’ve had a couple of teenagers from Europe write to me for advice. Yesterday I heard from 17 year old N whose best friend E appeared to dump her for a few months, leaving her very confused and upset. She wanted me to answer this question: “Is he a true friend?” so this is what I replied. 

Thanks for your email. It sounds as if you have been having a lot of heartache and trouble with your friend.

Your question “Is he a true friend?” is interesting. However, I’m not going to answer it because I think there are more important things to think about. Let me run through a couple of key points.

1)      People do what they do for a lot of reasons

At your age, people can get pretty complicated. Often they are thinking through what they have learned and done as children and they might be trying to build new lives on new foundations. This can mean a lot of people do things that don’t seem to be ‘in character’ – they become different. Half the time none of us know why we do stuff. And we certainly don’t know why our friends do stuff. And if they tell us, we often don’t understand and we try to tell them, “No, it’s different from what you think”. So, you have to realise that people do things that seem funny and they change and that’s actually pretty common.

2)      We can’t really do anything about what they do

Almost nothing you say to your friend E is going to change his behaviour at this stage. He is quite literally out of your control. He is also not going to want to be ‘helped’. In fact, sometimes ‘helping’ people is just another way we try to get them to do what WE want them to do. This is really hard to accept for someone who has a soft heart and who loves a friend. 

3)      What we can do is accept and own our own feelings

I want you to think very hard about your feelings in this situation. Say to yourself “I felt....... when he didn’t return my calls.” “I felt ................ when I saw that he had changed.” And so on. Fill in the blanks. Use words like ‘worried, disappointed, betrayed’ etc, rather than fill in the blank like this: “I felt like he didn’t like me” because that’s not actually a feeling. Then have a good cry about them and feel them deeply. 

4)      We can also tell our friend how we feel

Face to face is the only way to have deep conversations, by the way. Email is too tricky and too open to misunderstandings. It would be great if you could sit down with E and say, very simply, and without anger or blame, “I felt disappointed when you didn’t return my calls. I felt betrayed when you finally rang back after four months. I felt very hurt and let down.”

5)      We can ask for what we want and say what we will give

After telling someone how we feel, we can actually ask for what we want. HOWEVER, asking is not demanding. It means that we need to accept a ‘no’ as well as a ‘yes’. If you said to E, “I would like for us to be friends like we were before and call each other every day,” he is quite within his rights to say ‘no’, and it would be unhelpful for you to then turn around and be angry and blaming. It won’t make the relationship any better. Or you could say, “I would like you to know that I will always be here and I want to be friendly with you. However, I’ll wait for you to call because I don’t want to push where I’m not wanted,” or something like that. Choose a boundary for the relationship, state it and the reasons why and stick to it. Ask him what he would like to do in the friendship as well, and see if you can both come to an agreement. However, you need to have a backup plan in case he doesn’t stick to his side of the agreement.

6)      Use this as an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth

This is a wonderful opportunity to look at your own actions and decide how you might approach things differently in the future. It’s also a great time to let God be your closest emotional support.

7)      Move on and find new friends

And of course, be open to finding more friends and being a great friend to other people. 

Your question: is he a true friend? is something only you can answer. You need to sit down with a piece of paper and write down exactly what you think a true friend is, and what sort of behaviour they show.I suggest you look at 1 Corinthians 13 if you need some ideas. Now compare E to your list. I suspect he won’t measure up.

That doesn’t mean you should drop him, however. It means that you can be a friend to him while accepting his hurts and limitations. Oh, and then, start looking at yourself. Do you measure up to your list? I suspect not as well! (: Now’s the time to pray about the areas you see you fall down in.