This is going to be a little raw and half-baked because I want your input. Have you noticed friendship feels hard sometimes?
After listening to Jennie Allen talk about friendship and John Mark Comer talk about community, then looking at my own relationships, I’m thinking about why friendship and community feel so strange sometimes. Not always, but sometimes. Maybe especially lately.
I’m not talking about casual connections or people you chat with or agree with online all the time.
Although social media is a great supplement to real-life relationships, we don’t survive on multivitamins.
What do I mean by friendship?
“Friendship” meaning a rich bond between two people, a mutual affection, many shared experiences, and is characterized by virtues like kindness, compassion, empathy, understanding with unconditional acceptance along with permission to challenge one another. That is the kind of friendship that’s hard sometimes. Hard to find and hard to nurture. But don’t we need that now more than ever??
How many people know you? Like, really know you? Who is the last friend you revealed your emotional cards to?
You don’t need to dig deep into the social sciences to discover we are the most isolated generation in history. Some sociologists even refer to the current levels of loneliness as an epidemic.
I’m not sure if it’s from getting older, parenting young kids, living through the pandemic, the political polarization or just from being human, but does finding rich friendship feel hard?
I love people. Like… love people. Like, heart-to-hearts are what I feel made for. I want to sit and listen and sip something hot and help and hold space for everyone. Ask my husband, I’m not really exaggerating. Although I’m a middle-of-the-road intro-extrovert and it’s super difficult to do with little screaming humans running around, I crave meaningful relationships.
Like many of us, I have for sure felt lonely over the last two years as I navigated pandemic motherhood with a teeny-tiny village and twenty-twenty exacerbated the breakdown of friendships.
Have we forgotten how to feed friendships?
I recently went to a party with some people I didn’t know and I felt like I full-on-forgot how to have conversations. I said awkward things and didn’t know what to do with awkward silence and just kept awkwardly eating more pepperoni off the charcuterie. Even though I was happy to be there, my conversation skills felt crippled. That has to be connected to the friendship topic.
Did my conversation skills die? Are conversation skills dying?
But, here’s the thing. Although physical distance created relational distance, it’s more than that. We became more digitally connected to people while we became more relationally distant from people. Over the last couple years, the echo-chamber of social media became one of the most formative “relationships” in our day to day, showing us more and more people who think and act like us. Meanwhile, meaningful conversations with people who might have a different perspective started to disintegrate. If someone does disagree with us, we just unfollow or unfriend them and move on. Because, mental health, right?
Sure, there is a time and place to mute or disengage from distressing connections online. I’m not saying that’s the wrong thing to do. But as Jennie Allen says:
we’ve become really good at boundaries and less good at friendship.
But what happens when we struggle to have meaningful conversations with people who are different than us? And what does that have to do with friendship?
My friend Carey talks about the art of conversation; the skills of listening well and asking questions. And I wonder… if maybe…
Is the art of disagreeing dying?
And if it is, is this why friendships feel extra funky sometimes?
This is a purely anecdotal analysis, but disagreement used to come more naturally when we lived life in close proximity to people. Offices. Classrooms. Colleagues. Sports Leagues. Peers. Conversations and disagreements were just a natural part of the places we find friendships.
Yes, sometimes conflict really sucks. Yes, some people are ‘better’ at navigating conflict than others. And yes, some of us duck out of relational tension like dodgeball.
But wasn’t healthy disagreement an inevitable part of relationships that we had to navigate if we wanted friendships? Now we don’t. We can just delete people and never see them again.
I wonder if friendships are difficult because we elevate the person’s perspective over the person.
Yes, common ground creates more connections, but if we need to agree on everything to be friends, we’ll have none. Or at least I’ll have none. Ha! I’m an odd duck.
Have you been ghosted by a friend because of your opinions? How did that feel? Have you ghosted anyone because of their opinions?
Sometimes I wonder….
Will I be ghosted if I am not as outraged about the same things you are?
Will I be deleted if I speak up about something I care about?
Can we still be friends if one of us was more cautious with covid lockdown efforts than the other?
Will I get ghosted for presenting another perspective on masks or mandates or racial justice or political positions or whatever?
Friendship is worth fighting for, not in.
Again, when I say friendship, I’m talking about the mutual bond and affection kind of friendship characterized by unconditional support with loving encouragement to grow. Not friendly acquaintanceship (as lovely as that can be, too).
Name the hot button issue, and we can find friendships that have fallen apart over them.
Relational distance with a digital echo-chamber reinforcing the same perspectives hasn’t just been weeks or months now — it’s been years. How much have friendships been shaped, filtered, and divided by our devices?
Do you have people in your life you love and respect that see things differently than you do?
Do you have people in your life you can be real with without wondering if you’ll be heard? Rejection is always a relational risk, but I think we feel it now more than ever.
We need rich relationships now more than ever.
What if you have as much curiosity about our friend’s perspective as you do conviction about your own?
What do you think? Do we need to revive the art of healthy disagreement? Is this one of the reasons friendship feels hard?