The Personalist Project

Accessed on March 29, 2017 - 7:11:51

When Friendship Doesn’t Go Far Enough, Part 2

Kate Whittaker Cousino, Mar 02, 2017

I couldn’t help thinking, after reading through it, that the "More Than BFFs" article could have been truly helpful if it hadn’t so badly conflated several different kinds of healthy and unhealthy modes of relating, all wrapped up in a misunderstanding of both the nature of friendship and the nature of relationship with God.

 By associating the (mostly healthy, in my opinion) examples with the list (which contains about half and half unhealthy and just innocuously odd behaviors), the author conflates these three types on intimate relationships with codependent and unhealthy patterns without clearly making a connection between them.

 The author wants to say that friendship becomes something spiritually dangerous when we place a friend in the place God should be in, but she is unable to draw out compelling examples of this. The best she is able to do is list some clearly odd or unhealthy relationship patterns—but, as we can see, it’s not idolatry of the friend that makes those particular patterns unhealthy. I think I could probably come up with some examples of true idolatry in a friendship, but not many drawn from real life rather than imagination.

 This, I believe, is because true intimacy with a close friend is a tutorial for intimacy with God, not a barrier. Dysfunctional friendships are most often dysfunctional, not because they give what God is supposed to give or demand those things we owe only to God, but because they bear no resemblance to a relationship with God at all, being to some degree solipsistic. Codependent relationships reduce the other to a mechanism by which I get what I need or want so long as I do and say the right things. The person is secondary, or never considered at all.

 There's no problem with having a best friend--a bosom friend a la Anne and Diana or Johnathan and David. There's a problem in not recognising that they are a separate person from yourself and that what is good for them is not always going to be what you want or make you feel comfortable or good.

 In a healthy friendship, you grieve when your friend moves away to follow her husband or her career, and then you try to find ways to stay in touch. In an unhealthy friendship, you attempt to sabotage the marriage or the job or the move, no matter what it takes, because your friend’s well-being is less important to you than the role she plays in your own personal script.

 I'd argue that most of these dysfunctional relationships are actually the opposite of idolatrous. They don't make our friends into competing gods. They make them into bits and pieces and reflections of ourselves. They are a way of using others, reducing them to their role in our lives.

 What is really idolatrous in the genuinely unhealthy patterns mentioned is not the friendship, but the SELF. It's about wanting self-satisfaction more than we want the good of another, more than we want them to be a separate person, more than we want to love as God loves.

 As with so many sins, the fault lies loving too little, not too much.

Image credit Cima da Conegliano [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons