I once heard that if you want to be an engaging presenter, talk about everything as if you are introducing your best friend. This made a lot of sense to me because I have the world’s best, best friend. I love talking about her because 1) she’s way cool, and 2) at the risk of sounding dramatic, my life as it is today would never, ever, ever, in a million years ever, become what it is without her. (Too much?)
This site is about relationships in dating, marriage, with God, and with oneself. For me, friendship is closely linked with all of these, contributing to some and being included in others. It’s impossible for me to separate a good life from having good friends.
I grew up watching my Mom value friendship more than anyone else I know. She has a friend in her third grade teacher, friends from her childhood home, college dorms, and every other place she has lived. These are not shallow friendships, either. She has put great effort into maintaining them for decades, and it only takes a short visit with her to recognize her love for her friends.
Throughout my life, though she always put my Dad first, she spent a great deal of time lifting friends’ burdens through quiet, selfless service and compassionate support. In return, they added joy and light to her life, carrying her through years of stay-at-home parenting and the trials therein, and continue to be a pillar of her happiness in life post-kids.
Teaching me how to be a friend, and that friendships are to be cherished and treated with integrity, is one of the great lessons I’ve learned from my mother. Long after she is gone, my life will continue to be enhanced by the friendships she taught me to treasure. She personifies the sentiment that “Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity” (Khalil Gibran).
In my case, I owe the quality of my relationships in dating, marriage, spiritual, and with myself to lessons initiated by my best friend, Stacy. Lest you think this is placing a bit too much power in one person’s hands, I’ll explain.
Most of my dating life pre-Stacy was spent doing what I like to call, Rapid-Fire Binge Dating. I was pleased with the fact that most of my relationships had amicable endings, meaning, I wouldn’t feel the need to jump behind a shrub if I saw one of my exes headed my way. But I’ve since learned that this casualness and lack of deeper feelings existed because I never allowed myself to jump in with both feet.
I told myself and others I was looking for marriage when in reality, I kept everyone at arm’s length. This made for easy objectivity in dating, a quickness to end it at the first sign of struggle, and a tendency to feel so-so about my dating partners.
Without going all psycho-babble-self-help on you, the gist of it is that I was never vulnerable enough to risk any part of myself. As Brene Brown, renowned shame researcher would say, without vulnerability I couldn’t have real connection. No connection equals no love, thus I spent half of my twenties ‘liking’ rather than loving people. Expecting lightening to strike without any clouds is pretty silly.
One summer between semesters I went to the Hamptons to be a nanny. I isolated myself and did some (brace yourself) soul searching. Over the course of the summer not much headway was made by way of figuring out where my groove went, if I had ever had a groove at all.
Rather than bore you with the super interesting and serendipitous miracle that was Stacy’s and my meeting, I’ll just say we met at church the week she moved in, the same week I was moving away. It’s not every day on Long Island you see a girl with tons of curly blonde hair and a southern accent in a Mormon church, so I knew I had to investigate what was happening.
Rather uncharacteristically, I ended up doing something I had learned over the years to never do: invite a newcomer-stranger to hang out with in Manhattan with me. When you live on Long Island, it’s an ordeal to get into the City. If you go with someone who turns out to be annoying, you are stuck for hours essentially babysitting a tourist. It’s the worst.
Since I already gave away the ending, you know it wasn’t the worst. Somehow six hours passed while we walked and talked nonstop and covered every topic you can imagine, and some you can’t. I wish Stacy was more of an attention-seeker rather than the world’s biggest attention-hater so I could tell you some of the hilarious/amazing/random stories I heard that night. But alas, she will have to settle instead for an entire essay about our friendship.
Speaking of Brene Brown, in speaking of empathy as being the antidote to shame, said, “The two most powerful words when we are in struggle are, ‘me too.'” Or if you prefer C.S. Lewis, “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself..."
That day in Manhattan was chock full of Me Too’s. I believe this is because we were watching Grey’s Anatomy together in Heaven long before this life, since we basically see everything the same way despite being extremely different individuals. But that’s neither here nor there, because all kinds of friendships can produce incredible connection and empathy, even if it's not immediate.
We remained close via phone and text after I moved across the country. One day, I decided I would tell her about something I did years before that I had never before willingly told anyone. It was something that had come to be a big part of how I defined myself, a definition which included “bad person” as one of the central themes.
“Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Language and story bring light to shame, and destroy it." -Brene Brown
When I told Stacy about 'the incident', her response was essentially, "OK, you're human." She didn't downplay it, but she empathized and conveyed to me that she saw the person I had become rather than the mistakes I had made.
Trusting her with my story virtually eliminated the shame I had been carrying for almost seven years, which is now barely a memory. That day, a crack was made in the walls that surrounded my real personality. Little by little more light began to come into my life, and I allowed more of myself to be seen by those around me.
In a hundred different ways over the years, she continued to say Me Too when I came to her with difficult things I would have, in the past, kept to myself. I started to think I might actually be a 'good' person who made mistakes rather than a 'bad' person who did good things but someday would be found out for who I really was.
The best way I can describe the change that took place is, imagine you’re reading at a table near a window. The sun starts to go down, but there is still light by which to read. After a while, you are squinting to see, but you just keep reading, absorbed in the book. Someone walks into the room and turns on a light, and suddenly it’s like, what? How could I even see before in that dim light?
I had been trudging along thinking I was getting the most life had to offer, and it wasn’t much. After giving up the secrets and letting some light in, it got much better.
Within the first couple of years after meeting Stacy, I learned that the walls I had up extended even to my Heavenly Father. I had noticed her connection with Him, and wondered what it was I was missing. She had this highly personal, genuinely open relationship with Him, something I had never witnessed before.
It was like He was someone she really knew and trusted, to whom she could turn for anything. In doing so, she had become a truly humble and empathetic person who spent a great deal of time loving and serving others. Her religion was totally authentic in her life.
Meanwhile, I was doing everything required, following all the rules. But I didn’t feel His presence to the degree I knew was possible after observing her. The nice thing about genuine friendship though, is there is no comparison with your friend, only example. I didn't feel worse about myself seeing how she lived, I simply wanted to learn from her.
When I shared this concern with Stacy, with the careful but genuine tact that only someone who knows and loves you could, she helped me see that I had been holding back from the Lord.
Through her example and spot-on advice, I came to know for myself that He already knew my soul and loved me completely. If the first breakthrough brought a light switch, this was like standing atop a mountain at noonday in the summertime. This missing conviction was what truly had been holding me back.
I allowed myself to trust God to stay with me when I make a mistake, to carry me when I am weak, and provide me with the courage to show my heart to those around me. This lesson requires my almost constant re-learning, but remembering it is the fastest way to feel at peace with life.
Needless to say, through all this my views on romantic relationships shifted. I saw what I had been doing wrong and what I needed to give up in order to connect with the right person. In general, I loved people more, which was a good place to start.
When I met Jon, I came very close to closing up those walls once again. The vulnerability required to fall in love, and to let someone love me, was very painful at times (see: vomiting on our first few dates). But there would have been no headway and I would have lost him had I let my old fears keep him from seeing me. There is a price for love, and that price is putting all vanity, pride, and masks aside and hoping against hope that they accept your offering.
The first time Jon told me he loved me was a night I experienced a major family heartbreak. Just two years prior, I never would have called him with the news. I would have turned inward, put up the fortress, and shut him out until I felt like I had sufficiently dealt with it, in the process killing whatever delicate roots of a relationship we had begun to grow.
Instead, I did the hard thing because I had learned from my best friend that it was safe. Jon made it safe, and it was a major accelerator and turning point in our relationship. The payoff to trusting him to share my burden was increased love- and that love was precisely the thing that could lift my burden.
There's no way I could have loved Jon the way he deserved to be loved, and made the commitment to love him through a lifetime of marriage, without first learning how to open my heart.
It’s hard not to get sentimental when talking about my friendship with Stacy. She was my training wheels, helping me learn how to love with my whole heart. She is still a wonderful example to me of living a Christ-centered life. I am a different person, wife, and mother because of the changes that happened with her as the catalyst.
We have helped each other through some of life’s biggest adjustments: cross country moves, changing/quitting jobs, getting married and now having kids, all while taking turns giving each other the Me Too’s we needed in the hardest moments. A friendship like that is a pearl of great price and I feel that it is a rare privilege to have been given it.
And Stacy, because I love you, I have refrained from making a bulleted list of your many rare and awesome qualities that everyone should aspire to develop. Sorry, everyone else.
People have remarked that I must be really confident to share some of the stuff I do on this site. In particular, my screw-ups, large and small. The truth is, it’s not that I’m highly confident in myself; I’m confident in the universal nature of the things I write about. Not everyone has experienced everything I have, but everyone (except for a sociopath) has experienced the feelings. My friendships taught me that.
Every time a friend says Me Too, I know there are others who could benefit from that same Me Too. I suppose the best part about good friends is that even if I am the only one, they will love me anyway.
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. -John 15: 12-13