An Open Letter to a Friend

Hello there…

Last weekend we both came face to face with something that we have both tried to ignore, tried to pretend wasn’t going to happen. We’ve philosophized about friendship, we’ve hung out as friends, we’ve talked openly and honestly as friends, I have celebrated our friendship repeatedly on my blog. And yet, we both knew, I think, that at some far-distant point, we would have to face the fact that you are a guy and I am a girl, and that our friendship had, despite our attempts to say otherwise, remained open to the possibility of another type of relationship. We couldn’t escape that door; we could super-glue it shut, but the creature imprisoned behind it was alive, and would need to be dealt with, whether through befriending it or putting it to death.

On Saturday, in the gentlest way possible, you told me “that we needed to put a period after the word ‘friends.'” That it wasn’t my fault, but just wasn’t going to become that other kind of relationship. And, oddly, as much as I care for you, I agreed with you. Deep in my soul, I knew you were right. Besides, I trust you.

It was right, but I am sad. I am sad because I cannot be certain that I will ever meet someone with the same qualities I so admire in you. I am also sad because, for very good reasons, we will not be getting together every week or so to watch a movie and talk about fictional characters and fuss about the people we love and our personal struggles. I will miss those things very much. Your friendship, over the past six months or so, has given me strength and support to deal with some very difficult events and issues, and I will miss getting all the texts and seeing you smile and feeling your hugs. I will miss you .

But I don’t want you to feel bad. In fact, that’s one reason I’m writing this. Because you should not feel guilty for being honest, not any more than I should for caring for you. I do not blame you; I do not blame me; the sadness is natural. It makes sense, anyway. People our age are looking for a life partner, and toward that end we make friendships, we have crushes, we fall in love, and then we evaluate the relationship and ask ourselves: is this the one? And, no matter how much we love that person, if that person is NOT the one, we’d better just admit it. Things like this just happen. They stink, but they are not wrong. They are, in fact, part of life.

Actually, I want to thank you. I have been in your place before, having to tell someone who liked me that it wasn’t going to work out. And he took it very badly. You know all about that story. I didn’t want to have to do that again. I would have felt so guilty if you had not spoken up, if you had left it up to me to call this relationship-thing what it was. Thank you beyond words for having the courage and forthrightness to bring it up. Thank you for “being the man” about it, if you will.

Also, thank you beyond words for doing it gently. I did not feel cheapened or devalued by the manner in which you did it. You, in fact, said that you didn’t want to keep me waiting, that you wanted to step aside so someone even better could come. You said that your reasons had nothing to do with my personal qualities, and, in fact, praised me. That’s not to say that I haven’t since struggled with self-worth, but it’s more “No one else will be okay with strange little me” than “He didn’t want strange little me.” Thank you for making me feel like a queen (if a lonely one), instead of something cheap. Thank you.

Because you were so very decent about all of it, you have given me a wonderful gift. Despite a sense of loss and the questions about what’s ahead now, there is no anger and hardly any hurt associated with my memories of our friendship. I have no guilt, no regrets, no hard feelings.

I will always be able to look back on our movie-and-dinner nights with a smile. When I watch Guardians of the Galaxy or I, Robot or all of Doctor Who season 8, I will smile remembering the fun of watching them first with you. When I eat quiche I will remember making it for you and then learning how much you disliked cheese. Or brownies! Heaven help me. I want to laugh just thinking of how you praised them so much out of politeness, so I kept making them even though you couldn’t stand them. When I put on my long coat, I will remember wearing it in the corn maze and wearing it to go see Dracula, and how you thought it was cool, not ridiculous. When I listen to that Anna Nalick album you showed me, I’ll remember our crazy Half Price Books day, when we ate a picnic on a narrow strip of grass beside a busy street in the middle of Lynnwood. When I am struggling to be strong, I will remember that you believed I was.

So much good. So much happiness. So many beautiful memories.

And thank you for being a good friend. For listening when I needed to talk. For being a guy with whom I could feel completely safe. For treating me, not like something “other,” but as an equal. Thank you for all the goodness you blessed me with.

We knew we’d have to figure out what it was someday. Thank you for bringing it up and for doing it in a way that left all the happiness and beauty untouched.

Things have changed. We can’t kid ourselves; it can’t be what it was, even if neither of us are quite sure what that even was. But I wanted you to know that, in the words of the Doctor, “you added to my pile of good things.” And those good things are precious and will never go away.

Again, from the bottom of my heart, I say, Thank you.

A Resolution to Celebrate

As summer gave way to fall this year, I made myself a resolution. I was going to celebrate this year.

Maybe it’s my hobbitty heart, with its love for the sparkle and merriment and food of the holidays. Maybe it’s that they represent something innocent and childish. Maybe it’s my love of stories, which entwine themselves around all holidays. Maybe it’s the colors and the foolish beauty of decorations. Maybe it’s the gathering together of friends and family, painted in my head in the most idealized Dickensian lamplit colors. Maybe it’s my passionate love of gift giving and receiving. Whatever it is, there is a deep idealism in holidays that my heart yearns for.

And I sure didn’t have much of it last year, for whatever reason. Last fall, I was in the thick of my student teaching, doing little else besides school-related activities. Furthermore, as I’ve discussed before, it was a spiritually and emotionally draining school year. Students were wracked with tragedy; the school took several hard hits. For those reasons and perhaps more, I spent the holiday season in a sort of dark fog. The holidays passed, and I nodded soberly at them as they went by, going, “Huh. That was Christmas. Christmas used to be so much fun. Is it always going to be like this now? Over before I can hardly register that it happened?”

But a sort of change happened in me this summer. I made a new friend, and I developed a crush. I know. Alarming. And, as you’ve read in previous posts, it’s been thoroughly dragged into the light, analyzed, and given a proper and respectable place as a friendship and nothing more. But in the middle of the summer, when I was working hard and happy outside in the natural beauty of Whidbey Island, the peculiar heart-glow that comes with the giddiness of a girlish crush, especially when it is reciprocated by the kindness of friendship, lit me up from the inside. And as my overdeveloped imagination painted blooming future images in my mind while I scrubbed toilets and weeded walkways, the paintbrush strayed toward the upcoming holiday season.

Why, now that I had someone to do them with, I could do all the holiday things I’d been too busy or serious to do for the last several years! I could go to a corn maze with him, and then, by George, we could carve pumpkins afterward! Then would come Christmas. Would he go caroling? Would he like to walk around and look at Christmas lights? What about going to a Christmas concert of some sort? Suddenly all of the holiday sparkle, which had struck me as a jaded, gleaming veneer last year, seemed joyous again. 

Thus I resolved to make this season the season of celebration once again.

Now that the relationship has taken a more substantial and less romantic turn, I look back on the giddy, ephemeral source of my resolution with a little bit of embarrassment, but I will not say with shame. There is no shame in the rekindling of the heart. And the truth is, that somehow, God used my girlishness to not only bless me with a supportive friendship but to lift me, at least a little, back toward a sunnier outlook. And for both I am thankful.

But back to my resolution. As the fall rolled around, the corn maze and pumpkins happened, crowned with an evening of Doctor Who at a friend’s house. Halloween came around, and, even though I never celebrate Halloween on principle, I set aside said principles, figured that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with dressing up and watching a spine-tingling movie or two. So over the week, I crossed a few classics off my list, including “The Nightmare before Christmas” and “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Halloween night, I put on my long coat and went to the new Dracula movie with my friend. By now, our relationship had been carefully categorized; it did not lessen the charm of the evening.

Then came the Thanksgiving season, and my resolution to celebrate encountered its first hiccup. The week before Thanksgiving, my father and I had a telephone conversation, which I have already blogged about, which threw a very wet blanket on both my friendship and my celebratory spirit. And, lucky me, it was right before that holiday which, more than anything else, focuses on family. I got to go home and spend the week with people who were unhappy with me about something that made me happy. Great.

But sometime around Thanksgiving and the struggles that surrounded that week, I had to ask myself why. Why should I celebrate? Really, truly, why? Because I had a crush with whom I could share the sparkling delights of the season?

Or maybe these holidays were like my own giddy feelings. Once the sparkle floated away, there was something more substantial, more valuable to be found.

For the first time, it occurred to me this Thanksgiving that maybe my resolution to celebrate could be carried out despite all occurrences otherwise. That even if the circumstances surrounding this holiday season should become as clouded as they were last year, I could still celebrate.

And this Christmas, I will. That is a resolution and a promise.

Sure, the celebration might look a little different. Maybe it wouldn’t be the giddy, superficial fun, although giving that an try couldn’t really hurt. Maybe it would be possible to set the burdens on my heart in the hands of my Heavenly Father for long enough to enjoy some true holiday merriment. It would certainly be worth a try, should those burdens become overwhelming.

But there is so much more to Christmas than glittering trees and Christmas carols and presents (although those things are a source of particular pleasure to me). It is about showing love to others, selfless love that is not dependent upon any conditions at all, because that is the kind of love that Christ showed when He left Heaven to take on bodily form. No matter what the circumstances are, I can celebrate in the deepest form this Christmas.

Now, the best part of this is that I can use that kind of celebration to fuel the other parts of celebrating. I can celebrate by helping my mom make Christmas dinner, and by eating the Christmas dinner we’ve made. I can celebrate by giving gifts that speak my love to my sisters and family. And every time I show care or love–deserved or not, felt at the moment or not– I am celebrating.

So with that I laugh in the face of wet blankets and fog. Come rain, snow, or sunshine, I will celebrate Christmas this year.

In Which I Discover that “Just Friends” May Actually Be a Higher Order of Relationship than Dating

Confession time: I have a friend who is a guy. We have been purposefully spending time together for about four months now. We give each other hugs and we talk honestly about what really matters to us.

And we are “just friends.”

Before you laugh at me and tell me I am setting myself up for heartbreak and failure, hear me out. Believe me, I have undergone all manner of agony of the heart over the last several weeks as I have tried to sort out my emotions and my better judgment, my thoughts and my feelings, and which of them are beyond my control and which ones I should listen to and which ones I should act in spite of. It has not been fun, comfortable, or settling. I have passed from attraction and a desire for a relationship, to panic and the desire to back out of said relationship before it got dangerous.

None of those options are what’s happening right now. You see, my friend and I have had several honest heart-to-heart talks in which we have concluded that what both of us really want, at least for the time being, is to remain “just friends.”

But there’s a little problem. Several months ago, as soon as we really began hanging out, I began to see this friendship as having the potential for “something more.” And along with that thought came the inevitable CHECKLIST. You know, that list of qualities that you want to find in a future mate.

I think that most girls… or most single people, for that matter, have a sort of CHECKLIST. My CHECKLIST today is vastly different than it was when I was fourteen; back then, brown hair and brown eyes were near the top of the list, after, of course, “Christian.” As of this summer, heading the list (after the inevitable “Christian”) was something along the lines of respecting my independence, seeing me as an equal and a friend instead of a prize to be won.

So when my friend and I went to see Taming of the Shrew in late August, and he surprised me with his displeasure at the “taming” of Kate, saying she was beautiful when she was herself and shouldn’t have to be changed, I was shocked and deeply pleased. On the way home, we skipped small talk and had a deep discussion about women’s roles in society. I am ashamed to say that a checkmark appeared atop my CHECKLIST.

Another of those items on the new and improved CHECKLIST was that I would end up with someone who was a friend before he was anything else to me… a good friend. Just so happens that I’ve known this friend over five years now. And neither of us called what we were doing “dating” nor did we really consider it such. Another check on the CHECKLIST.

So I checked off items on the CHECKLIST and frowned over other items that weren’t there, not realizing till last night that all the while a more sinister side of the CHECKLIST was emerging.

For one thing, the very fact that I was using my CHECKLIST proved that this was no “friendship” to me. Because, you see, my version of friendship does not include a CHECKLIST. Ever.

To me, friendship starts in a couple of ways. It usually starts with mutual interests. But it grows from there. It grows with trust, with confiding in each other, with shared experiences and emotions (be they laughter or tears, over real-life struggles or characters in a movie). And, for me, a friendship is on its way to being truly deep and lasting when my friend needs me, comes to me, and lets me help them. The friendship is solidified further when I choose to turn to that friend in a time of personal distress, when I am the one in need.

It’s as simple (or complex) as that. There is no CHECKLIST involved. I have friends with deep emotional needs. I have friends with criminal histories. I have friends with very different moral codes and different beliefs than me. I have friends who drink now and then and friends who believe that even cooking with alcohol is a sin. The only thing that has ever made me turn away from a friend was the horrific realization that they were not my friend in return and that the relationship was in fact damaging me in ways that I needed to stop. If I have any “friend CHECKLIST,” that, or the lack thereof, is the only item on it.

The result is that I try my best to love my true friends as unconditionally as I possibly can.

And the problem with a CHECKLIST is that it is conditional.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that one should enter into a serious romantic relationship without deeply evaluating the other. I believe that a lasting, strong marriage (which after all is where a serious romantic relationship leads, at least in my thinking) is not entered into lightly or without seriously considering how well the two people actually “work” together. A lifelong partnership is serious business and demands deep evaluation of oneself and the other.

I am, however, saying that calling a relationship “just a friendship” while at the same time subjecting it to the rigors of the CHECKLIST is living a lie and being vastly unfair to the other party.

It’s also making friendship conditional and imposing the CHECKLIST on something it was never meant to evaluate.

When I realized last night that this was what I was doing, I realized why “just friends” was beginning to feel so uncomfortable. I also found myself at a standstill, staring down at two separate forks in the road.

If I took the “just-friends” path, as we’d discussed, I would need to set my CHECKLIST aside. I would need to commit to the ultimate vulnerability: care for another, allowing him to care, allowing us to continue to talk about what really mattered to us without immediately passing judgment on each other. Taking this path would mean, for the moment, setting aside even the consideration of a romantic relationship. Yet a large part of me, the part of me that created the CHECKLIST to begin with, fears where this path may lead: that my affection for this person, deepened by friendship, might accidentally lead me into a relationship that wouldn’t work because of our differences (the differences highlighted by the items not checked off on the CHECKLIST). It sounds like a path for a naive, foolish, optimistic person, exactly the person I am trying my hardest not to be these days. I am afraid of the pain that could lie at the end of that path.

The other path involves continuing the friendship, with the goal of, at some point in the future, determining whether or not a relationship will work. This path sounds wise, until I realize that it implies the continued use of the CHECKLIST. I may try my very hardest not to use it, but with such a goal, the CHECKLIST will always remain in my subconscious.

The first involves a staggering, ridiculous kind of trust, as well as a turning away from something I deeply want.

The second involves violating one of the deepest principles of my being. Furthermore, it involves a kind of lie. On this path, my mouth is telling the person something different than my heart is inevitably doing.

Hmm.

As difficult as the decision is, I’m sure you can tell which path I took by the very words I am using to describe them. And I will tell you what led me to choose the “friends” path.

It is because I truly care about this person.

I care about keeping my word to this person. I care about telling him the truth when I tell him that he can talk to me about anything. I care about meaning what I say when I say he is my friend. I care about his questions and his needs and his heart. And I don’t want to damage those by saying one thing and really doing another. I want to really care, with no reservations. I want to be his friend. And I think I want to be his friend much more than I want to be his girlfriend.

I cannot be his friend if I am constantly holding him up to a CHECKLIST. It just doesn’t work that way.

There may come a day when the two paths cross. There may come a day when evaluation is once again necessary. Maybe, if that day comes, we will both have changed to fit each others’ CHECKLISTS. Maybe we will evaluate each other and realize together that anything other than friendship just won’t happen. The paths may cross, but I am not counting on it.

Wish me luck. It’s going to be an adventure, and we all know that they are nasty, uncomfortable things, that make you late for dinner.

But if Bilbo’s example is any good, they can also be an opportunity to be completely transformed, to have rough edges knocked off one’s soul, for the friction and trouble to polish one until one gleams. Adventures are good things.

And I’m up for one called friendship.