Friendship Cycles, Part 1

Why do friendships end? Perhaps there was a betrayal, the friendship was hard to maintain, or life happens. Whatever the reason, losing a friendship is hard. In this first conversation of a two-part series. Dan and Rachael talk about the very real feelings of loss, grief, anger that can accompany the loss of a friendship.

Be sure to come back next week as we continue the conversation by talking through the hope of repentance, reconciliation, and restoration that’s possible in the wake of lost friendships.

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Episode Transcript:

Dan: Normally we don’t begin by reading a Psalm, but I think this Psalm will give you a very keen indication of what we’re going to talk about today. This is from Psalm 55:4. “My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen on me. Fear and trembling have beset me. Horror has overwhelmed me. And I said, oh, that I had the wings of a dove. I would fly away and be at rest.” Now, further on in the Psalm, verse 12, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it. If a foe were rising against me, I could hide, but it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God as we walked among the worshipers.” Rachael, there’s just nothing harder than the loss of a friendship, particularly through the experience of betrayal. And so what we’re addressing is how to understand friendships that don’t continue in a way in which we at once had a true companion. The word companion from Latin is with bread, somebody that you have broken bread with. And that sense of, particularly in the ancient world to eat together was a level of intimacy that was shared in a way that even today there’s still that sense of a meal means something, but even more so that we have broken bread together, and here instead of breaking bread, we are broken as a consequence. So just to even begin, how are you as we step into this difficult topic?

Rachael: Oh, these are, I mean, painful waters. I think for any person. I think when, well, I will just say for myself, friendships, and, I’m always amazed by your friendship with Tremper that you have this lifelong friendship that has made it, not that it’s ever, it’s been always easy or that you guys haven’t had to navigate really hard waters, but that there’s some sense of just a deep delight and love that has made it so many years. And for me, I feel like I am very fortunate and very rich in friendship, but that was not always the case for me. And it was always a confusing thing. And part of it’s, it’s circumstantial, those realities. You move or you change schools, or especially when you’re a kid or your parents have a falling out, so then you don’t see kids anymore that maybe you did or you leave a church or whatever. So sometimes there’s those circumstances, but this to me is the realm of widowhood. Even though we’re talking about friendships, we’re not talking about marriage, but it’s that sense of when you have tasted goodness and beauty and being known and seen and loved and sharing a common mission, getting to do work you care about together, I don’t think there’s anything sweeter. I mean, that’s why this passage is just very haunting. Walking the halls of worshipers together in the house of God. It does feel like the loss feels like a death. Like a death. And sometimes it’s because of betrayal. Sometimes it’s because of ghosting. Someone just disappears. Sometimes it is because of just, you can’t maybe maintain as many friendships. But I think for me, as someone who has really made deep vows because of my story to be self-sufficient, when I let people in and I choose like, okay, I’m going to be loyal to you, it is a little bit like, for better or for worse, it is like I open my heart up in a way that when something happens that there is a loss of that friendship. And again, sometimes I’m choosing to lose a friendship. It’s not always ones that choice is being made for me, but it just feels so deeply painful. And I find myself in a season of experiencing some friendship loss. I think, I don’t know anyone who’s made it through covid and this kind of up season people without some friendship loss, whether it, again, it’s circumstantial or deep heartache and betrayal. And, so I find myself not quite yet able to land in the grief. I’m still hanging out in the rage and the anger and the, I don’t like any of you anyway, so I don’t even like you as people. I don’t want your friendship because then that’s easier to bear and I don’t have to grieve. So it’s kind of interesting. It feels very real right now.

Dan: Yeah. Well, if we go back to Psalm 55, if you follow the logic, he’s talking about enemies that literally are opening the door to the possibility of death. And he’s afraid and he’s angry and he wants to flee like a bird into the desert. That notion of fight, flight, it’s huge. So the trauma of just having people opposed to you is enough of a trauma. Certainly. I’m not sure there’s anything more egregiously difficult to manage than people who hate you, who wish your destruction and are working rather avidly to do so. But then the shift in the Psalm is, but this enemy is at one point a different. So what he’s describing is you can’t imagine anything worse than somebody that you have shared your heart, your mind and time and in a sense your body because of jointly eating together, of enjoying life together. And so you’ve got oxytocin, you’ve got dopamine you, you’ve got cortisol, you’ve got, in one sense, all the intense, biochemicals that bond us to another all of a sudden come crashing down. So when we step into this, at least to begin with, this is not a fun podcast, but it’s one that we have to say we can engage. We have both known heartache in the loss. And my suspicion is that the ones and people I feel betrayed by also feel betrayed by me. So it isn’t that in this case, or in almost any case, you have somebody who’s 100% innocent and then somebody who’s 100% at fault. Now, certain violations like abuse, rape, absolute cruelty in betrayal, but most friendships end with some degree of both involved in a form of dissolution that for whatever reason can’t seem to come back online. But it’s interesting, the gracious and wise researchers at the Seattle School, Mary Rainwater in particular, did some research for me to look at dissolution of friendships. And what she was able to find is there’s very little research on this, which in and of itself is intriguing. There’s a lot of research on marriages that end relationship with parents that end. But we know how important friendship is, especially in the COVID era because of the importance literally for our mental and physical health. There’s nothing more, in one sense, destructive than loneliness. And friendships play a huge role in helping us dispel loneliness. But some of the realities I gained was very few friendships last a lifetime. So what you named with regard to Tremper and I, it really is a phenomenal rare gift to be in a deep, long-term friendship. And I’m so grateful that my relationship with Dave, another dear friend from college, my relationship with John, there are just the relationships that have grown over 20, 30, 40 years. Those are so cherished. I can’t imagine what life would be without. But I also have had friendships that lasted many years, many, many years that have dissolved or have hit a kind of calamitous ending. So when we step into this, just the reality that very few friendships last is a piece of research and that what they end generally, there are two kinds relationships that just dissolve because distance, time change, situational factors. But the more heartbreaking are those that end because of some degree of degradation, conflict, an inability to resolve. And again, isn’t it interesting, there’s been very little research about why those moments happen.

Rachael: Huh? That is really interesting.

Dan: Yeah. It’s so important. We may not be able to give you a thorough research perspective, but one of the factors seems to be what, what’s called low or high self-monitors. Let me explain that real quickly. A low self-monitor is somebody who’s not constantly thinking about everything they’re saying to make sure that it’s okay. A high self-monitor is like, oh, is that okay? Oh, can I say that a low self-monitor just in one sense, shares a whole lot more without that editing process. And what’s generally found is that high self monitors have long-term friendships with high self monitors.

Rachael: Makes sense? Yeah.

Dan: I mean it’s like, it’s a little bit saying that when it rains that we’ve done studies that if it rains and you’re outside, you’re likely going to get what?

Rachael: You can’t get that. Yeah.

Dan: But it’s also fascinating that low self-monitors end up in long-term relationships with low self-monitors. But friendships end with a high self-monitor primarily because of a change in circumstance. So it doesn’t feel as dramatic. But when you have been vulnerable, when you have shared, when you have opened your heart up to somebody else whose heart is engaging and open and responding to you and then opening to themselves, those relationships generally do not end on the basis of a change in circumstance, context, et cetera. They end because of some degree of betrayal. And so low self-monitoring ends up being, of course, so much more difficult because so much more of your life has been shared. So as you begin to think about friendships, who are the people you hang out with but you don’t share that much? Enjoy them immensely, but they don’t know you that well, those friendships seldom and because of a conflict, the ones where you have shared. And then the question of, well, why? What seems to be a factor? And what’s interesting is one of the major factors is attachment style.

Rachael: Yeah.

Dan: Ain’t that interesting?

Rachael: Yeah. I was like, oh, we’re going to have to talk about attachment, aren’t we?

Dan: So with highly anxious attachment style, the relationship tends to be jagged, at least since what research indicates. And again, it’s back to it obvious. You begin… you end…

Rachael: But a highly anxious with another highly anxious or highly anxious with just anyone.

Dan: Yeah. Well, but particularly what they’re finding is we generally find people who are like us. And that’s an old Aristotle and what’s called the Nicomachean ethics basically said friendships are built on a certain sense of you are like me, but in the likeness, we’re drawn to people whose virtue challenges us, actually calls us into becoming more of who we’re meant to be. So there is a sense in which you got to be like enough with the other to connect deeply enough yet not like one another to actually draw one another to different domains of virtue. And in that, oh my goodness, especially when it’s gone on and you’ve grown together, grown together for year by year, by year, then when attachment styles disrupt that an anxious, more anxiously bound person with a more anxiously bound person ends up in a jagged ending. Whereas if you have a more distant attachment with another distant attachment, then when it’s catastrophic ending, you just move on. And it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

Rachael: Yeah, I mean, I’m like interesting because I feel like most of my primary friends are all avoidant. So that’s very challenging for me. And I’m like, this is probably connected to my story in pathology or redemption too. Because I think in some ways they’ve, in this latter season of my life in the my thirties, my thirties, my late twenties and thirties, I’d say, where they were mostly healthy attachments, but still with people whose primary attachment style is avoidant. And I’m definitely, my primary attachment style is to be more anxious. And I think in some ways that’s also a dynamic that can work. And so I remember when I had my foot surgery in 2015, and, I’ve talked with my friends about this, so I’m not ratting them out in a way that is, and I’ve talked about it on the podcast, but I just, I’m a pretty high functioning person and I’m an introvert. So I think everyone was like, oh, Rachel, she’s okay, we’ll send her some food. But if you’ve ever had surgery or you’ve been really sick, it doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert, if you are forced into isolation and you’re in pain and you can’t take care of yourself, it’s kind of one of those ones where you think, oh, this will be when everyone knows I kind of need them to come spend time with me. And I got really depressed and very few people came to visit me. I had to keep my foot elevated above my heart. And I actually had to go back to therapy in that season because I wanted to get rid of all my friendships because I was so mad at everyone. And I didn’t want to have to ask for help either. I was like, I refuse to ask for help. And I had a bind because I was like, this is when I blow up all these friendships and move on. Because if you want to be avoidant, but you’re anxious, you do feel like the only way to not care is to just kill everything and move on. But you have to do it so violently cause you actually care so deeply. So you got to match the volume. So I had to go back to therapy just to deal with the fact that I felt like I couldn’t. Like to cut off the friendships, I’d have to move away and change my whole life because things were so intertwined and I’m glad I went back to therapy. But it’s that sense of, yeah, the jagged endings, I’ve never gotten to know… I just move on… unless I do just pretend people disappeared.

Dan: And I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s so much more room to do research in this area, in that the research I read was primarily on the “like” that is people who have both have kind of distant attachment structures or more anxious and entangled. But when you start looking, as I look at the relationship with Tremper, I’m certainly more anxious, chaotic. He’s more distant and detached. So I would say there has to be enough “like” that there has been a beginning engagement, but the differences of what attachment styles or ways of being in terms of virtuous show itself in that draw to the, unlike that sense of both newness, difference. And in one sense, I do agree with Aristotle of that there is a sense of which we want to become what the other is. So there is a degree of mimicry of that we become like, which then says that friendships grow. And I put it this way through the skin, through the heart, and through the soul. Meaning, like, skin, I mean surface. But when I say surface, I don’t mean superficial. I mean the skin. The idea that we spend time together, we have space and engagement, shared interests, and really the key to skin engagement is we play together. We play ping pong, we take walks, we have conversations, and that’s the issue of the heart. When I say that, what comes to mind for you, at least with regard to something that goes beyond the skin into the heart?

Rachael: Oh, just when you have a friend who you can talk to for hours and you know, haven’t even scratched the surface or a friend where maybe circumstances do change. And I have a good friend who moved to England, to plant a church, and we only get to chat maybe once a quarter or try to chat through Marco Polo, but she’s one of those friends where we just pick up where we left off and we don’t have to give all the details because there’s just a deep sense of mutuality and kindred that sense of a bosom, like Anne of Green Gables, you’re my bosom buddy, my kindred spirit. There’s that sense of we’re made for each other and a deep respect for the other. So enough likeness. But to me that there’s trust, there’s loyalty, there’s a capacity to have conflict and actually engage it well and be moved when we hurt each other and move toward repair. So it just feels that level.

Dan: I love that. To me, it’s just back to speaking of Tremper or John or Dave. These dear long-term friends is that I’m utterly intrigued by them. And even if I know them, know them almost to a point where I can sound like them, speak, not just what they’re going to say but almost sound like them. It’s still, I’m intrigued by how they go about engaging. So that sense of both openness, intrigue, and that we’ve had conflict. It’s not, shall we say, roses and unicorns, we’re talking about conflict that where there’s been some degree of repair even in the midst of having hurt one another. But that to me, and you put it really well earlier, and that is there’s still the best of friendships are not just skin and heart, but back to the word soul. And all I mean by that is we share something of the same front in the kingdom battle against evil. And I’ve got friends that I love a great deal, but they serve the kingdom in another world and I’m all for them. But we don’t share the same amount of engagement that I do with people who are in the trenches on trauma, who are addressing the issue of how scripture, how the art of the human story is indeed reflected in the story of scripture. So that I would love to have you put more words to when the notion of friendship that shares something of the same Kingdom alliance.

Rachael: Yeah, I’m just thinking about that because I do think that’s true for me, some of my dearest, closest friends, there is such an alignment of the ways in which we do justice and love mercy and walk humbly and the ways in which we love Jesus. What’s interesting, what I was thinking about is I do have some dear friends who I don’t know if they certainly would not ascribe to Christianity, but their heart for people, the skills that they have there is still such a deep alignment, whether they would say they’re participating in the kingdom of God or not, there’s a way of seeing the world and caring for people and understanding the systems at play that I find those are such treasured friendships.

Dan: And I’ll say yes. And there’s something about those who can say, I carry about in my body the death of Jesus, and I also carry about the life of Jesus. And that notion of we know death together, but we also know something of resurrection for me, that labor of, there’s so much skin engagement, so much heart involvement. But back to that notion of we have gone together to worship, we have walked together. There is something about the nature of that betrayal that we have stood before the living God together in a way in which, again, not just ministry, not just servant not, but we have co-labored. And I almost always think, and in the military, we’ve been in the same trench with the same terror, and we have covered one another’s backs, and now my back is turned and you pull the trigger. And again, as I said, I’ve had enough interaction with some of the people I’ve felt betrayed by who feel even more so that I betrayed. So I don’t think there’s an innocence I’m claiming, but the effect for both of us is such a loss that it feels like an impossible gap to ever, ever, be able to bridge again.

Rachael: Yeah, I mean, to me it’s probably a similar betrayal that I think people experience as in marriages when there’s infidelity or that sense of if there is going to be something, again, a death has to be acknowledged and whatever is recreated won’t be the same. And, and I think that that’s what feels the most brutal about it. And because you actually have to be willing to this, the Psalm is so potent. It’s like you actually have to be willing to rage and grieve what has been lost and what has been taken and violated before you could ever make movement back towards each other. And I think that that labor is so, takes such integrity and such honor and such time that I, it rarely, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it.

Dan: Yeah, I think, well at least to say it’s so rare that we may only have a few experiences in life of something being restored that was so dear and then became so deeply broken. But to step back, just a step, because we’re eventually going to talk about that process of what restoration may involve, but to underscore that…

Rachael: I feel like, oh, this is just revealing where I’m at right now. There is no hope. Don’t stir hope in me, Dan, because I cannot bear it. So I’m just going to stay despair. Okay. Sorry, I was catching myself there. Oh, okay. I see what’s happening

Dan: Well, let’s just say again, this is a live interaction. If anyone wonders whether or not we have a script, which if you’ve listened to us ever, that that’s just not humanly possible. Nonetheless. I agree. Look, the desire for restoration, I think is one of the beginning gifts. And that is, I think David is actually articulating in the Psalm, not just his lament, but in some sense the core of his desire. Will we acknowledge, look, the research was again indicating that essentially there are two bases for dissolution. One is a kind of fading, which means with skin issues easy, that a new job, a move, a new baby, oh, maybe a new baby, you know, don’t share the same, you don’t have the same space and time, right? So the stages of life change, the possibility of engagement. Many of my friends are retired. I’m not retired, I don’t plan to retire. But already that creates a disruption in like, “Hey, do y’all want to, we’re going to go over to X, Y, or Z for a week. Do you want to join us? I’d love to. Can’t. Why not? Oh, that’s right, you’re still working.” So just the skin disconnection is just, again, I don’t want to overstate it, but I also know it’s important to hear those changes often create a fading. And in that fading, it’s not wrong. Friendships have seasons. And I think in some ways the fading becomes easier because it always leaves it open to have a kind of restoration, but also lacks the integrity to be able to say, I don’t think we will be able to connect together as we did. How will we engage that? Yeah. And I just wondering, as a young mom who’s been a mom, how now?

Rachael: Oh, I mean, what’s interesting for me is, and this season of life is I also moved away from all of my core friends four months before the pandemic. And then that happened. And then a lot of stuff happened in my core friend group, which I’m not going to get into on this podcast. So then that happened. And then I had a baby. And I think this is a season where I’m like, unfortunately people have to move my way. And I think a lot of my friendships, people are used to me moving their way. And so that’s been very, I think revealing of who has capacity, where is their mutuality and where is there not? And again, I think sometimes when you have established friendships, it can be a sense of, okay, there’s going to be a little bit of distance in this particular season, but that doesn’t have to be the end all be all. Can we make a commitment that there, we know there will be a time to reconnect. It just may not… I mean, I’ve been through enough of my friends’ pregnancies and early childhood days to know that there is a different rhythm when someone has a baby. And so there’s a space for that. But it is very lonely, especially in a city where you don’t know anyone really, because a pandemic has been your primary orientation in a new city. And just the ways, I mean, I have a friend who has a little one who’s almost a year, maybe half a year, a year ahead of us, probably a year ahead of us. And we tried to meet up once when Evie was, well, I think three months old at the library. And I was like, what am I doing? I am not ready to be in a public place with this tiny human who is screaming her head off at a public library. So even the people that have a closeness, just so it is a lonely, a lonely season.

Dan: Well, and just to own, look, friendships are not stable and the stability that’s presumed, there’s no relationship that will have more impermanence than good friendships. And we want to think that our BFF is going to be our BFF in the same way over years, decades, et cetera. And to be able to say no more so than you remain the same, can there be the same with regard to friendship?

Rachael: And that I can handle…

Dan: Really?

Rachael: Yeah. I mean it’s sad, but yes, it’s the heart. It’s the dissolving and disillusionment of the heart issues, to be honest. That and the soul issues that are way harder to me than the skin issues in a friendship.

Dan: Again, I agree with you, but I think that notion that every relationship isn’t permanent and the more deeply befriended you are with someone, the more there are going to be changes that literally will make the friendship different. Two years, 10, 20, 30 years in. An I’m grateful that Tremper and I have been able to talk about that. But I agree with you, the heart issue particularly, I look at three things. How do you handle conflict? How do you handle comparison? How do you handle competition? And those categories, conflict always opens the door to what is your ability to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. And certainly the issue of comparison is the issue of envy. How will you engage over years with people whose life changes with regard to this amorphous but important word, success. What if your success is not in the same range as your good friend, especially for relationships that begin high school, college, early grad school where you’re so like one another and your impoverished beginning that there aren’t major differences, but as life proceeds, how you deal with the fact that a dear friend is in the middle of conflict and disease and you’re not. So the reality of comparison. Things are going well for you, the dear friends who, one’s pregnant, the other just had a miscarriage. How do you engage that? And then that issue of competition, which is often the issue of other friendships where a third party, a fourth party, because friends seldom are just two friends. It’s a friend group. And at least I’ve noted that where there’s a really deep friendship between two people. There’s always going to be a third and maybe a fourth, and maybe beyond that at some level want what’s there and consciously or not begin to sort of peck away at that friendship and oftentimes become competitive for what one friend offers. Creating a context where three creates a triangle, where there is division. So when you’ve got competition and that triangularization, you almost always have the power of gossip that the two are talking about the third, or again, make it larger than three. But now there is a friendship with another person that becomes competitive with a friendship with you. And then when it has to do with ministry or concepts or issues of activism, then it becomes something where I can find fault with your friend and create intimacy through gossip with you. And now the two of us are aligned against the third, and now, well, where’s it going to go? The heart issue literally is going to ruin that soul connection of what we shared. Thoughts?

Rachael: Can we change the subject? No, it’s good. It’s just painful. It’s really, really painful. Yeah. Well, honestly, it’s just taking me to very real places in my life right now. And again, like I said, places where, I’m much more comfortable ruminating of ways I’m going to get revenge or ruminating about how bad the friendship was to begin with. So why did I think I was so good anyway? And until I have to look at my wedding photo or until I remember I’m not a masochist and I have tasted such goodness, such life, such beauty. And so I think I’m just feeling, feeling a lot of ache right now.

Dan: And the word for me and just see if it resonates at all is I feel so much like a fool. Why did I trust? Why did I divulge? Why did I not see the fissures that postdictively, I can see where this person seemed to be using something of what I offer to gain access, power or whatever. And then that shutting down, yeah, I am will not.. a vow. I will not ever go through this again. So that intersection between fool and shame, moving immediately to contempt for myself or for them or for everyone, for the God who created friends. And then it’s just too much. So yeah, we shut down, which is an interesting place to end this podcast because we’re going to shut down this discussion to open the door to say, it doesn’t need to end this way. There’s the possibility not only of repentance, of reconciliation and truly something of restoration, but there are also ways that we know to be able to hold what is dear from the past, to grieve what will not be more than likely in the future, but to not turn our hearts from what was or what can be and therefore to prize even now, who do we want to become in the face of that betrayal? So we got a little bit more to address, but let’s just say hopefully there is a sense that the deep, deep conviction, death, will never get the final word. If so, that’s true with our deaths and others, but it’s also true with the death of friendship.