Loving Someone Who Doesn't

7:30 AM

It hurt to watch the walking away.

There wasn't any drama about it: I had other friends, we didn't fight, it wasn't the end of the world. But a friend was a friend. We used to be great friends. Best friends, in a way. We got along, we listened, we talked, we cared about each other. Until one day...we didn't. And we weren't. And I didn't know what I did wrong. And suddenly hanging out was like scraping nails across the chalkboard, pulling teeth, swimming in the Arctic: barely tolerable, mostly painful and dangerous to one's health. No longer was my friend interested in me or excited to see me. We didn't talk anymore. It was trying to be best buds with a stranger at Walmart.

It's hard to not recognize someone you know backwards and forwards.

There's much sympathy for the Echo who pines after her Narcissus - the girl who stands in a corner and falls in love with guys she doesn't know. We comfort her after she bawls into a hundred Kleenexes upon finding her true unknown love has a girlfriend, after all. There's books and blogposts written for guys whose girlfriends give up on them or girls who were led on and never got anywhere. We understand the broken heart of romance, if but a little.

But when it comes to the broken heart of friendship, it's another thing entirely. It's such a commonplace devastation that we let open wounds run until we bleed dry of affection or the gash scars jaggedly. Best friends through elementary school then total indifference in high school. Obsessive pen pals to a letter once in a blue moon. Promising to keep in touch with that amazing friend at camp and never caring if she writes you a week later. It happens with the acquaintance you didn't really like in the first place and the best friend who was going to live at your house for every summer, practically. When did forever get so short?

I've struggled with this. I've struggled with the seeming lie that love is forever, when marriage after friendship after relationship proved otherwise. I've struggled with peeling away the broken parts from friends-no-longer. Shaking the dust off my feet. Moving on. I've struggled with realizing that I do the same thing: develop inexplicable boredom that drifts me away from friends who were once closer than a heartbeat. One starts to think the country songs are somewhat true.

It all comes down to this awkward position everyone gets to sometime in his life: loving someone who doesn't. You can try to patch the friendship and watch your care and effort be like brine on blood. You might patch the relationship and then watch the cover-up fall to pieces. You can walk around half-dead to the world for a few weeks and hate the guts of any new friends who "stole" your old friend away.

That, or uncontrollably sob into your pillow.

You can hate, envy, plot, seethe, bawl, sink, trip, die...or you can love.

It's bitter, to watch someone you love love someone else - someone else who's not you. It's hard to face life friendless next to the former "best friend." It's difficult to categorize the relationship - was it a lie in the first place? was it worth it? was I wrong?

Sometimes, the worst is being just casual buddies. A good all-out brawl seems better - at least you're not left hanging about why she doesn't care about you anymore. But this status of second-class friend, if-I-come-to-the-end-of-my-line backup - I don't know if I want to cry or scream. (Maybe both.)

But no one can live this way, bottled up with brokenness. After I had my jealousy and my cry, I figured I better learn how to deal with this pretty quick. Even though I'd been hurt, I still loved my friend. And I wanted to keep loving my friend, even if my friend didn't want to keep loving me. I couldn't settle for being the enemy of someone I cared about, someone who was special, someone who'd thought I was special.

Loving someone who doesn't - was that even possible? But I think the definition of love - that selfless sort we all wish we had - isn't a spark between a couple or an understanding between two friends. It starts with the one-sided decision to put the other before the self. Standing alone, love can still be effective. Because it's not about me. And if I genuinely cared about my friend - oh, I could burn up with anger at the injustice of it all, but that would destroy both of us.

I'm learning to love the one-way-street love, even if my affection isn't returned, even if I can barely tolerate the person, even if that person can barely tolerate me. It's the greatest commandment: love.

And love isn't really even about the other person, either - not ultimately, anyway. It's about loving Christ first and foremost, and if anyone loved, He did. If anyone's love was rejected, His was. He commands that same love from us (Hosea 3:1; Luke 6:32; John 13:34). He gives that same love to us.

The best thing I can do for someone is to push them toward the love of Christ. Perhaps in that short window of friendship, I did so. I don't know if I did, but I hope so, and if I did, then that friendship was worth it. It's not about me or even our friendship, per se. Even if it ended for me, I can still love from a distance - pray - speak a kind word - not put up obligations and ultimatums in order to "win me back."

Human interaction is ridiculously complex, uncertain terrain. One's bound to get bumps and bruises. It's a fact of life: friends leave me, I leave them, we grow, we change, we grieve, we try our best. I thank God for the friends (you know who you are) who've let me push them away while I needed to be alone, who didn't hate me when I couldn't love, who gave me everything when I could give nothing. It hurts me to know how many I have hurt in those growth spurts and tangles of life. I pray I get the chance to practice the same love they perfected.

I hope to be the type of person who loves, always, so that if a former friend came back after twenty years (or two weeks), there still would be a special place reserved, just for her.  

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7 impressions

  1. Ahhh... so true, Bailey. I lost my best friend (since I was seven) when I was fourteen because of differences between our families and a bit argument that involved me... I struggled with it for a long time before God gave me the ability to release the hurt and trust His plan for the friendships in my life. Because my family has moved so much, I've seen many friends slip into oblivion who had promised to be "Best Friends Forever". I've even been mocked by a friend in front of a group of girls who's views changed when she went from being homeschooled to Christian schooled. It's hard to love when things like that happen.
    I'm so thankful that God has shown us the "one way road" of love through His sacrifice for us! The fact that HE loved US when we hated Him is the greatest motivation to bestow that love on "someone who doesn't".

    Great post. Thank you for sharing!

  2. This is something that I've struggled with....and I've come to nearly the same conclusion.

    God will be the best friend that I'll ever have. As long as I have Him and He has me AND I know that everything's right between us,it doesn't matter as much when people turn away.

    If I have Jesus' "friendship" it's all I need.

    Oh, it still hurts, there's still questions and probable tears, but I can trust that God knows what's best for me. It'll work out for my good.

    I hope you get what I'm saying... :P

    I'm praying for you. :)

  3. When I read this, my heart ached. I know this, I've dealt with this, I've shed tears over this.

    She was a quirky, imaginative, passionate girl who loved everything I loved. We read together, watched movies together, climbed trees together. She always climbed higher, forever taking risks; I stuck closer to the ground and gave her a boost when she was stuck. In ways like this, we were were different as night and day, but we were inseparable through elementary school and middle school.

    And then-- something changed. Maybe it was her, maybe me, probably both. The sleepovers and lazy afternoons of play began to dwindle. We moved to different friends, different interests. I stuck with homeschooling, but she started attending a public high school. And one day I looked at her and barely knew her-- I couldn't read her emotions and thoughts like I could a year before. She and I were strangers, and it hurt-- oh, did it hurt.

    The memories were the worst. When I remember our friendship-- all the time we spent together, all the laughs we shared-- I mourn. I don't know if I can give the love you describe. Right now I'm crying out for God's mercy, that His love might be shown through this cracked vessel. It's all the hope I have.

  4. Madison...I know. I wish it were as simple as writing a blog post about loving this hard love and then voila!, the pain goes away. It doesn't, does it? Some days are easier than others, some days harder. I see my friend on a regular basis, and those days are worse than busy weekdays when you feel as if it's all passed.

    I'm learning this...and since we have the same God, you probably are too...that you can't love this love. It's too hard. It's too insane. And so, like you said, we cry out for the mercy of GOD'S love to pour out through our brokenness. We will never learn to love like God...but we can learn to let Him love - let Him love us and let Him love our dear friends who no longer do. He does give mercy - every day, like He promised:

    But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." -- Lamentations 3:21-24

    I will pray for you, friend. Wait for the new morning.

  5. Wow! Such a powerful post on a subject that seems to get buried under boy-girl romance. I went through this a couple of years ago, the not knowing, the alternating anger and sorrow. I cried myself to sleep every night for close to a year, and then I realized that God was asking me to let it go. As long as I held it in my fist I would never understand. And faithful as He always is, once I let go, He led me through a healing process, He opened the way for us to get back in contact, and He answered my question "Why"? I can now look at my friend, who is so different, and instead of hurt, there is a genuine love for her. Instead of seeing only my pain, I see hers and I understand why she is the way she is now. Thank you for touching on this painful topic, and I pray that it will touch other girls who may not have to deal with the anger and bitterness for as long as I did. God bless!

  6. Bailey, thank you for this post. I can SO RELATE. :)

    I won't pour out my whole sad story, but I've had the same thing happen. We went from being close friends who left loving long comments on each other's blogs and were together whenever possible to... me watching from a distance while she apparently enjoys everyone else's company but mine.

    Yep, it hurts. Yep - it's sad. Yep - I don't know why. I've asked, she's said I didn't do anything to offend her. (then...why??..) So... again, thanks for this post! I'm almost there, to where I can love her as Christ would. Almost. :)

    Have a blessed day.

  7. This never happened to me exactly - the having a best friend, then growing or breaking apart. I'd almost rather it did, that I could say I truly had a best friend, but I never had. The world tells me I missed out on something major, that I'm somehow less a person than I would be if I'd been born Siamese twins with the girl next door, and most of the time I believe it.

    But, I have gradually come to get a grip on the edge of the idea that perhaps Christ designed my life this way so that I would be forced to grow close to Him in my childhood years, and so that I could form deeper friendships with the unlikely: The 20-year-old young ladies, the 45-year-old mothers, the 15-year-old guys.

    He has a plan, and sometimes it is easy to see it, though at times it is dreadfully hard.


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