When love and life collide

Friends are the people we want to be around. But it is not always that easy, it’s not all about a smooth road which veers to our every whim. Because maybe, friendship is fundamentally about conflict.

I want to do something. Someone else wants to do something else. We search for harmony in our relationships, but the life we live pays testament that it is conflict and not harmony that usually wins the day.

It can be mundane, it can be trivial, it can be easy and it can be hard. It could be what to do with a final Saturday in the summer sun. Or maybe who we include in certain activities.

The practicalities will often be verbalised, the differences clear. But many of the areas of conflict will go unspoken, they will simmer under the surface. We will continue as though there is no disagreement, that everything is hunky dory.

But I am committed to getting through it. And I am determined to not let my tendency for isolation to let me flee from challenging situations.

I’ve been away with my friends a couple of times over the summer and each time the fun and harmony was sprinkled with a dose of conflict. And perhaps I was more to blame than most for the disruption. While I may not have handled the specific situations particularly well, they did cause me to think about how much space we allow for conflict in our friendships.

There’s a memorable line in the film “Good Will Hunting” when Sean is telling Will about his relationship with his wife: ‘The little idiosyncrasies that only I know about: that’s what made her my wife. Oh she had the goods on me too, she knew all about my little peccadilloes. People call these things imperfections, but they’re not. Ah, that’s the good stuff.’

We think that the best a relationship can be is one with complete harmony and an absence of problems. This simply misses the point. We live in a world where relationships are broken and we are fuelled by selfishness and greed. If our pursuit of relationships, both romantic and platonic does not take this into account we will end up both disappointed and spurred on to build a facade of perfection that does not exist.

Maybe because we have a certain intentionality in romantic relationships we accept the need to ‘get through conflict’, but even this misses the point that it is a never ending challenge. Things do not get better once you’ve argued and made up once. But in friendships there is rarely the acknowledgement of the need for hard graft.

It also seems a bit too eager, to go into a group of friends and start off the conversation. And you can come across as the fun police, especially if you want to say something unpopular. But sometimes these things need to be said, there needs to be room for the dissenting opinion to be voiced. Because it is just in the circumstances that it is not given space that peer pressure takes its toll. When other people are doing something or saying something and you just go along for the ride.

There’s two different categories of conflict here, there are those which are based on subjective preferences, where some form of compromise needs to be found between people with myriad different opinions and views. There’s often not a solid right or a wrong thing to be done. Should we go to the beach or the park on a sunny day?

But there is a second category, and within the church sometimes we consider ourselves exempt from this. We live under the assumption that in our interaction with the wider world we have to be on our guard against temptation, but among our church friends all is fine.

I think I am more tempted to behave in a manner dishonouring to God around Christians. Maybe it is because I don’t take such care, but also because to suggest that something is wrong is not only about my beliefs and values, but I am explicitly questioning theirs.

So how do we create the space for these kind of conversations to take place? How do we let ourselves be challenged when we are behaving in an inconsiderate way, are we too protective of being in the right that we squash any challenges before they are spoken?

So guys like girls…

I’ve discovered something remarkable in the course of writing about relationships. It has sparked a lot of interest and a lot of conversations, I’ve found myself in the absurd position of offering counsel and hearing stories that range from the comic to the heart warming. I’ve heard from guys who have no idea what they should do and girls who know exactly what the guys should do.

But I’ve learnt one immutable fact, guys like girls and girls like guys.

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it, that this is what I’ve learnt? Sounds like I’ve been on another planet for the past 27 years. Except we often think that we are the exception. That we are experiencing something that no one else is. So when we hear from others that they face the same challenges and feel the same, it wakes us up that something is going on.

And I have come to two conclusions. The first I’ve already mentioned, and that is that this is a big issue, it gets people thinking and talking, and considering, it evokes lively emotions and painful decisions.

The second is that we have to get talking about it. I speak only for my situation, in a church of 500-600 people, most of whom are young and single. And in that situation I’ve taken a bit of a straw poll. I’ve inquired as to people’s dating experience, who they’ve asked out, who has asked them out. And I’ve tested a little hypothesis, and I didn’t expect to get as much agreement as I did.

The hypothesis is this, speaking of the single people in my church, most of them at most times are interested in someone of the opposite sex. And usually the person they are interested in is likely to be someone who they spend time around. So take any group of people from the church and it is to be expected that there are a lot of emotions lingering in the ether. Some of these feelings will be tentative, others will be unrequited, occasionally they will be obviously reciprocated. But all the time they will affect the group.

Except that’s not how we act. We act as though we are all just friends, and we push the romantic attraction below the surface, sometimes to preserve our own frail facade, sometimes to steer clear of awkwardness, but I think most of the time because we are happy living in the now. We are happy with what we have got, and we want to make the most of it. In a crowd of singles we share a common bond, an unspoken rebellion against the cultural norm.

It’s never that intentional, most would say they are looking for a partner, it’s just they don’t say much about it. It exists as a backdrop to our community and it affects it in two parallel ways, it inhibits the formation of strong non-romantic friendships and it stifles the open pursuit of romance. So back to my little straw poll, how much dating goes on, not much. It does take place and it usually happens quietly and discreetly in a most respectful way.

But go back to my premise, if most people like someone most of the time, and the people I surveyed had asked or been asked out between zero and three times. That leaves a lot of affection that goes unspoken.

I’ve also been asked for some solutions as I’ve written, the truth is I’m all out of those.

So let me offer one other consequence if we repress our feelings too much, we are living double lives.

Harsh? Yes.

But if we like someone and continue to act around them as though we are just friends we are deceiving them and deluding ourselves.