Young People Ask . . .
Why Can’t I Keep Friends?
“My friend and I shared many interests and activities; we enjoyed spending time together. But suddenly our friendship became colder and colder. That made me feel really depressed.”—Maria.
YOU have finally found a friend, someone who understands you and does not judge you. Then, all of a sudden, your friendship begins to slip away. You try to salvage it, but to no avail.
A loyal friend is priceless. (Proverbs 18:24) And losing one can be a painful experience. The Bible tells us that when Job was abandoned by his friends, he lamented: “My intimate acquaintances have ceased to be, and those known by me have themselves forgotten me.” (Job 19:14) You may feel similar distress if you have recently had a friendship go sour. As young Patrick put it, “it feels like someone you love has died.” But what if virtually every friendship you have ever had has ended in ruin?
The book Adolescence by Eastwood Atwater observes that teen friendships “tend to blow hot and cold, with sudden, dramatic changes and bitter feelings when friends break up.” What makes teen friendships so fragile? One reason is that as you get older, your feelings, viewpoints, goals, and interests begin to change. (Compare 1 Corinthians 13:11.) You can find yourself surging ahead of—or lagging behind—your peers in some respects.
So when friends grow up, they sometimes grow apart—not because they are mad at each other, but because they develop different goals, interests, and values. It may even be best that a relationship end. As you get older and begin taking spiritual matters more seriously, you may realize that some of your former friends were not a wholesome influence. (1 Corinthians 15:33) You care about them, but you don’t enjoy their company as you once did.
Things That Poison Friendships
What, though, if you are continually losing friends—relationships you would like to keep? Frankly, it could mean that you have some personality flaws to overcome. Jealousy, for example, poisons friendships. Imagine that you have a friend who is wealthier, more gifted, more attractive, or more popular than you. Do you resent the extra attention he or she might receive? “Jealousy is rottenness to the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30) “I really envied my friend’s popularity and all the things he had that I didn’t have,” admits young Keenon, “and it affected our friendship.”
Possessiveness can be another destructive trait. What if you learn that a friend is spending more and more time with others and less and less time with you? One youth admitted: “I was jealous even if others talked with some of my friends.” You may perceive your friend’s association with others as an act of betrayal.
Perfectionism can also spell death for a friendship. You learn, for example, that a friend has talked about you behind your back, perhaps even revealing confidential matters. (Proverbs 20:19) “I can never trust him/her again!” you angrily exclaim.
Friendship—Getting or Giving?
If jealousy, possessiveness, or perfectionism has strained your friendships, ask yourself, ‘What do I want from a friendship?’ Do you imagine that friendship involves having someone at your beck and call, a sort of servant to do your bidding? Do you seek out friends for prestige, popularity, or gain? Do you expect exclusive devotion from a friend, with little room for others in the relationship? Then you need to adjust your view of friendship.
From Bible teachings we learn that good relations with others result, not from getting, but from giving! At Matthew 7:12, Jesus Christ himself said: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” It is only natural to expect certain things from friends. The book Understanding Relationships admits: “We regularly expect a friend to be someone who is honest and open, shows affection, tells us his or her secrets and problems, gives us help when we need it, trusts us and is also . . . prepared to work through disagreements.” However, that is not the end of the matter. The book adds: “These are things that people expect a friend to do for them and expect to do for the friend in return.”—Italics ours.
Note the way Jesus himself treated those close to him. He said to his disciples: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends.” But was Jesus’ friendship with his disciples based on what they could do for him? On the contrary. He said: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13, 15) Yes, the real basis for friendship is self-sacrificing love! When love is the foundation, a relationship can survive hassles and problems.
When Problems Arise
Imagine, for example, that your friend is endowed with more money, brains, or talent than you. Unselfish love helps you to rejoice with your friend. After all, “love is not jealous,” says the Bible.—1 Corinthians 13:4.
Or suppose your friend says or does something that hurts your feelings. Does it mean your friendship is doomed? Not necessarily. The apostle Paul was very disappointed when his friend Mark abandoned him on a missionary trip. So much so that he refused to let Mark accompany him on his next tour! Paul even exchanged some sharp words with Mark’s cousin, Barnabas, over the matter. Years later, though, Paul spoke fondly of Mark, even inviting him to Rome to minister to him. They had evidently worked out their differences.—Acts 15:37-39; 2 Timothy 4:11.
Why not try to do the same when problems arise in your friendships? Don’t let matters fester. (Ephesians 4:26) Before jumping to conclusions or making angry accusations, get your friend’s side of the story. (Proverbs 18:13; 25:8, 9) Perhaps there has been some misunderstanding. But what if your friend is actually guilty of showing poor judgment? Remember that your friend is only human. (Psalm 51:5; 1 John 1:10) And all of us are guilty of saying and doing things that we later regret.—Compare Ecclesiastes 7:21, 22.
Even so, you can openly express how much your friend’s actions have hurt you. That might move your friend to make a sincere apology. Since love “does not keep account of the injury,” perhaps you can put the incident behind you. (1 Corinthians 13:5) Looking back at a lost friendship, young Keenon relates: “If I had it all to do again, I would not have expected perfection from our friendship. I would have listened more and supported him and not magnified his flaws. I understand now that what makes a successful friendship is working through the tests and challenges.”
But what if your friend is not spending as much time with you as before or as much as you would like? Could it be that you have become overly possessive of your friend’s time and attention? This can smother a relationship. People in healthy relationships give each other a measure of space. (Compare Proverbs 25:17.) They allow plenty of room for the enjoyment of other people! After all, the Bible encourages Christians to “widen out” in their friendships. (2 Corinthians 6:13) So when a friend does this, there’s no need to view him or her as disloyal.
Actually, it is not a good idea to become overly dependent on any one person anyway. (Psalm 146:3) It is wise to cultivate friendships with some outside your peer group, such as your parents, the elders, and other caring, responsible adults. Ana relates fondly: “My mother is my best friend. I could talk to her about anything and everything.”
Lasting Friendships Can Be Enjoyed!
The Bible says at 1 Peter 3:8: “Finally, all of you be like-minded, showing fellow feeling, having brotherly affection, tenderly compassionate, humble in mind.” Yes, show kindness, compassion, moral integrity, and genuine concern for others, and you will always attract friends! Granted, lasting friendships take work and determination. But the rewards make them well worth the effort.
Interestingly, the Bible tells of David and Jonathan. They enjoyed an outstanding friendship. (1 Samuel 18:1) They were able to rise above petty jealousy and personality flaws. This was possible because both David and Jonathan placed friendship with and loyalty to Jehovah God above everything else. Do the same, and you will have little trouble keeping God-fearing friends!
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Friendships often break up when one feels it is disloyal to have other friends