Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Avoid Being Smothered by My Friend?
“My friend acted as though she owned me. She gave me no breathing space.”—Hollie.
“THERE exists a friend sticking closer than a brother,” says a wise proverb. (Proverbs 18:24) And if you have a friend who shares your convictions, sense of humor, or interests, you naturally want to be together. Says a youth named Caroline: “The closeness of my friendship with some in the Christian congregation is a result of our taking part in activities together.” As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Caroline set aside a month in which she planned to spend 60 hours in the evangelizing work. Her friends organized their schedules to support her in this work!
But while togetherness has its benefits, sometimes it can feel like too much of a good thing. Hollie, quoted at the outset, feels smothered by one of her friends. And she is not alone in feeling this way. Hollie observes: “That seems to happen to other kids too. They almost live in each other’s pockets until there is a huge explosion. Then they don’t talk for weeks.”
The problem is, telling a friend that you feel smothered and that you need more space is not easy. You may fear that you will hurt your friend’s feelings. You may also fear that you will jeopardize your relationship. However, putting a healthy amount of space in a friendship is more likely to help than hurt.
To illustrate: In a public garden in Sydney, Australia, a large tree had to be enclosed by a chain fence. Why? Because battalions of visitors were gradually compacting the soil and choking the roots. Unprotected, the tree would have died. The same can be true of friendships. Too much togetherness can choke a relationship. King Solomon wrote: “Make your foot rare at the house of your fellowman, that he may not have his sufficiency of you and certainly hate you.”—Proverbs 25:17.
The Need for Personal Time and Privacy
Why did Solomon say this? For one thing, all of us have a need for some personal time and privacy. Even Jesus Christ had such a need. Although he was close to his disciples, from time to time he would go off “by himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35) God-fearing Isaac likewise found time to be alone. (Genesis 24:63) You too need a measure of personal time to handle such things as homework, chores, and your personal study of the Bible. And if your friends show a lack of consideration by overlooking your needs in this regard, resentment can easily flare up.
Don’t be afraid, then, to let a friend know when you need some time to yourself. Since Christian love “does not look for its own interests,” a true friend will usually try to be understanding. (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5; Proverbs 17:17) “During the period leading up to my final exams,” writes a youth, “my friends were very supportive and understanding. I felt comfortable in asking them to leave when I needed time to study. Being honest with my friends is easy; they know that all of us have responsibilities.”
Of course, the Golden Rule requires that you extend the same consideration to your friends. (Matthew 7:12) A young person named Tamara writes: “My having many responsibilities has definitely made me more aware of my friend’s need for time to herself.” And when Tamara has duties at home, her friends do not urge her to rush through them or leave them until later. Rather, Tamara says, “they will usually help me do my work so that we can do things together afterward.” What a treasure such unselfish friends are—and what a worthwhile use of time together!
There is another reason why it is wise to put some space in a friendship. When we invest all our time and emotion in just one friendship, we may tend to neglect other important relationships—such as our relationship with our parents and siblings and with other Christians. We also greatly limit our emotional and spiritual growth. The Bible says: “By iron, iron itself is sharpened. So one man sharpens the face of another.” (Proverbs 27:17) Obviously, there is only so much ‘sharpening’ you can receive by associating with just one person—especially when that one is a peer.
The Bible therefore discourages becoming cliquish, narrow, or exclusive in our choice of friends. It urges us to “widen out.” (2 Corinthians 6:13) “Even if you have a special relationship,” advises the book Moods and Feelings, “it is important to make time to see other friends too.”
Such advice is not always easy to apply. A Christian youth named Michael says: “Troy and I used to do everything together, both in the congregation and socially. We were inseparable. Then another young Witness moved into the congregation. He and I wanted to serve together as full-time evangelizers, so we began to spend time together.” The result? “Troy stopped talking to me,” says Michael, “and after making futile efforts at reconciling things, I stopped talking to him. This went on for a year.” He describes their friendship as being “jealously possessive.”
In a healthy relationship, however, friends do not treat each other like possessions. So if a friend proves resistant to your efforts to widen out, you need to have a heart-to-heart talk. Perhaps your friend simply needs reassurance that you still cherish his or her friendship. Make it clear that you will continue to do things together.
Admittedly, it may take a while for your friend to adjust to the idea. Sixteen-year-old Zaneta, for example, felt twinges of jealousy when her close friend began spending time with others. But Zaneta says that she conquered these feelings, “thanks to prayer and personal Bible study.” Thus she was able to maintain a close relationship with her friend. Michael’s friend Troy also got over his initial jealousy, and they became good friends once again. Perhaps your friend will do likewise. Really, in the long run, widening out benefits everyone concerned. Seventeen-year-old Debbie finds that when her friends make new friends, “they often become my friends too.”
What, though, if your friend simply refuses to accept these changes in your relationship? It may be that you’ll have no choice but to go your separate ways. However, before concluding that all is lost, why not invite your parents’ views on the matter? After all, God-fearing parents really are your closest friends. And they may have some practical suggestions that can help you salvage the friendship without compromising your need for space.
Spend Time With the Right Friends
A word of caution: Widening out does not mean being indiscriminate about your choice of friends. A book on friendship says: “It is natural to become like the people you spend a lot of time with. Sometimes this can happen without your knowing about it. You may begin to think and act like your peers regardless of how you may feel. In this way, your peer group may be in control of you.” The Bible made this same point thousands of years ago when it said: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.”—Proverbs 13:20.
When you are in school or on a job, you may have to spend time with people who are not interested in serving Jehovah. But when choosing close companions, remember the Bible’s counsel: “Bad companions ruin good character.”—1 Corinthians 15:33, Today’s English Version.
Remember, too, that more important than any human friendship is one’s friendship with our Creator, Jehovah God. Debbie, quoted earlier, has a number of good friends. Yet her advice is to “make sure that Jehovah always comes first.” Faithful Abraham of old did, and Jehovah specially called him “my friend.” (Isaiah 41:8) And consider this: Jehovah does not begrudge your giving time to your friends who also love him; in fact, he encourages it. What a true Friend he is!
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True friends recognize each other’s need for private time