Recently I had to have a hard conversation with a friend.
It was one of those conversations you put off for a long time, thinking you can just ride it out, hoping things will correct on their own. The tension had been building for awhile. Small things, really, but neither of us wanted to bring it up.
I had my list of excuses for not saying anything: There was no point, I told myself. She wasn’t going to be able to hear me. I didn’t really know what I wanted to say.
Not to mention, I was afraid that if I said what I was thinking, I was going to ruin the friendship.
I realized now how unfounded this was.
After all, what kind of friendship is it if we can’t really be honest with each other? On top of that, I wasn’t really giving my friend much credit. Did I really think that, if I was honest about how I felt, the friendship would end?
I knew the truth was it probably wouldn’t.
So I met with my friend that next week and talked about how I was feeling.
I went into the conversation nervous, but as soon as I started to share, my nerves calmed. She listened to me so graciously as I shared what I was feeling. I made sure to talk about myself (“When this happens, it makes me feel…), rather than blaming. She apologized for her part in it and then told me how she was feeling, too.
We both took turns listening and apologizing. Whatever tension had been between us melted.
After we talked, I felt so much closer to her.
To be honest, I know it could have easily gone the other way. Sometimes we share our thoughts or feelings with someone and they listen graciously, like my friend did. Other times, we’re met with resistance—defensiveness, anger, blame.
But at least we can see, then, that this is not a right friendship for us.
You can’t really be friends with a person who can’t be honest and listen.
I’ve spent so much of my life settling for acquaintances and calling them friends.
I would avoid being really honest about what I was feeling—either pretending I wasn’t feeling it, or talking myself out of it for some reason, or just stewing about it, without talking.
One thing would usually pile on top of another until I couldn’t take it.
I would explode about it. Or stay quiet. The friendship would inevitably end.
And just like that, my fear that friendships would end would become its own self-fulfilling prophecy.
As I acted out my fear of losing friends, I would lose them anyway. And usually, I would lose them over something that could be easily avoided—if I had just been willing to be honest much sooner.
So what’s the answer?
I don’t think the answer is to take a guns-blazing, honesty-at-all-costs approach, because I’ve seen this blow up for people and leave them just as frustrated and alone.
I do think the answer is to get really good at being honest and vulnerable.
It doesn’t take much to say, “you can be a real jerk sometimes.” But it takes courage and resilience to say, “when you said that to me, it made me feel insignificant and small.”
Like I said, this is not easy. I’m still learning. But so motivated to keep moving in this direction because the alternative is so much harder—staying lonely, trapped in a world where dozens of people know of you but no one really knows you for who you are.