Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Friendships by the Wayside

I really loathe having to post something negative, but I do so here because I know you are wise women and I am need of good support and counsel with regards to a difficult issue.

Essentially, my dilemma boils down to this: 1) I am twenty-six yrs. old and all of my childhood friends think I am nuts. 2) I am not sure that I should care.

I recently finished a month-long vacation at my parents' home in San Diego, CA. While there I met up with four of my closest friends from junior and senior high school for breakfast and conversation. Over the course of several painful hours it became blatantly clear that, not only did we no longer have anything in common, but also that they have a hard time respecting the decisions I am making with my life and made no attempt to act as if they did. The morning was peppered with scornful comments about me "not working" and shocks of disbelief when they put it all together that "I had REALLLY NEVER used birth control?!" By the end of the morning I felt myself hurrying to change my infant son's cloth diaper before their incredulous stares and get the heck out of dodge. These girls' outfits probably cost, on average, $150 more than my ensemble (not hard to do, mind you), and only one of them is in a serious relationship.

So, now you understand the situation, then, confusingly enough followed my ambivalent reflection on the bizarre reunion. I am a very drastic person, so in the fog of my feelings of isolation and defensiveness I was immediately beset by such thoughts as, "whatever, I don't need friends." "What is the point of friends who criticize that which I hold most dear?" But since those initial overreactions --things have become a bit murkier for me.

I am conflicted about the fact that I do enjoy female companionship, but know that it can become so toxic so easily, especially with non-Christians. Let's face it, as an NFP, stay-at-home mother of two in my twenties I am seriously in the minority-- if I hold out for friends who share my values exclusively I will be friendless on my Army post in Germany. Should it matter if I am friendless? My husband and my children are wonderful friends, but I think you all understand the niche filled by female peers. Is it weak of me to desire female friendships when they are doing nothing to further my path toward holiness or that of my family? What does the Bible say about the role of friendships in a Christian life?, the Church Fathers,? Fulton Sheen?, anyone, please?

This dilemma reminds me of one that many Catholic parents must face when deciding on a school for their children - Catholic for a solid foundation or public in order to be salt of the earth/ a lantern on a hill to the rest? Although I have currently made it my practice to sever ties with all of these women who despise my values and devalue my vocation, maybe we are really called to live our lives for them to see - as a challenge to their materialistic, morally relativistic existences? But then what about my duty for fraternal correction? Wouldn't it get a bit exhaustive to my 'friends' if I was constantly correcting them?

A lot to cover, thanks for your time and consideration on this one, Friends.


Anonymous said...

OK, deep breath. It's not uncommon to change as you are growing up and to move on from your previous friends. I'm almost 42 and have had lots of friends over the years. One thing that I have learned over the years is that friendship is by and large, circumstantial and more often than not, based upon proximity. You are in the same homeroom, you live next door to eachother, you share a cubicle, you are on the same soccer team. You get my drift. Let your friends from high school go, they don't get it yet. But you may not want to write them off completely. My old friends who are JUST starting to have children (I live near NYC and we start later here) will now call me for advise. Be charitable, be friendly, be nice. It never pays to purposely hurt someone's feelings but make some new friends who share your interests.

Sophie said...

Ah, AWOL Mommy, I could have written this post word for word myself! You touch on a struggle I go through internally quite often. Also a SAHM in my 20s, with 3 small children, frankly with little time I do have to spend with potential friends they must be uplifting and supportive. Otherwise, sadly, I just don't have the time to devote to it. Is that awful?

I don't know what the bible says, other than general rules about always acting in love and charity. It is true that you never know the influence you may have on your friends down the road when they are looking for marriage.

I guess I have this constant struggle of being in the world and separate from it. Being a bit of an introvert I can happily go throughout my work and my day not paying mind to anyone else. But there are those times when it sure would be nice to pick up the phone and chat with a like minded friend, or visit over coffee without the "What do you mean you don't use birth control" discussions that are so emotionally draining.

On some days it might seem that your friends are a great burden, a true cross to bear. I'm sure Christ felt the same way at times with the apostles!

So all that to say I commiserate and feel your struggle but have no words to help!!! (That and I'm out of time and can't go back to edit now so this will have to do!)

Anonymous said...

AWOL Mommy,

I am currently dealing with many of the same frustrations, so I completely sympathize. As a single mid-twentysomething in a far-off big city, I have found that many of my beliefs and life choices are the opposite of my female co-workers and acquaintances. I have rather "superficial" friendships with those around me whom do not share my views, including old friends from high school. Reminiscing about old times or catching up on each others lives does not often lead to discussions of morality and personal choices. And catching the latest chick flick requires no talking at all! This is not to say that I do not care about these people--if they ever asked for my advice, I would try to give it in the most loving, Christian way possible. But there are "levels" of friendship and some are best left on the lighter side.

While it does get lonely sometimes to not have close girlfriends close by, I take solace in companionship of those who do; time with my wonderful boyfriend, phone calls to friends and family. I have found visiting this blog reassuring, too. (I went to law school with B-Mama's husband and somehow stumbled upon this website a few months back.)

So, when you get to Germany, scope out the families at Mass, chat with the friendly woman at the Commissary, introduce yourself to the neighbors and find the "level" of friendship that works best for each.

God Bless,

Courtney said...

I have worried before that by being friends with others who don't exactly share some of my values and beliefs that I will become more like them and less of what I would like to become (in terms of faith, morals, etc). But, with the help of a trusted person, I realized that it is a very Christian thing to associate and even be friends with others, even if they don't share all of your same values. Jesus himself was friends with the tax collectors, sinners, etc. For me at least, I try to make sure I have friends who share my beliefs and are a great support for faith-based matters, but I don't shut-out others who don't. Unlike your experience, AWOL, I feel lucky that in most cases, I still find them wonderful friends despite some differences. It sounds like it was a rough reunion for you though, and I can understand why you would feel that way.

B-Mama said...

AWOL, my heart goes out to you, dear sister, and I wish I could have been there at your reunion for moral support. Yet I echo courtney's thoughts above that sometimes we are called (and even blessed) by friendships with those who share different views.

What I always try to do is step back and attempt to see things from their perspective--and YES, MANY of the choices I (and you) are making are countercultural and different. I always try to meet them there, laugh about my apparent weirdness, and then seek to show them that I do nothing without thought or consideration. In the end it seems like this open approach takes away their opportunity for defensiveness and provides an chance for more dialogue between us.

Not to say you aren't doing this, but perhaps your friends are just completely on a different page in life that they're not able to dialogue yet. Maybe it will be like anon. said above--they'll be coming to you, seeking advice years down the road. Just wait. :) And pray too. That always seems to help.

And then cling to friendships that support and build you up. Those will bring the greatest encouragement... Hugs and love to you from afar!

Bethany said...

AWOL Mommy- I, too, feel your pain. I moved around a lot as a child and never stayed at a school long enough to make good enough friends that I managed to retain through the next big move. And since college is no exception. In fact as I get ready to turn 30 (end of Oct) I've find myself reconnecting with good friends, even as far back as middle school, because I haven't had that many to begin with.

Unfortunately a couple of my friends (and worse yet, my family) do not understand the lifestyle I have chosen for myself. With three children currently and intentions of trying for number 4 within the next 6-9 months, they don't get it. One in particular is constantly telling me that I'm crazy for having three children, actually commanding me not to have any more children and is "encouraging" me to write out a four year plan for me to go back to work when our current youngest starts kindergarten, as if parenting stops when the children go off to school (I'm not organized enough for homeschooling, I can barely remember where I put the folded laundry). "After all you are more than just a wife and mother." she tells me. I hate that statement.

I know I need to speak with her about it but it's hard when you fear losing a friend. Then again how much of friend can she be if she's putting down what I hold dear.

What keeps me going is that I have a couple of other friends who have confided in me that they not only applaud my life choices, but that I have allowed them to see that perhaps there is more to life than "Sex in the City" . That at the very least I have given them a good and positive example of something they could become when they desire... a SAHM, a devoted wife, a living example of faith. That encourages me.
I don't think there is anything wrong with seeking out like-minded female friends. Just don't expect to find an exact reflection of you (not that you are). There will be many people with some of your values and life choices, there will be a few with many of your values and life choices, those who agree with all of yours will few and far between.

You are right though. View these past "friendships" as an opportunity to evangelize, and remember the quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. "Preach always, if necessary use words." Correct by example, but refrain from criticizing them in return.

kathleenob said...

Take heart! As a fellow catholic army wife living on one of the biggest posts in the US, I have found that military folks are some of the most faith, family and service oriented people I've ever met. In fact, they love having babies so much that I had a serious problem getting OBGYN appointments with my second pregnancy and worried that I'd have to give birth in a hospital hallway along side other laboring mothers. Talk about a culture of life! (Thank the Lord, it was a slow day when I delivered) My experience (and this is our first duty station) is conversations about the catholic faith and the implications of that faith come out organically when friendships are forged especially when sharing ideas about motherhood. I think any relationship based on genuine concern for the other can further our path toward holiness. Although I am challenged to articulate my faith to my non catholic friends through my living example, I have a lot I can learn from any of faithful, ORGANIZED, generous woman who thinks hard about how she raises virtuous children regardless of her faith. Best of luck!

Katherine said...

My opinion is this: Keep them as acquaintances so you can be a light to them, but not as friends that you depend on for support. Friends should be people that help you be closer to God, not push you away from him. What kind of "friend" tears you down, insults you, and mocks your relationship with God?
My advice is this: Seek out moms similar to you in values and pray to God to give you friends like this.

Sophie said...

Just a thought I had as I lay in bed thinking about this post last night...

With regards to the idea of being in friendship with those so polar opposite and contrary to your ideas vs. those who share your commitments in life. Perhaps we are each called to something different with that. Perhaps some are called to reach out to those different and develop friendships with those, and perhaps some of us are called to be more at arms length with those that are different. Maybe it isn't the same answer for all of us or for every stage in life.

While it is true that we will likely always have different levels of friendship, maybe at different stages in our lives we aren't called to work so hard at those superficial ones.

Just thinking out loud here...

Sarahndipity said...

I’m so sorry you had that experience with your friends. Sometimes we outgrow our old friends; “friends” who denigrate our life choices are not real friends.

I completely understand your desire for female companionship. Friendship has always been very important to me. Husbands and children are wonderful, but I think female friendship is essential, at least for me. I’m a very shy person and I don’t make friends easily. I don’t need or want tons of friends, but I do like to have one or two close girlfriends.

I’ve found that it’s much easier to be close to people who share my beliefs. My best friend from high school is a devout Catholic who goes to daily mass, and my best friend from college is also a serious Catholic. I am very lucky that both of them still live in my area. Those two are the only people I consider close girlfriends; my husband and I have other friends, but I don’t consider any of them *close* friends. I’m 28 and I haven’t made any new friends since graduating from college six years ago. I guess part of it is because my husband and I still live in the area we grew up in (the DC area) and most of our friends from high school and college still live here, so the motivation to make new friends isn’t that strong. I don’t really feel like I need to make new friends if I already have a couple good ones. Plus I’m very shy, and it’s hard to meet new people when you’re out of school.

Even with two good Catholic friends in the area, though, I find that I’m not as close to either of them as I used to be. I make an effort to see both of them maybe once a month or so, but sometimes it stretches to longer than that. I think when you’re out in the real world and working and especially when you have kids, it’s harder to keep up with friendships, no matter what, even with other good Catholic friends. Also, I wonder if motherhood tends to make friends grow apart. While both my friends are Catholics and therefore supportive of NFP and all that stuff, neither has children yet. (The high school friend is still single, and the college friend got married last year but doesn’t have kids yet.) They can go out on weekends a lot more than I can. I miss how it was in high school or college when we saw each other every day.

Is there a Catholic mother’s group you can join at your church? My church has one that I hear is really good. But it meets during the day and I work full-time, so I’ve never been able to go to it, except a couple times when I was on maternity leave. I guess I would like at least one other close girlfriend who is close to my age and also a mother. I think that would be much easier if I didn’t have to work. Working makes all this even more complicated.

Anyway, only you can decide how much you need friends. Part of it depends on how extraverted you are. As an introvert, I only need a couple of close friends, and they really need to be people who share my beliefs. I don’t get much out of more superficial relationships. And only you can decide if you want to continue your relationship with your old friends. If I were you I would be firm with them about how they must respect your beliefs, and if they don’t then don’t hang out with them. You will probably find that you naturally grow apart from them anyway.

Sarahndipity said...

I would also like to make a comment about friendships with people who don’t share your beliefs. I want to be clear that I do not think we must “shun” people like this in any way. I am certainly open to being close to people who do not share my beliefs, but it never seems to happen for me. I think part of it is shyness on my part. I tend to be afraid of opening up about my deepest beliefs to people who I can tell have very different beliefs than I do. Also, I find that if people with different beliefs find out about my beliefs, they tend to not open up to me as much. Maybe they think I’ll judge them or something. Either way, the relationship stays on a superficial level. Some less shy people may find it easier to be close to people with different beliefs.

Anonymous said...

AWOL, I'm an AF wife, and I've found that base parishes have awesome Catholic women -- when we move this is the first place I typically turn to to look for friendship. It's hard though when you move to often because friends do come and go, and that's part of our burden as Catholic wives. We just moved a couple of months ago (and this time w/ no base in sight, strange assignment!) and I've had many lonely days! :)
On your old friends -- it seems like this group dynamic was such that you felt discriminated against ... but I'm willing to bet that some of these women were secretly admiring you and your choices, even though they chose to go along with the group and laugh at your countercultural Catholic way of life -- and if you sat down with some of these women one-on-one they would ask you questions about your way of life, and let their curiosity shine through w/o feeling like they had to belittle you due to their insecurities and pride. The Holy Spirit could be working through you to bring the Good News to these women and to give them a glimpse into the truly ABUNDANT LIFE. So let His light shine through you and be an amazing beacon to them, whether or not they deserve it or seem to "get it"! You're a beautiful example and role-model to young women, AWOL! I will say a Memorare right now for future friendships for you in Germany.

Anonymous said...

I can understand your frustration with growing apart from high school friends, but that happens. And there's nothing wrong with easing out of friendships in a gradual way if you feel that the relationship is not what you need. But I sense that you are judging them in the same ways that you are complaining about being judged. So what if only one of them is in a relationship? As someone who is single, I can attest to the fact that just because someone's single doesn't mean they don't wnat to be in a relationship. And so what if they're buying nice clothes? If they have good jobs, no kids, and no other major expenses, what's wrong with buying nice clothes? I just think you need to be careful in what you're complaining about. Feeling that certain people don't understand your religious-based decisions around birth control and family planning - that is something that I think a lot of us can relate to. Feeling that people disrespect your vocation is a very legitimate concern. And I do understand how you feel in that regard. But I don't think it's fair to complain about the fact that these women just have different lives than you do, the aforementioned factors aside. I'm Catholic. But I'm your age, single, obviously have no children, and as a result, my life is just very different from yours. And frankly, I can't imagine having your life right now, and I don't mean that in a bad way. And I'm not judging you for what you've chosen for yourself. And just as much as you might not appreciate being judged for your current circumstances, I feel that you are judging people like me in some of the things you have written.
That said, I'm sure you'll make great friends in Germany. All your friends don't have to be Catholic - I have some VERY good Mormon friends who very much share our (Catholic) values. And yes, I'm the single friend to married Mormon moms - hey, free childcare for them! I'm sure you'll find other young moms. And maybe even older moms. Recently, I have become best friends with a woman in her mid-40s who has children about to attend college! Friendships come in all forms, and it's unpredictable, but if you go into it with a negative mindset, it will make it a lot harder to be open to making new friends.

Sally said...

Friendships are a lot of work. But I have gained and learned a lot from many friends I have with whom I disagree even on the most fundamental issues of values. It seems like the real problem in your case, AWOL Mommy, is not that these women don't share your values or make the same choices you would. It's that they don't respect your values and choices. I don't think we have to be friends only with people who are the same as we are. How boring! But we should only choose friends that support us in our choices and lift us up -- even when they don't understand them.

I would agree with those who say that these women do not seem worth investing a huge amount of your friendship resources, but there would be no harm in maintaining an e-mail relationship and once or twice a year visit with them if it works. But this should not get in the way of investing your time and resources in friendships that are productive for you and friends that are supportive of you.

AWOL Mommy said...

Wow, God does provide doesn't He?! You women and your thoughtful, personal responses have touched me deeply. Every single one of you. I wish I were savvy enough to know how to send e-mail responses to each of you, but alas a group response will have to do.

1) First, a shout out to the other military spouses reading - thank thank you thank you. Your words are true and pertinent and have made me so excited to attend our first Mass at the Chapel here in Germany this Sunday.

2)Frances, thank you for your Memorare - even in your own moment of need you are thinking of me. Good luck in your remote assignment.

3)Single Mormon-befriending anonymous: I appreciate you keeping it real. I surely have a sinful tendency to judge others, especially when it comes to how they spend their money - I need to work on this. As far as mentioning my friends being single, I only included that detail to provide a more full picture about what different points we are at in our lives. I do not look down on single people at all, in fact I am quite grateful to those, like you, who reach out to families to help us with our burgeoning responsibilities.

4) All, thank you for easing my panic, understanding my dilemma and coming to the forefront with your wise words and pats on the back.

5)On the update front -- we have been in Germany for three full days now and our familial jet lag is just starting to subside (AMEN AMEN). We are still living in a hotel as the Army tries to put us into a 900 sq.-foot, two bedroom apartment home for the next three years (quote from housing official;" Ma'am, the Army will only move you once, no matter how many more children you have while you are here.") Car won't be here for 21 days and husband started work on Monday. It is intense, but exciting.
Affectionately, AWOL Mommy

sw said...

i second what b-mama and anonymous #3 said. i too am a single (presbyterian) girl, about your age, and i have both friends who are married with multiple children and friends who are single.

at some point in my life, i'd like to get married and perhaps have kids (though i'm leaning toward adoption, as there are so many children out there who need homes). but i don't think i'm ready yet for this phase of my life--emotionally, spiritually, etc. at this point, i barely feel able to take care of myself...and maybe some of your friends are in the same boat.

i find that people often act judgmental b/c they're insecure about their own choices or the fact that they're not ready. and it's entirely possible--especially if they're your close friends--that they're not aware how their thoughts are coming across to you. they may feel just as defensive about their lifestyles as you feel about yours.

for instance, i'm one of the few in my extended family who isn't yet married, let alone w/ kids. sometimes i feel like my married relatives and friends look at me as if there's something wrong w/ me for not being ready...*especially* b/c i'm now just starting in my 3rd year of grad school. why am i not yet married and settled down? why don't i own a house yet? am i crazy to be back in school at the age of 28, w/ 4 years left to go? and i know i don't always react well when people ask me these questions (especially when it's my mom who's asking the questions).

all this being said, it's one thing if your friends challenge you--in which case, i agree w/ b-mama that you should "seek to show them that [you] do nothing without thought or consideration"--it's a different matter if your friends continue to be disrespectful, even after you've expressed your concerns. if they continue to make an issue out of your lifestyle in a negative or invasive manner, or if they don't try to meet you halfway in conversation (it's hard being a grad student when your friends won't stop talking about their contractors and pricey home renovations), then i do think it's time to move on.

good luck!

sw said...

oops, my comment posted a bit later than it should have.

p.s. i also wanted to add that i hope my post doesn't come across as implying that you judge your single friends. just meant to say that sometimes we single people feel inadequate or "behind" where we should be, even when our married friends and relatives (and even my mom) aren't judging us, and that hopefully, your friends aren't judging you but maybe are just a bit misguided.

Clare Krishan said...

Keep your mind open - I was a single mum (had my son at college and changed my mind about giving him up for adoption) who took a job with a big multinational in Germany and found myself relying on complete strangers to keep the work-life balance from going a-kilter. I found some of my English-speaking colleagues' stay-at-home (secular) wives the most awfully judgmental on my choices to earn an existence for myself and son, meanwhile the local Lutheran neighbors (senior nurse-working mum of six, teacher working mum of two, stay-at-home grandmom of four) were the most generous - 23 years later (and three relocations) I have no contact to any former colleagues or their spouses, but close phone/email relationships with a handful of "true" friends (who have in the meantime married, divorced, had teenage pregnant daughters, lost jobs and homes and had to move back with a now-widowed "oma", and so on, in other words 'Life' in all its awe-ful munificence)

Try not to put your own concept of "pure" between you and the reflection of the Lord you provide to the world (heck even the Pope said as much his desire that he himself does not get in the way of Jesus' revealing himself to the world through the papal office)

Here's a neat reflection on a remake of a classic:

God Bless - Germany is wonderful, I'm so jealous!!

Joanne said...

I am always posting late but I can never get to my blog reading until the weekend! I just wanted to say that I think it does get easier, with age. I am a SAHM, Catholic, NFP'er, but I am 40 and I can honestly say that I have NO friends who share my and my husband's beliefs. Indeed, even in my family, I feel like my job is devalued and the fact that my husband and I do not use artificial contraception is a joke to my brother, who is constantly asking me if we are 'done' having children.

BUT I don't really care that we don't agree. I feel so happy (well, I don't always feel happy on a day to day basis, but I mean in the big picture) with my choice to stay home with my children, to practice NFP, and to try and live a life reflecting that of the Holy Family that no one can bring me down about it. I DO get a lot of suspicious, strange attitudes about using cloth diapers, or breast feeding until a year, etc., etc., but I absolutely do not worry about it. I feel like I have generations of women that have gone before me, and I am trying to be like the Blessed Mother, so I am not going to let women who have less lofty goals ruin my day(s). I hope you enjoy your new home and meet some wonderful friends!

Courtney said...


Your post was a nice reminder to not worry about what others think too much...something I need to work on! Thank you!