It’s Time To Break Up With Your Crazy Friend

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I couldn’t have been more ecstatic to start my freshman year of college. I was coming from small town Florida and felt desperately in need of a new social circle. The idea of being surrounded by 600 other incoming freshman and 3,000 total students felt so liberating. A fresh start meant that I could be anyone that I wanted to be, and I couldn’t wait to find new footing as a college student.

During my first several months in college, I met a lot of people from all different walks of life. While I found a few friends that “got” me, I ended up spending a lot of time with students that seemed to need a friend. As a Christian, it was my responsibility to reach out to those in need, right? Come rain or shine, I had this group of people around me. We’d do everything together. And, as time progressed, some of these friends ended up needing more than just a friend. They were simply in need. I spent hours on end, countless weekends and weeknights, doing anything and everything for these toxic friendships. And, these “needy” friends had other “needy” friends. They’d invite them to our gatherings and functions. I was always all for it, because it would be good for them to be exposed to a positive group of Christian friends, right?

I was emotionally exhausted from putting others needs before my own.

Then, one day, I looked around and suddenly, most all of those friends who “got” me were gone. All I had left was unhealthy, needy friendships. Where were my peers? Where were the kids with the same interests as me? What happened to the friends that I lost track of time talking with? I took a long, hard look at my life and realized that I had continually sacrificed all of my healthy relationships with my healthy friends to be there for this second group of unhealthy friends. And, I found myself lonely and burnt out. I was emotionally exhausted from putting others needs before my own.

I had picked the wrong friends. You see, often in life, we say that people pick the wrong friends when they pick poor influences. However, I don’t think we always pick the wrong friends because we want to do the wrong things. I think sometimes we pick the wrong friends for the right reasons, and we might not even realize we’re doing it. We pick people that we’re trying to help. We pick people that we think need people. If we’re strong, we pick those who are weak, thinking we have the power to teach them to be strong. We put our lives on hold in order to support others, because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do. We try to be Jesus instead of bringing people to Jesus. And, suddenly, we find ourselves broken down. We find ourselves without any true peers and equals. We find ourselves in a perpetual state of ministry without anything left to minister.

You’ve been there. Tell me you’ve been there. We all have, haven’t we? We’ve sacrificed for the sake of others. You’ve put time with your kids ahead of your personal needs. You can’t remember the last time you took a break from caretaking for your elderly father. You’ve stayed up for hours at night on the phone with your alcoholic sister. You’ve gone out to meet a friend in need instead of enjoying Sunday dinner with your husband. We’re propelled forward by this sense of Christian duty. And, there’s nothing wrong with it once or twice. The problem arises when we continually sacrifice for the sake of others to the point of doing real damage to ourselves.

And this, my friends is dangerous ground. This is where marriages fail. This is where relationships fall apart. This is where all of the true friends seem to suddenly disappear. Even worse off, this is where you lose hold of the person you know yourself to be, because you’ve given him or her away to the point where you just don’t have anything left.

Want to know the scariest part of all? It’s not just his or her life that the unhealthy person damages. It’s not even just your life or the people around you that a toxic relationship touches. Others toxicity can affect you. It can bring you to a point of not even recognizing yourself. Think of it this way. Unhealthy people are like zombies! For real. Once someone is infected, they’ll follow you, and it’s nigh impossible to escape them (even if you think you have the absolute best zombie plan). They’re hardwired to infect you with their unhealthiness. Many don’t even necessarily mean to. They might not even realize they’re doing it. But, it’s a fact that healthiness and unhealthiness cannot coexist. If you surround yourself with unhealthy people, you will become unhealthy. Even if you think you’re just ministering to those people, it can get you. And, before you know it, their brand of craziness will very likely become yours.

So, with so much craziness, what’s a person to do?

Here are some tips for setting boundaries with your friends:

  1. For the sake of argument, let’s imagine you have ten friends. For every ten friends, you should have one friend that gives completely to you. This is the type of person that is always there for you no matter what. Then, you should have eight give-and-take relationships. These are the people that give to you sometimes and you give to them other times. This should be your typical friend. Then, you’re allowed one person that takes completely from you. This is one crazy friend. Try and keep that balance!
  1. It might sound cliché but set time aside for you. Know your own needs. Some people are more prone to give of their time than others. If you are one of them, recognize that you might be unrealistic about your own limitations. Rest is a constant teaching throughout the Bible. From the institution/affirmation of the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8) to Jesus resting (Luke 5:16) and encouraging the disciples to rest (Mark 6:30-32) in the New Testament, there is a clear model. We need time to rest. Don’t feel guilty. It’s not selfish. It is right. You can’t help others unless you have it to give. In order to have it, you need to stop every now and again. At the end of the day, God wants to use you for countless people. Don’t sacrifice all that He’s given you on one. It’s not worth it.
  1. You might be giving up more than you are bargaining for. Just like unhealthiness spreads, the same can be said of healthiness. Healthiness also attracts healthiness. Normal people don’t want to be hanging out with the craziness. While you think you might be sacrificing an hour here or an evening there, you may be giving up lifelong, healthy relationships. All those hours add up to a lot of time, and in the end, you’re likely missing out on the close relationships healthier people are forming with each other. So, find healthy people and surround yourself with them!
  1. Check your own reasons for doing this. While we may start out helping someone for their sake, we can easily shift into helping them for our sake. These unhealthy people may be giving you a lot of attention. You may like the accolades from being a leader or someone who has it all together. While sometimes a person is unhealthy, often the dynamics in a relationship can be what’s unhealthy. If you shift into those feelings, it’s all the more reason that you need to let the friendship end. It’s clearly a trigger for you own unhealthiness.
  1. Family can be the biggest source of unhealthy people in your life. They are often the hardest to set boundaries with. Just because they are family members does not give you the right to sacrifice your whole life over them. While I’m not saying to cut your family off, I am saying that you need to keep especially toxic family members at bay. Yes, you can do this in love. Also, if you do have toxic family members, you may want to spend time educating yourself. “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend and “Irregular People” by Joyce Landorf Heatherley are great places to start.
  1. Remember that when you think you’re helping, you might actually be hurting. At the end of my first semester of my freshmen year, I spent some time talking to a pastor friend of mine about these relationships. She recommended that I cut ties, and I did just that. Guess what I found out? I was a crutch for a lot of these unhealthy people. In many ways, by constantly “helping” them, I was keeping them from growing on their own two feet. They were able to thrive just fine (maybe even better) without me. While it may be difficult for you to let go after you have so much invested, it might be just what doctor ordered. Be clear and patient about why you are separating from them. The last thing a person with unhealthiness needs is more pain. Make the decision to break up with your unhealthy friends, for your good and theirs.
  1. Don’t fall for excuses and misinterpretations. Very few people in the world have a proper understanding of boundaries. Often, toxic people will use misinterpretations of Scripture to rope you back into a relationship with them. They will tell you that you are supposed to forgive them for their mistakes. They will tell you that you aren’t being Christ-like. If you do need to forgive, forgive. Just remember that forgiveness does not necessitate a relationship. Recognize that if you’ve already tried to help someone for a significant amount of time and it’s not working, then you are likely not the person to be able to help him or her out. If someone does seek change, enough time has past, and depending on how toxic the relationship/person was (some doors should never be reopened), be willing to crack the door toward some form of new relationship. Just keep those boundaries clear!
  1. Do find people that you can help! Everyone needs a friend. We are meant to help those in need. Just don’t try to help the same people over and over to the point where you end up hurting them or yourself. Don’t substitute unhealthy relationship for healthy friendships. Trust your instincts on this once.. Stay connected to God, and He will help you know when to get involved. There aren’t many hard-and-fast rules here, so use Scripture to help you make decisions on when to step into a situation and when to step out of it.
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Friends

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“I’m starved!”  My stomach had begun to consume itself in a desperate bid for survival.  My band mate looked over at me and grinned.  “Me too!” she said.  “Where should we hit?”  The vermillion McMenamins sign beckoned to us from its perch above I205.  We went in, ordered Cajun tots, and talked about our band, our church, and a broad spectrum of ideas.  The tots proved my last well-flavored meal that I have ever had at McMenamins.  Every meal I’ve had there since has been over-salted and overpriced.  My friendship with Shelly is, though long distance, still good.

Our friendship is not, however, unique.  I’ve always had female friends.  They have been, in a great part, some of my best friends.  From the time I was young, I just got along better in many ways with girls.  I wasn’t ever a huge sports fan, and I’ve always liked talking relationships more than I’ve liked talking trucks, so girls’ perspectives have, in general, been more close to my interests.  I can honestly say that I would not have the respect I have for women, nor would I be where I am without a perspective both balanced from male points of view as well as female points of view.

When growing up, my friends continually would tease me about whatever girl I was hanging out with at the time.  I found it strange that they had such a binary perspective.  There are few things more boring to me than binary perspectives.  I often find myself dreading to explain the problems with binary perspectives to people because I often feel like I’m doing someone else’s homework for them.  I got sick and tired of me telling these people that my friends and I were that… friends, and that they should try thinking of girls as other people, not just an embodiment of the idea of the “other”.  This is not to say that I didn’t have romantic attractions to a few of the girls I hung out with, I did from time to time, but they didn’t like me in that way and so I was content to simply be friends.

Then came My Best Friend’s Wedding.  On a movie night at academy this film showcased a clear reality: that to “just be friends” is a choice, just as love itself is a choice.  In the film, the main character’s best friend, a guy, plans to get married and the main character realizes that she loves him.  She tries to break up his marriage, but in a rare show of Hollywood brilliance, the film portrays a man who is committed to his path.  The man, even though he could have abandoned his fiancee, chooses not to.  I realized something in the midst of that film: If the definition of being “just friends” means absolutely no physiological reaction to a person of the opposite orientation than you, then it may not be possible for men and women to ever be “just friends.”  This physiological reaction is the same kind of phenomena that might make one want to hit someone who is threatening, or to run from a dangerous situation rather than to stay and help.  These are real reactions, but they are not wrong.  Giving into them in the wrong contexts can be wrong, but these urges themselves are normal. What makes the groom in My Best Friend’s Wedding admirable is that he sees these emotions for what they are, puts them aside and chooses to lay those feelings aside and to see her as a friend.

This is a perspective that seems lost on a large swath of the modern American population.  In 2012 NPR did an interview with researchers who asked the question: “Can men and women just be friends?”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2012/06/17/155197529/can-men-and-women-be-friends

The researchers concluded that, assuming both persons were straight, such a thing was unlikely.  Their conclusions were based upon interviews which dovetailed with a theory that “over evolutionary history, men who received subtle signals or ambiguous signals of sexual interest, needed to act on them because if they didn’t, they would have been out-reproduced by men who did.”  The researchers come to the conclusion that the tendency towards attraction exists, therefore the thing we know as “just being friends” is unlikely to exist.  It seems that the researchers’ definition of “just being friends” is nearly meaningless.  So if having physical attraction excludes the term “just being friends” how about when one is both a friend and a mentor?  What if one is a friend and a basketball rival?  What if one is a friend and an employee?  Is not everyone a friend and something else in this scenario?  Are not all of our relationships vulnerable to jealousy, codependency, or abuse?  We have many natural tendencies, but are we defined by them or by our choices that keep them at bay?  We do not avoid friendships from the same gender because they may come with complications, and some of these complications come with risk of consequences that rival the risks of divorce.  Yet, because what is to be gained is valuable, we take those risks.

For all of these reasons, my wife is not just the mother of my children, she IS my best friend.  She is the one I tell my deepest fears to.  She is the one who shares my sadnesses and joys.  However, she is not the only woman with whom I am good friends.  I regularly talk with and hang out with both men and women.  Sometimes in public, sometimes alone.  My wife knows about every one.  She likewise is free to have private conversations with her male friends.  Around here is where someone usually brings up a mistranslation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22.  It is a text that does not address outward appearances but the appearances of prophecies that may be either good or evil.  The context resonates more with Christ’s life, for He seemed to care less whether what he did appeared sinful or not.  He had a reputation as a glutton, and a friend with thieves and prostitutes.  He spoken to a woman alone by a well.  He let a sinful woman wash his feet in public.  What did He gain from these friendships?  What reason is there to practice the spiritual discipline of friendship with people from both genders?  Do not such situations lead to infidelity?  For people in weak marriages, absolutely.  I have found so far in my experience that marriages do not end because of affairs.  Affairs happen when marriages meet their spiritual end.  I believe that there is a strong case to be made that divorce and attempts at infidelity come from intimacy deficits between people, not surpluses. Beyond that, I think there is a danger in the separation that comes from a society that sees binary outcomes as inevitable. There is further danger in a society where a large portion of the populace only experiences significant communication of ideas and emotion with the other gender through one representative member of said gender. It is little wonder in my mind that there is a gender gap on so many issues. It is little wonder that we have a wage gap.  A political power gap, and that in this day and age, we deny women in ministry equal standing.  I would argue these things come from not being really known.

I would argue we, as a society, have made being alone with a member of the opposite sex mean something risque though it is not inherently so. So when men and women are with each other, both sides think of it in that light. However, if one challenges these stereotypes, seeing the sexual tension that may arise as simple physiology at work and nothing more significant, then one is in a place where one can make a conscious choice against the physiology and simply be friends with no other agenda. One defeats ones urge to objectify the opposite sex. One then can learn from another individual’s perspective, regardless of the gender, and learning is what the journey is all about.
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