The Danger and Beauty of Friendship

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge

“If you say that one more time, I’m going to be angry,” she said, and seemed to grip the steering wheel a little tighter.

“Say what?” I asked and she reminded me of a very important part of Chinese culture that slipped my mind.

Saying, “thank you”, especially repeatedly, is basically like saying, “I know you think we’re friends, but we’re not.” Amidst a flurry of seafood eating, marathon running, red wood seeing, and deep conversations, I was frustrating my friend by continuing to say “thank you”. I thanked her for picking me up from the airport, taking me to see the bridge, treating me to dinner, letting me drive (she’s the worst not a great driver), and taking me to a massage after our race. My thankfulness was perceived as offensive, not because I meant any harm, but because of her cultural background.

After I apologized for hurting her feelings and reiterated how dear of a friend she is to me, we went about the rest of the weekend both of us grateful we have a close enough friendship where we can be honest about hurt feelings and sort them out together. I think that’s rare in most friendships.

I chalked the situation up as cultural misunderstanding, but then realized upon more reflection how many thousands of times we say things that hurt one another or feel wounded by an innocent comment. I was at lunch last week, and one of our editors mentioned to an author that his question, “How did you meet your husband”, triggered some deep insecurities inside her. He asked a normal question, but in the context of a difficult marriage, she perceived the question different than it was intended. She finally was able to tell him how his question made her feel-moreso to clear the air than anything else.

Think of the last time you took offense or were hurt by what someone said to you. Did you talk to them about it? Did you write them off afterwards? Since I love words, I tend to hold onto what people say more deeply than I often should, and simultaneously, I am often careless with my words.

Real friendship is not stuffing our feelings down and pretending everything is ok. I formerly believed the “Christian way” to handle confusing words was to just sweep my feelings far away and show grace. But, real friendship is courage to tell one another in truth, always in love. Friendship is about believing the best in each other and knowing feelings will be hurt, words will harm, but we’re in it together because we need each other. We need closeness with people who will challenge us to soar to the highest heights and carry us when it’s hard to take the next breath. Let’s stand shoulder to shoulder with our sisters—in honesty and courage with the waters of Grace flowing through us. Oh, the dangers and complexities and beauty of that which we call friendship.

Will you tell us about friendship in your life? When is the last time you were hurt by your friend? Did you talk to him/her about it?

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

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11 Responses to “The Danger and Beauty of Friendship”
  1. AW says:

    Nice article! A thought that crosses my mind is that intercultural competence means not only to understand somebody else’s cultural background and behave in proper manner when possible, but also be forgiving if someone from a different background unknowingly crosses the line with relation to one’s own culture. It’s a two-way road — just like the Golden Gate bridge.

    Another, different aspect is that if culturally proficient people were to always adapt themselves to their interlocutor’s background, the roles would be exchanged at every conversation. Thus, it seems more appropriate that, instead, people adapt themselves to the country where they are living or visiting. It would perhaps be too presumptuous to expect the opposite. We adapt ourselves to the environment; not the environment that adapts itself to us.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi Anderson,

      Thanks for commenting. I do agree, but with Natalie and I, we both try to adapt to the other’s culture, as she lives here and I’ve lived in China. She is careful not to say things to me that hurt my “American feelings” and vice versa. I think the important perspective here is not judging the legitimacy of hurt (all feelings are valid) but rather being able to express our deepest feelings to one another. Intimacy, right?

  2. Angela says:

    Your post is so unbelievably timely for me as I struggle with a relationship with 2 friends. Long story short, I felt deeply hurt by something they had done. So I told them. Then things went from bad to worse. When I tried to explain why I was feeling the way I was and trying to answer their questions, I was called vindictive and not valuing their friendship. Some how it’s all come around to being my fault (or at least that’s the way I feel) and the friendships might be over.

    In the mean time, I’ve started hanging around with other people in my life, who I’ve been “too busy” to spend a lot of time with because I was spending what little extra time I had with these other 2. I’m rediscovering rich friendships and people who are acepting me for who I am and what my limitations are. (I have MS)

    Yet, the fall out with the 2 friends hurts me deeply. I am loosing sleep over it. I’m trying to sort out if I’ve done something wrong and do I need to apologize for anything (my default position in conflict) while trying to remain in the truth about how the whole situation began. I sure could use people’s prayers for peace and wisdom.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi Angela,

      I’m so glad my post was timely for you. Your situation sounds so complicated and hurtful. Friendship can be the most beautiful and the most painful, can’t it? A friend of mine recently said she was learning to forgive people and accepting that they would never be like she wanted them to be. I’ve had to let go of several friendships in my life . . . and I’m still not sure how to process.

      Has anyone else had to let go or seriously re-evaluate friends in their life? Any thoughts on how Angela should handle this situation?

  3. Michael says:

    Thank for being my best friend Ruthie and always showing me truth in love.

  4. What beautiful truths! My best friend and I have been BFF’s for 30+ years. I don’t believe there is anything that we couldn’t say in love (with tact) to one another. I’m always cognizant of how blessed I am!

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      I love it! 30 years! Natalie and I often talk about how we’ll be friends until we’re old and grey (except she will probably still have jet black hair:)

  5. Natalie says:

    Ruthie, thanks for being such a great friend, I’m so glad we found that out and soon solved it. Thanks for being so willing to embrace my culture and accept me just as I am. You are a great friend! I’m very blessed to have you in my life! Don’t forget you are half Chinese, ;-)

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Thank you for giving me grace over and over (especially for the comment about your outfit, so sorry). How could I never forget I am half Chinese?! …I was just about the type “thank you again”, then realized I need to stop! ha.

  6. karen says:

    Hi Ruthie,
    Well this is an interesting time for you to post this!..
    a friend misunderstood and took offense to me just last week. There is fear since everything like this that has happened to me has turned into the end of the friendship. I hear Him tell me that my choice is to try to stay with her as her friend and not withdraw – actually right now i heard it on the radio, as i write this- another thing that tells me that God cares about this!!.
    I will try and not push but be available- and try to be alert to God telling me when I need to contact her. It hurts as i feel responsible for this, because I had really meant to be supportive of her when I had offended her. So I am blindsided and confused. I don’t want to cover this up in fake ‘Christian ‘ understanding of be nice- I want to talk about the truth, with love. And oh boy- I know that God is giving me the opportunity to grow and work out the answers to prayers i have prayed about how to be a truly good friend and do just as you have described. So I am grateful – I know He is living and interactive in my life, when I had thought he was distant and unconcerned. It does feel like a minefield- dangerous, and i hope it will be beautiful. You have a real talent for words.

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