Female friendship is something I have given a lot of thought to. My first very good friend was a boy, and I grew up with three older brothers. I had more male cousins than female cousins. In my middle school years, I was a tomboy, but I had female friends. That changed dramatically in 8th grade. I did have one or two good friends, but after I left Alberta in 1982, where I left the only close female friend I had in high school, I never really had many female friends until I became a mother.
In the past couple of months Tim Challies has linked articles about female friendships. The first was called When There is Unexplained Distance in a Friendship, and the other Lonely For a Friend? Here's One Thing That Might Help.
They got me thinking.
When I moved here in 1996, I did not want to be here. I had, for the first time, a good female friend, and I was sad to leave her. I found myself in sizeable church, but extremely lonely. Yes, part of it was my fault. I tried to fit in with the women, however, but it was not easy moving into a new church where one's mother-in-law is one of the most beloved members of the congregation. Everyone just assumed that she was taking care of me. And sometimes, friendship circles can be exclusive. I'll never forget attempting to join a group of women at prayer meeting (why must women and men pray separately? I'll never understand that) and being told that their circle was full, and I should join a different one.
I had my children, and I focused on them. But I was still very lonely. I observed the close female friendships, some which had lasted for many years, and wondered what was wrong with me. I reached a point where I prayed to God and said, "Lord, I don't have any friends, but I have my family and I have you, and if you want that to be enough, that's fine with me." And it was. And I did make a few friends, but something even better began: deeper study in God's Word. That was really when I began to study seriously.
One of the things that I did wrong was looking at other friendships, and I think that is a temptation we all face. Friendships between women on the cover of Christian magazines and advertisements for women's events may be real for some women. There are some women who have a circle of female friends and they tell each other their burdens, and they go on holidays together, and attend each other's dinner parties. But that is not everyone's experience. I think somewhere in there the idea that being more outgoing is more spiritual has convinced some of us that unless we have a circle of Christian girlfriends, we're failing somehow. In all honesty, being friends with women is rather frightening to me at times, and attending events designed for women leaves me anxious.
A couple of weeks ago, D.A. Carson was at my school speaking, and there were 500 people there. At the most, there were 50 women there. I felt less fear walking into a room of hundreds of men than a group of 30 women. When there are men there, there is no expectation that I must mingle and make a new BFF. I can just sit and be quiet and wait. And in a lovely turn of events, another woman saw me sitting alone and joined me, and lo and behold, I found out she knew my husband's grandmother.
Part of me struggles to trust women. I have had a few bad experiences, and yes, that is something I need to get over. But at the same time, I don't think every woman has to have a large circle of female friends. I need to focus on the women God has placed in my life, regardless of age and circumstance, and without any thought of what is in it for me. Quite simply, I've been reminded to live out the truth that one must first be a good friend. One of the articles I linked above echoes those sentiments.
I cannot help but wonder if we're expecting too much. Compared to women even 75 years ago, we have so much time on our hands, and filling them with friends is a natural desire. But if we aren't traveling with an entourage of female friends, and are content with one or two, I think that's okay. And although people tell me that my husband can't really be my best friend, I'm afraid he is.
This past week, I was showered with love and care from three ladies at my church who brought food. Two of them arranged for me to be picked up and driven home from a hair appointment I'd had scheduled. We are good friends. I don't see my friends a lot. They are busy women, with aging parents, adult children, and jobs. To expect me to be the centre of their world is unreasonable. I'm learning to change my expectations of female friendships. And the changes, as cliché as it sounds, start with my own attitude.