Unrequited Friendship

August 14, 1999

In my experience with relationships I have encountered a disheartening problem. Many of you are probably familiar with this problem: In your heart, in your inmost being, in the part of you from which love and compassion and friendship flow, you feel...something...for another. You (the seeker) feel a desire to spend time with a person, to interact with them, to share thoughts and conversations on both trivial and eternal subjects. But, for whatever reason, usually with no fault involved, this "other person" (the receiver) does not share that desire. In other words, your friendship - your love, if you will - is unrequited, unreturned, and in some cases, blatantly unwanted and only a burden to the receiver.

Friendship is such a strange thing. What is it that draws us to another person? As I shared in another essay such as this, there seems to be something beyond common interests and shared experiences involved. There seems to be some nameless bond that exists between some, but not others. When these bonds are mutual, beautiful friendship develops, bright and free. When the bond extends only one way, however, a struggle ensues - a continual attempt by the seeker to befriend the other, and a continual attempt by the receiver to distance him or herself from the seeker. Neither is very happy in this pursuit, and neither is at fault. Both are trying to be friends with who they enjoy being with the most. Neither is sinning in doing so. But still feelings are hurt, love is scorned, unrealistic expectations are placed on the receiver...in general, sadness results.

What is there to say of this? Very little, it seems. There is no rhyme or reason in friendship, in some sense. I can act in your best interest from start to finish - always encouraging, always loving - but experience shows that if there is not a return friendship bond given, only an acquaintanceship will result, not a friendship. In some cases a simple form of friendship may form, but it is a friendship which for the receiver is always second to another "best friend." And in many cases, the seeker is looking for a best friend, or at least an equal friend, not a second- (or third- or fourth- or forty-second-) best friend. In some way, a second-best friendship can be more devastating than not being friends at all, because the seeker is close enough to feel friendship, but always with the limitation that "You'll never be as good of a friend to me as <insert name here>." This upsets either our sincere care for another, or our selfish pride (depending on your perspective).

This being said (that a seeker acts in the receiver's best interests), we also must realize that it is difficult indeed for a seeker to remain encouraging and loving and without sin in the midst of unrequitedness. More often, the seeker becomes bitter and calloused, selfishly seeking the love and friendship of the receiver, at the expense of the receiver's own requited friendships. So perhaps the original argument that this is a "no-fault" issue is premature. It is interesting to note that the sin, if we call it that, first appears in the one who at first showed love and offered friendship.

Now, for at least some folks out there (myself included), one or more of these unrequited friendships can lead us to dark conclusions. We feel unloved. We feel alone. We feel that we may be respected, may be everyone's "friend," but no one's "best friend." Even if we do have other friends, we feel as if we do not. At the moment of unrequitedness, all the other goodness in the world really does not matter. All that is visible is the rejection of a gift. All of our friendships suffer, because we wonder how requited our love is in our other previously stable and firmly established friendships. Even our relationship with God, the great Lover and Lord of our souls, suffers, as we begin to wonder why our feeble love is not returned.

So what is to be done? Usually, the answer is (sadly) nothing. There is no way to change someone's emotions. One can seldom change his own emotions, let alone someone else's. One cannot make himself be wanted. The bravest answer is for the seeker to pray and ask for a change of heart (of his own heart, not the receiver's). But that change too, is often slow in coming, apparently because the Father is in the process of teaching some great lesson about patience or His holy love. In short, there is no easy answer, and so these tend to be ongoing problems, hard to deal with daily and much harder to solve with finality. On some occasions, talking sincerely between seeker and receiver can help, but it can also backfire in giving the seeker an ounce of hope -- a glimpse of requitedness, which only starts the process of unrequitedness all over again when the seeker realizes that the friendship given, though sincere, is still not as "deep" as is desired.

In many cases, the only satisfactory solution is distance and separation between the parties. This usually, over time, will calm the senses, except for periodic longings for "reconciliation" or requitedness. The seeker will feel this to be a violation of some idealistic principle of living in harmony with all people, but as many are so fond of saying, "Idealism is not reality."

So a good question to end with: Does God want us to have best friends? The answer seems to be a fervent yes, because we all need those with whom we can share the deepest parts of our lives, but we definitely do not show those areas to just anyone who happens to find themselves in "friendship" with us. But if we have best friends, we automatically discount equality in friendship in some cases (when two or more both vie for "best friend" status) and without fail one is hurt in the process.

Disclaimer: I seem to feel the need for a disclaimer here, although I'm not sure why. If you don't agree with some part of this, tell me so, and there's a good chance you might prove me wrong, and maybe even change my mind. I can only relate to you what I have experienced or observed, complete with all my personal biases. If you find yourself in one of these seeker or receiver positions, and have a different perspective, let me know, and I will amend my thoughts.