When two people enter into a relationship, there is, you could say, a sort of delicate dance of politeness and small exchanged pleasantries, smiles and kind words. Sometimes, this is where it ends, and the acquaintance, now formed, is not strengthened. Will these people meet again? Perhaps. If they do, the relationship will either progress or stay at this pleasant but superficial level. For whatever reason, at least one of these two people would prefer to leave things as they are. And indeed, there are many good reasons for some relationships to never progress beyond this. The handyman, as nice as he is, never needs to know Mrs. Customer very well. Let her remain a mystery. Similarly, the students should not feel compelled to befriend their teachers in order to get an A on their essays. Let the personal lives of the students remain a mystery.
However, sometimes there is more. Sometimes both parties are pleased to have the relationship advance. The pleasantries become more meaningful, and the topics and revelations become more personal. The kindnesses become more deliberate and labour-intensive or expensive.
It’s still a delicate dance, though, because there are steps. Unlike young children (especially girls), who say to each other in the school yard, “Do you want to be friends?” adults and older children show that they want a stronger relationship by their words and conduct. It’s a careful dance of reciprocity, because one knows to not greatly exceed the warmth shown by the other. You don’t buy a pearl bracelet for a person whose last name you haven’t learned, for instance, no matter how nicely they say “Good morning” to you every day at the bus stop.
There are positive actions and words which are chosen in order to advance the relationship. These are outward signs of positive feelings and intentions on the inside.
And so here’s where it gets complicated.
This inside-outside stuff often does.
Not all relationships are what they seem to be. Do you know for certain that the outward behaviour of your cousin or your neighbour or friend is a true reflection of the inward intentions and disposition? Alas, it is often the case that people who are in frequent contact with one another are going through all the motions of the dance without having the corresponding internal disposition.
I think you’re with me so far.
That clock on the mantle is ticking and working perfectly fine, but what is revealed on its face isn’t the truth. It’s been off for more than a month. But how would you know? Unless you have another clock with the accurate time, you won’t know whether this clock is feeding you a line.
With people, it’s harder; you don’t have a ‘double.’ You don’t have a version of Jim or Jerry or Jake that’s not a fake. You don’t have a version that you can use to compare. You don’t have a version that’s been calibrated and tested and verified and warrantied to be exactly what it should be, where what you see outwardly accords with what would make sense inwardly. All you have is the externals.
And the externals have been stellar – exceptional, with almost never a dropped line (other than that one time, and that other, and I suppose if you want to be picky, those other few times). Based on that, you have given and loved, with all your heart. You have admired and praised and felt entirely surrounded by people who are well-meaning, honest and fair, or even holy and good beyond compare.
Pagans of the very best sort.
Christians of the very best kind.
So it seems. Is it the case?
How will you tell whether your friend is a genuine friend? How will you tell whether your friend loves you as much as you love your friend?
I wonder. Do I recommend
That you never try to find out?
You may wish to carry on the way you carry on now. Don’t check and don’t wonder, perhaps. Don’t wonder whether your friend would always be there for you. Don’t wonder whether your aunt would do for you what you would do for your aunt.
Do you really want to know?
Do you really want to read his mind?
Do you really want to read her soul?
Years ago, I began writing a play; it was to be called “Filters.” The idea was that the audience would be able to read the thoughts of the characters, and some characters would speak in ways that were 180 degrees different from their thoughts, while others would speak more closely to how they actually felt and thought. We speculated what it would be like to know the thoughts of those around you. “You’d go crazy,” was one notion, but I said, “I think you’d get used to it,” with the idea that people can get used to almost anything.
As it turns out, the first notion is definitely wrong, because if God chooses to reveal to you the thoughts and intentions of those around you, then it is always for your benefit, and you won’t go crazy. He’ll reveal what you can bear, and often it will be amusing and astounding. As for getting used to it, this is partly true. Patterns appear and become less surprising because you’ve seen them before. Having said that, wasn’t Julius Caesar surprised that Brutus was no different from the others?
In any case, if you’re inclined to test the quality of your friendships, there are various ways in which a friendship can be quickly tested.
Go and get hospitalized, or get diagnosed with something that’s potentially fatal. That will be an eye-opener for you, and will clear out some of the false friends. They’ll act in ways that you would never have predicted; some will suddenly be inexplicably busy. You’ll lose more of your fair-weather friends in proportion to the likelihood that you’ll be gone by next Christmas. By this, I mean that if they expect you to make it, they’ll sign a “Get Well” card. If they expect you to croak, they’ll be thinking about who’s getting your truck.
Another way to quickly test your relationships is to change the game. There are various ways to do this. Behind Door Number One: Say no when you are expected to say said yes. Assert your own preferences this time around, and say that no, you won’t in fact have bridesmaids at your wedding. Say that no, you’d rather eat at a restaurant than at their place. Say that no, you won’t take their photographs. Say that no, you won’t waive copyright. Say that no, you won’t make an exception this time round. Say that no, you won’t work at their book sale and no, you won’t help them move.
Behind Door Number Two: Challenge a lie or an insult or some very Curious Behaviour when you are expected to look the other way. Say that the story doesn’t add up, if it doesn’t, or say that you’re hurt, if you are.
What you’d expect?
Hey, what’s with your eyes? Why did the whites go yellow and the irises turn red? And hey, what’s with your hands? Why are they all twisted and claw-like all of a sudden, Grandmother dear? Grandmother dear, why are your teeth so large and so long and so very sharp?
(Little Red Riding Hood was freaked.)
Now you’ve done it! Now you’ve asked! You were never supposed to notice!
Back away, little girl!
Open up that door and
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!!
Things aren’t as you thought!
There was no reciprocity of heart!
Actions, yes — they were like yours
Words, yes — they were like yours
Smiles, yes — they were like yours
But it was fake!
It was all, so, so fake!
Run, little girl!
Run, Little Red Riding Hood!
Run to where you’ll be safe!
Run to the place
Where smiles are honest
Where tears are real
Where secrets are kept
Where love overflows
Where love is returned
Where love is unending
Bear no more gifts to those
Who don’t love you back
Bear no more gifts to those
Who don’t have your back
My advice to those who have found, to their dismay, that a friendship or relationship was not what it seemed, is to proceed with caution. Do not dam up your love, for you can love from afar, and you can forgive while you’re at it, but you may want to reconsider your plans for the future.
I know that Grandma keeps calling and sending you cards. I know that she says she’s just as Holy as Ever, praying for you daily, yeah whatever. I know that she says she’s just Looking Out for You (“all the better to love you, my dear”),
But you may want to be careful, you know.
“Here, stick your hand in this blender. I won’t turn it on this time.”
You know what I mean?
So does it end here?
Can a relationship ever be rebuilt, when the trust has been broken? Can it ever be as good as it was?
I am sure that the answer is yes. I am sure that after an act of infidelity, a husband and wife can move on to have a relationship which is deeper and more authentic than the one they previously had. The grace of the sacrament of matrimony offers, as one of its great strengths, the ability to heal.
Further, I am sure that after a betrayal of any sort, two people can move on to have an improved relationship.
This is because God is good, and he can regenerate anything.
Nevertheless, there is a precondition. What is it?
It is simply that there must be a willingness, on both sides, to repair and restore the relationship, beginning with special attention to what went wrong.
Consider that the good Jesus could not ‘pass over’ Peter’s betrayal as if it had not happened.
He asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
The repetition was confusing and hurtful to Peter at the time, but it makes sense. God is poetic. The three affirmations serve to undo, or at least address, the three denials.
And this is as it should be. Despite Peter’s enthusiasm and joy at seeing Jesus again (he jumped into the water and swam to the shore), the previous wrongs needed to be addressed first. That was a priority. The relationship had suffered a serious breach and both justice and naturalness required that what was wrong be righted.
In the same way, the Catholic Church will issue formal apologies when its members have failed a particular group of people, even if the wrongful behaviour was committed decades ago. This is healthy, and anyone who calls himself a Christian would be wise to imitate this example.
Sadly, we have a tendency to admit small failings (especially inadvertent ones) while ignoring and wanting to sweep aside large betrayals and wrongs. This is not healthy.
No relationship can continue as before after a large fall-out unless the people in the relationship are prepared to address what has happened. The Christian ideal does not involve turning a blind eye to betrayal or deceit. These things need to be confronted, not ignored in the name of peace, meekness, mercy or moving forward. Indeed, moving forward necessitates dealing with the reality and mercy does not begin with pretending that there is nothing to forgive. A judge does not grant a pardon to someone who has committed no crime.
Nobody was as peaceful, meek or merciful as Jesus, yet Jesus required that Peter affirm his love, three times. You see, by his betrayal, Peter had shown that his love for Christ was not as deep as he had professed. He had announced that he would never leave Jesus, but those were merely words. When the real test came, Peter showed that his heart did not correspond to his words. He lied three times and publicly detached himself from Jesus, in order to save his own skin.
For this reason, Jesus later questions Peter’s love, three times.
When Peter answers now, he can honestly say, “You know I love you,” because his love has been increased by his experience of his own sinfulness and his need for mercy. His love has been purified by observing the suffering and death of Christ and knowing that he contributed to Christ’s suffering. He has been changed by the experience and he can now better respond to Christ’s love for him.
In the same way, then, a broken relationship can be restored, but the first step is for the people involved in the relationship to address and repair the injury to the best of their ability. The dialogue must be authentic and open, not token and vague. It’s not terribly difficult to achieve this type of dialogue, provided the intention is there.
And what is intention? Intention is desire and decision. If the intention to revive the relationship is mutual, then honest dialogue will break through all barriers and the relationship will advance to a new and improved level, with greater understanding of the other.
Sadly, however, the intention is often not what it should be. Instead of having, in the aftermath of a breakdown, an intention to truly heal the hurts of the other, an intention which is in itself one manifestation of love, some people have something else: an intention merely to return to how things worked before, an intention to return to the way things appeared to be before.
In this case, there has been no transformation, enlightenment or desire to be better. The internal disposition is no different, and what is sought is merely that external appearance of reciprocity.
Let’s dance again, they say.
We’ll talk the way we used to talk.
We’ll act the way we used to act.
It’ll be just like old times.
However, following a break or a problem of any significance, things cannot return to being the way they were. They must be better, or they will be far worse.
After all, Little Red Riding Hood is older now.
All grown up.
You blew it.
She knows it.
Your lines about her welfare
Your lines about how much you care
You wanted to look good
You wanted the goods
The admiration and respect
The cookies in that basket
The heart of the girl
But she’s escaped
With her heart
And her cookies
Is a recipe
I still love you
Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies (from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)
MAKES: about 20 large cookies
PREP TIME: 5 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 40 minutes plus cooling time
Quick-cooking rolled oats can be substituted for the old-fashioned oats here; however, they will have a little less flavour.
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
11/2 cups raisins
1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl and set aside.
2. Beat the butter and sugars together in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed.
3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly mix in the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Mix in the oats and raisins until just incorporated.
4. Working with 1/4 cup of dough at a time, roll the dough into balls and lay on two parchment-lined baking sheets, spaced about 21/2 inches apart. Flatten the cookies slightly using your palm. Bake until the tops of the cookies are lightly golden but the centers are still soft and puffy, 22 to 25 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through baking.
5. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then serve warm or transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.