To Friend or Not To Friend

I received a friend request on Facebook this week. “Big whoopdee ding dong,” you say.

I agree. Generally Facebook friend requests are not a big deal.

But this one was. At least it was for me.

The last time I talked to this person we were seniors in high school. I told her I couldn’t come to her church anymore and she told me we couldn’t be friends anymore. It was both one of the easiest and hardest friendships I ever had to let go.

We’d been friends in grade school but had drifted apart. Then senior year we started chatting again because we were both in show choir.

We were on a school bus on the way to a show choir concert when she said, “If the bus crashed now and we died, do you know what would happen to you?”

“I’d die?”

Now, show choir taught me a lot, but apparently not the correct answer to that question.

But not to worry—my friend and her church spent the next few months telling me the right one.

She belonged to what I can only describe as a hard-core, fundamentalist Christian church.

Services were held in a rec room-like space off the main house of one of her relatives, who was the pastor.

The “pews” consisted of folding chairs, and the congregation included only about thirty people.

During most services (two times per week, with more informal services two or three more times), there was laying on of hands, invitations for congregates to accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior, and lots of speaking in tongues.

And I loved it.

I grew up in a family devoid of any religion. My only experiences involved:

  • A girl down the street who told me when she and I were eight that my family would go to hell because we weren’t saved.
  • One visit to the Unitarian church in our city, which I thought was weird and cult-like because it was a bunch of hippies who didn’t talk about God.
  • And a few visits to one of my grade school friend’s Catholic church.

During one of those visits to my friend’s church, I managed to feel mortified, ashamed and furious all at the same time.

My friend had explained the Lord’s prayer and how to make the sign of the cross, both of which I dutifully practiced all morning before the service.

But she neglected to explain how the kneeler and communion worked.

I knelt on the floor and my dress got caught under the kneeler. Beyond the fact that my head barely cleared the back of the pew in front of me, I also couldn’t get up. Her parents just thought I was deep in prayer.

Then when it was time for communion, my friend held her hand up and told me to stay, like I was a dog. She said I wasn’t “one of them” so I couldn’t take communion.

That was the last time I went to Catholic church.

My immersion in my high school friend’s church was completely different.

It filled a need in me I didn’t know I had: the need for something to believe in. It was intoxicating, being welcomed and accepted into this community made up of the most caring people I’d ever met. I felt cherished and desired, and that if I weren’t there, things wouldn’t be the same for them.

It was like being courted and pursued by a lover.

Pretty soon, I was spending every minute I could with them, which often included overnight stays…which also meant spending little to no time with my other friends.

I brought a bible to school and would pray about everything and anything, any time.

I pleaded with my parents to go to church with me because by this time I understood with a pervasive sense of dread what would happen to them when they died because they weren’t saved like me.

My world expanded and shrank all at the same time.

A few months into my enveloping by the church, my old friends gave me a birthday card that along with well wishes also expressed their concern with my new “preoccupation.” It wasn’t until later that I appreciated how delicately they had tried to say what they were really thinking: that I was being brainwashed.

But my new friend explained that they were just jealous of our relationship and my relationship with Jesus. It made sense—they saw her and the church as taking me away from them and they didn’t like it.

Instead of appreciating their concern, I saw them as petty and short-sighted. I was not going to let them hold me back from or badmouth my new friends and life.

Then one Sunday during the middle of the service, a voice in my head screamed, “Get out now!” I tried to ignore it, but it was insistent. I started sweating and my whole body flushed. I felt lightheaded followed by a crushing pressure in my chest. I convinced myself that I just needed some fresh air, so I got up and walked out of the sanctuary to my car.

I drove home and never went back.

My friend called me as soon as the service was over and asked me what happened. When I told her, she said it was “the Devil.” She said he was furious at my newfound love for Christ and would do anything to keep us apart—just like my former friends had tried to do.

I heard what she was saying, but for the first time in months it made no sense to me, although I couldn’t articulate why. I just knew that what had enticed me to her and her church now repelled me with equal force.

I told her I couldn’t come back.

She said we couldn’t be friends.

We never spoke again.

Then a few days ago she sent me a friend request. And I don’t know what to do.

It’s obvious from looking through her Facebook page that nothing has changed for her, at least where her religious beliefs are concerned. But a lot has changed for me.

Before you jump to conclusions, know that my high school experience did not completely turn me off religion.

I was stuffed and bloated with God and religion, like I’d eaten an entire Thanksgiving meal on my own.

But I still wanted another taste of the “food” my friend and her God had served me. I just knew I could be satisfied with a smaller portion.

So I spent the twenty years or so after high school searching for my next holy meal. Many times I thought I’d found it, only to realize a few months later that I was still hungry.

And one day I watched Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God,” and my spiritual stomach stopped growling.

But my former friend doesn’t know that. I don’t advertise my religious beliefs on Facebook, although I have talked about how my opinion of the Unitarian church has changed (even though you’ll still see a few hippies).

More than wondering if I can be friends with her again, I wonder if she can be friends with me, and, more importantly, why she’d want to. She turned me away once because I didn’t believe the same as her. Wouldn’t she do it again?

What I’m dying to ask her is what made her push the friend request button.

Does she have a completely different memory of our friendship than I do and of what, or rather who, ended it?

Does she only have a fuzzy recollection of us drifting apart and for no specific reason other than that’s what often happens with high school friends?

Or does she remember me as the one who got away, the convert who wouldn’t stay converted, and that she has to try to bring me into the fold one more time and hold me there?

Before I would consider accepting her request, I’d need to be honest with her about who I am and what I believe now. I’d need for her to know that I’m not the malleable, religiously ignorant eighteen-year-old I was before. That for her to try and convert me this time would be disrespectful…that I wouldn’t try to change her beliefs and I’d accept nothing less from her in return.

I haven’t made up my mind yet. I don’t know what’s the right thing to do. Maybe I’m totally over-thinking this.

All I know is there’s something keeping me from clicking the “Confirm” button. It’s not as strong as the voice in my head that told me that day in church to “Get out now.”

But something’s there. And I think I should probably listen to it.

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So, what about you? Have you ever received an awkward friend request? What did you do? Do you have any friendships that disappeared…what happened? Do you think people who have major differences can be friends? What would you do if you were me?

26 thoughts on “To Friend or Not To Friend

  1. I’ve reconnected on Facebook with a friend who became overly-religious in high school. I was somewhat concerned but we had the briefest of conversations when we first re-connected to indicate that we both have changed. I’m comfortable in my very private form of spirituality and she’s no longer so pushy in her very public one. She uses her “secular voice” with me most of the time and I try to be open to using her words to describe things that I would normally say in more pagan ways. Anyway, it turns out we both have similar desires and needs for writing — even though she writes Christian material and I don’t. We “meet” twice a week for virtual writing dates and it’s the only reason that I’m getting as much writing done as I am.
    Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) recently posted…Garden Cress in Britain and Missouri #BriFriMy Profile

  2. Ooooooo, I completely relate!

    I grew up in a Christian family. While my parents didn’t go to church, I did go with my grandparents and aunts.

    After going through a similar experience of searching for my faith, questioning what was wrong with me because I couldn’t believe without proof, I finally renounced my belief in God.

    It’s just been recently, in the last few weeks, that my extended family has found out about this. I’m expecting a phone call any day now from my eldest aunt to ‘pray for me’.

    I will have to explain to her that I don’t need to be prayed for, or saved. I am still the same person she has always known, I just have a different opinion on religion.

    As for Facebook, I think it depends on whether you have any interest in rekindling the relationship. Was religion the basis of your initial friendship? If so, it might be best to pass on the friend request.

    This is a great topic, Kelly!
    Carrie-Anne Foster recently posted…My Own Mind Alienated MeMy Profile

    1. Thanks Carrie-Anne! “Coming out” can be challenging on many fronts, can’t it. Good for you for standing up for what you believe in.

      It’s just so odd because the basis for our friendship, the last time around, was all about religion and one we shared. And I can’t imagine why she’d want to reconnect, even if it’s just on FB. I’m OK if we don’t–I’ve lived my life just fine. I think I’m more surprised than anything.

  3. I don’t know if I would accept the friend request straight out. If you could PM her first and feel out the situation that might be best.
    Of course, it’s nice to think she might have matured after all these years. Her beliefs might be the same but her need to force them on others may have changed. It is a difficult situation, for sure.
    I just know that if I friended some of my old friends from high school who I hadn’t parted on the best of terms with, I would want them to give me a chance to prove that I had grown up in the past 25 years. I can always block them from my feed later if their posts prove too uncomfortable for me:)
    Best of luck. Praying you’ll find the wisdom you need in this situation.
    Sharon recently posted…Travel through a magical portal in Lichgates by S.M. BoyceMy Profile

    1. Thanks Sharon! I think I’m going to have to ponder this one a bit more.

      The thing is I feel completely at ease being friends with people of different beliefs, whether that’s religious, political, etc. We just kindly agree not to discuss those topics and it works out fine. It’s been such a life-expanding experience for me because I haven’t always felt that way.

      I’m just stumped as to her motivations, although it would be wonderful if it’s like you said in your comment—that her need to force her beliefs on others has dissipated.

  4. Hi Kelly! I’m guessing you haven’t read my novel “Finding Grace” because a portion of it is how the main character (Grace) is religiously abused somewhat like your experience. It does happen because my husband grew up in that kind of a church and witnessed it first hand. Thank goodness you listened to your own guidance and got out of there while you could. And yes, I too loved Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God!” My husband and I have gone to the Unitarian Churches a number of times but we found our place in Science of Mind instead (not scientology) and it has been where we best fit.

    As far as befriending your old friend, I think it depends upon how you are feeling right now. Are you curious about her life or does her page pretty much tell you everything you need to know. Was there some other quality about your friendship you would like to return to? Keep in mind that just because you befriend her it doesn’t mean you can “unfriend” her VERY easily as well.

    You’ll have to let us know what you ultimately decide. 🙂 ~Kathy
    Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com recently posted…3 Steps To Right-Sizing Your Work For A Happy LifeMy Profile

    1. You’re right, I haven’t read it Kathy, but I certainly think I should!

      Everything about our friendship revolved around religion—I can’t remember anything about it other than that. Sure, we talked about typical high school girl stuff, but it was always through God-tinted glasses (a play on one of Ms. Sweeney’s lines, as you probably remember :-)).

      My husband says I’m over-thinking it, and I probably am, but I’m a writer and we’re prone to that kind of analysis, aren’t we?

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  5. Hi, Kelly!

    This is quite a moving story, especially given the religious context and your most vulnerable age…

    I can say I I didn’t have any thoughts until I began reading the comments, when this little voice began to wonder if it’s possible that your conflict lies not within the “motives” of your former friend’s request, but more in a lack of true closure for you.

    I definitely believe in listening to our inner voice, and KUDOS to your younger self that listened to her. I once had a college roommate who had fled a cult, and the university stashed her in my room with instructions that I knew nothing about her. Wasn’t that an interesting semester?!

    Since you asked, I’ll share my musings… When friendships end so abruptly, any relationship, really, there are so many, many elements working both subconsciously and consciously. It is possible that your friend felt as disconcerted by the sudden end to your relationship as you did about the fear that gripped you that day. It is also possible that she has grown in her own ways, as well, and that she simply clicked that “Request” button from some sentimental place, or possibly it was merely an impulse response to FBs “People you might know.”

    Either way, your anxiousness surrounding that request is definitely speaking to your current spiritual being and to that of your eighteen-year-old self that fled and never looked back…

    And, cooking with bubble wrap, eh? Looks like I’m going to have to come back for more! Considere yourself “friended,” sans the scripture. 😉

    ~AE
    Annah Elizabeth recently posted…Oh, #100HappyDaysMy Profile

    1. Hi Annah! Thanks so much for reading. I think you nailed it when you said I didn’t get closure. I’m not a loose-end kind of gal and not until your comment did I think about the lack of closure. I ran out and didn’t go back, so, at the time, it felt closed.

      But the relationship—that was a slammed door I hadn’t expected from her. I assumed that we’d still be able to be friends, we’d just have to find some other common ground. I was wrong, and I’ve never understood why…you just explained it. Thank you!!

  6. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have the same memory of the experience that you do. Isn’t it interesting that what, for one person, was a very traumatic event, for another, was not even memorable. But I’d still be cautious in befriending someone to whom friendship was based on how or to whom you pray. But I agree with Sharon. You can always unfriend!
    P.S. Fascinating read! Excellent writing! 🙂
    Diane recently posted…Do As I DoMy Profile

    1. Hi Diane. You’re probably right about her having another memory of that time. I work with a woman who over lunch one day told me about something I’d said to her years before that really hurt her and I had no recollection of it at all. When she told me, I felt horrible.

      But you’ve also made a valid point: the type of friendship she offered me was conditional and to a severe level. Ultimately leaving her and the church was the only thing I could do, the push for me to do so was so strong. Interestingly enough I never heard a voice screaming in my head to go back after I left. That silence said a lot.

      Thanks much for reading and sharing your thoughts, and for your kind words about my writing.

  7. Trust your intuition, Kelly! That still small voice will never lead you astray.
    I had a college roommate who was my best friend. We were inseparable until I realized that she was lying to me, stealing from me, and manipulating our friends. I broke ties with her and watched her fail out of school. After I graduated and got married, she sent me a letter. While it was sweet and congratulatory, she stopped short of apologizing for her behavior.
    I debated writing her back (this was before email was common!), but my intuition said to let it go. I forgave her, but I don’t have to be her friend. Besides, she gave me tons of writing fodder. 😀
    Don’t look back.
    Diana Beebe recently posted…Tagged! A Glimpse into GLOWMy Profile

    1. Wow, what a horrible experience, Diana. I’m continually surprised at how deeply non-family members can hurt us.

      In a weird kind of way I’m grateful for the experience because it started me searching for the thing that fit me—it just ended up being the opposite of what she and her church offered. I don’t know if I’d gone on that quest without spending those months with her, and I’m at peace with where I landed.

      Thanks as always for dropping in and commenting—really appreciate it!

  8. I’m so glad you changed your opinion of Unitarians! 🙂 I haven’t had the same experience, as my spiritual/religious journey has been primarily internal (and very idiosyncratic), but I can totally understand how you might feel right now. And like you, I wonder what would make your former friend hit the “friend” button!
    Karen recently posted…10 tiny homes you’ll loveMy Profile

    1. Karen, it’s so funny to me how I ended up at the place that creeped me out so much in my youth. When you think about it, it’s kind of like how “they” say that after you’ve tried something multiple times (and come at it with an open mind) you end up acquiring a taste for it. And now I can say that Unitarians are yummy!

      Thanks for popping in and leaving your thoughts!

  9. Oh, Kelly, this post speaks to me more than you can possibly know. I had a similar experience with a close friend late last year. Similar, that is, in that the friendship ended because our belief systems clashed in a big way.

    About six months ago, my best friend and I broke off a 4 year relationship when her family started getting on her for hanging around with me. Her family is very devout, some of them to the point of fanatacism. They discovered I write erotic romance (When we met, I wrote epic fantasy, like her). She spent an extended period of time with one of her more fanatic family members, and, one day went from reading what I read and what I wrote, and even trying her hand at erotica once or twice, to telling me it was evil, literally OVERNIGHT.

    Brainwashed much?

    Things fell apart quickly and she disappeared. She’s still friends with some of my friends. Talk about awkward, especially when she’s been telling them the relationship ended because I “couldn’t handle” her not wanting to read my work. ERR?? LOL. The relationship ended because she wouldn’t stop preaching at me. And because I hate genre bashing, regardless of the genre. I dared to express my dislike for this, and made it clear I didn’t want to hear it, and she ended it.

    I’m all for personal beliefs and standing up for them or expressing them. But no one should ever try to force their beliefs on others, especially when they’ve made it clear they don’t want to hear it. And I get that erotica is not for everyone, but evil?? Really?

    Anyway, the point I wanted to make is, you’re not alone, and personally, I wouldn’t accept the request. I agree with what Sharon says in a way, but I know if my once friend tried that with me, after what happened, I wouldn’t be comfortable. Then again, you can always unfriend. I think the key here is to make sure that if you do accept, you’ll need to be prepared to unfreind or block, and not allow yourself to feel guilty for it if the need to prune her from your life arises.

    Thanks for sharing. Hugs.
    Raven Clark recently posted…TestingMy Profile

    1. Man Raven, what an experience! And yours is so fresh…that’s got to be really hard. Mine was long ago that I’d forgot about it for the most part until the friend request. But I remember feeling dumbfounded at the time.

      There’s been an interesting turn of events, which will be the subject of a follow-up blog post next week. But I so appreciate you reaching out with your story to share your story with me, and I’m so sorry to here what happened.

      Thanks, and take care!

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