The Friendship Refresher Course
Two weeks ago, I got a tattoo my husband really preferred that I not get.
When I told my friend Josie I was going to get it Thursday night she said, “Oh yeah! I can see it when you visit Friday morning!”
When I told my friend Kristan, she said, “If your daughter can’t go with you, call me. I’ll go!”
When I sent my friend Jen the photo with a caption, “I did a thing tonight” she texted back,
“Love it. Good for you.”
I was a little surprised by all these reactions, because NONE of my friends have tattoos. And Kristan is a conservative midwestern transplant who favors twin sets, so I was almost hoping my daughter would cancel on me so I could get her picture at the tattoo parlor. All their responses made me feel loved and supported, and I thought “How nice it is to have friends that love to see me do something that makes me happy, even if it’s something they would never do.”
But the best reaction was Jen’s phone call a couple of days later when she extrapolated on her “good for you.” She saw me getting the tattoo as a real victory as a recovered co-dependent.
Some back story. A couple of weeks earlier, Sophia came home with a second nose piercing that her dad and I told her we’d really prefer she not get. In my argument against it, I told her, “Look I love nose rings. And I love tattoos. I’d get another one if dad would let me. But at nineteen, I’m not sure you should be making so many permanent holes in your face.”
A sound argument, I thought. But it’s her face, and her cash. So, we gave her the right to make the call, and Sophia made it.
Meanwhile, Jen, to whom I relayed that conversation, held on to it and brought it back to my attention later.
She heard the “I’d get another tattoo if dad would let me,” statement, and though she hadn’t called me out on it at the moment, she brought it up post-tattoo. She thought it was dangerous to model to my two independent-minded teenagers that marriage is an institution in which either partner gets to forbid the other from doing something they really want to do. That it didn’t paint their dad in such a great light. And it didn’t make me sound like a grown-up woman who was taking responsibility for myself.
Well played, Jen! She and I have both done work within the Twelve Step model to understand how to have intimacy without enmeshment. We’ve learned that even in marriage – where two become one flesh – that love allows space and differentiation.
I got my first tattoo when I was 40. Jeff wasn’t crazy about that one either. I wrestled deeply – and spiritually – before I did it, and even considered the scripture in which Paul writes, “The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.” Did this apply to tattooing?
No. It doesn’t; it’s a passage about maintaining sexual intimacy, not bossing each other’s grooming habits and appearances. I mean, I wouldn’t get a neck tattoo that Jeff doesn’t like (or one at all), but in 2007 he grew a beard I didn’t authorize. He said it was for one year. He still has it. As Beth Moore wrote in her recent biography (and I’m paraphrasing), husband and wife become one flesh, not one mind, not one soul.
My girlfriends, who are unequivocally for my marriage -- Team Anderson -- all the way, still celebrate my autonomy and individuality. They know that my worries about being in trouble with my spouse, or needing him to love every single thing I do is totally about my anxiety and codependency and almost nothing about Jeff being controlling. I asked Josie about what Jen said later, and she said, yes, she heard me making comments about Jeff "letting me" do things too, and didn't really think I was speaking accurately about my marriage.
So here are three friendship applications:
1. Blessed is she who has friends who celebrate her joys – even if they don’t share the same ones. I’m the only one with tattoos. Jen has a boat, and I get boat sick, but I love her getting to take her Catalina trips. Kristan is a figure skater. I hate ice skating (It hurts! It’s cold!), but I love it when she describes to me how well she did her edges in practice (and I don’t know what it means)!
2. Blessed is she who has friends who celebrate space and differentiation; who tolerate differences of opinion and belief; who get that love is not enmeshment. I’m grateful that my friends give me room to breathe and hold me accountable to letting other relationships breathe too.
3. Blessed is she who has friends who are paying such close attention that they see a major emotional victory where an outsider just sees a new dandelion tattoo. May we pay close attention to our friends and speak up about what we see with discernment.