I’ll Be There For You (But In a Grown-Up Way)
If you’ve read my long enough or heard me speak, you know that I eventually understood myself to be codependent: a helper, fixer, and rescuer, with a compulsive urge to make people need me. Like frat boys who can share crazy stories of the nights they drank too much, I too had some zany adventures under the influence of my addiction. For example: To prove my devotion to a friend, I once climbed over the fence of a her potential rental apartment in my neighborhood before she signed the lease. (This is called trespassing.) My mission? Smell the carpet for her to make sure it didn’t stink of dog. I got my 11-year-old daughter to give me a boost over the fence, and then I got stuck in the locked yard. “Ha ha ha,” went the laugh track. But my husband was not amused. These days, I'm basically recovered from codependency, but the urge to live outside of reality sometimes still calls to me. I’ve said this before: Sometimes I don’t want real-life friends. I want to be in a TV sit-com or period drama with a tight ensemble cast. Every single show I have ever binged watched has one quality in common: it features a band of tightly woven friends who do almost everything together and would do almost anything for each other, though in not terribly direct or mature ways. They help each other propose to their girlfriends (who are part of this circle of friends, obviously). When they break up with their mean boyfriends, their friends stand behind them with their arms crossed as they make a cutting speech. Then they all sit on the couch and eat takeout from boxes, or they go out to the streets of London for fish and chips. “Friends.” “New Girl.” “Downton Abbey.” “Bones.” “Call the Midwife” (which is my very favorite). All single people, living together, getting all up in each other's business. I eat the enmeshment up. I get really attached to their relationships. I live vicariously through them. After a long, hard day, I would move into the “New Girl” loft and have a glass of pink wine with CeCe and Jess without hesitation. I don’t think I’m alone, because all these shows ran at least 10 seasons. On “Friends,” there’s one time when we, the audience, are asked to question if what the friends crowd has isn’t actually something for which we should pine. Phoebe dates a psychologist named Roger, who analyzes the characters without their consent. As a result, the friends don’t like him, and here’s what happens: Phoebe: My friends have a liking problem with you, in that they don’t. Roger: Well actually I’m not at all surprised they feel this way. It’s actually quite typical behavior when you have this kind of dysfunctional group dynamic. You know, this kind of codependent, emotionally stunted, sitting in your stupid coffee house, when your stupid big cups, which I’m sorry might as well have nipples on them! And you’re all like, “define me, define me, love me, I need love.” Yeah, we never see Roger again. But Roger’s not totally wrong! We’re watching men and women in their twenties who aren’t ready to be grownups, and as the theme song says, they’ll “be there for you” in Neverland. When the characters finally do get married, have kids and get stable jobs, the show ends! Once Chandler is a father and Joey is in his mid-30s, their bro-mance in which Chandler pays Joey's bills behind his back and picks out his girlfriend's present for him ceases to be charming.
Healthy adults have more emotional differentiation, take responsibility for their own decisions, and have more varied relationships. But even knowing this, sometimes I still crave the enmeshed dynamic like I crave grocery-store cupcakes. I know it will actually make me sick. But the wounded little girl in me still wants it. She’ll take togetherness at any cost. I’m the first-born and only daughter in my family; my two brothers were besties from birth. My mom was one of five sisters, and she was on the phone every day with at least one of them. My mom, being the middle child, was the fixer, rescuer, keeper of secrets, and the one to show up physically to help in crises – emotional, medical, relational. I got the sense – and this was caught, not taught to me – that if one of the sisters wasn’t happy, then no one was happy. I was a little left out, and pining to find sisterhood that would stick to me like that. Having someone to feel my feelings as if they were their own felt like love. And because these connections I witnessed were daily interactions, that’s the way I thought it should go down for me. Drama and intensity also looked like intimacy. Daring rescues prove you care. Knowing every detail of each other’s lives makes you essential so you will never be alone. Back when I was an un-recovered co-dependent, I succeeded in creating the above dynamic. But it always ended in broken relationships, tears, slammed phones, and lots of hurt feelings. I eventually wised up. I re-calibrated my friendship desires. I worked the Twelve Steps. I am, today, pretty much healed from codependency, and I live out my enmeshment fantasies only on-screen. The human relationships God is calling my grown-up self to are these: First, to be one with my husband: we are partners, helpmates, dreamers, planners, lovers and co-parents. Second, as mother to my children, where I am the giver, cheerleader, counselor, comforter and occasionally rescuer, and this final one less and less as they age. Third, as a member of my extended family with siblings, parents, grandparents, nieces and nephews, in which we enjoy each other and help bear burdens when they arise, but also encourage each other to carry our own loads. And finally, God calls me to healthy friendships with women (and occasionally men and ministry partners) of different ages: mentors and ment-ees, accountability partners, and yes, sometimes cohorts in silly adventures. I’m important and dear to these friends, but I’m not their “everything” and they aren’t mine. When we’re on our game, we don’t gossip or care-take, rescue or manipulate. We listen, empathize, love, and pray. Because of the brave, authentic sharing we’ve done over the years, our friendship isn’t based on seeing or talking to each other every day – or even every week or month. For the wounded and/or little-girl parts of me, it occasionally doesn’t feel like enough. But my mature core is deeply grateful for these balanced relationships, and I pray to keep them in balance with God’s help and grace.