Esprit

Engaging the spirit, challenging the mind.

Category: Aspects of Love

Happy Valentine’s Day: A post on love–true and unrequited, faithful and unfaithful

Love_and_ResponsibilityI love Karol Wojtila’s Love & Responsibility (Pope John Paul II before he was Pope).  In it, he writes of romantic love as being more than a feeling about the other, but that “true love” is a mutual creation of two individuals who recognize the good in one another and the good that would manifest itself through a life together.  As Wojtila understands it, “true love” in a romantic sense then becomes something greater than the mutual feelings two individuals have for one another though it does start there.  (And I use “feelings” in the broadest and deepest sense, as feelings will originate from beliefs/conclusions about the other person.  Emotions are the product of both conscious and unconscious reasoning processes).  The couple before marriage decides whether they both believe in the goodness of a union.  And if so, then they pledge to be faithful to it, which means faithful to one another, but also means faithful to the vision of that greater good.  This is why, in Catholic teaching, children are considered to be the fruit of love and a willingness to have them considered to be a fundamental part of being faithful to the marriage covenant.  They are a part of the good that is created when a man and a woman decide that they believe that a life together would be good and fruitful.  Be fruitful and multiply.  In other words, don’t only enjoy the benefit that comes to you personally from love, but allow that love to grow into something beyond the satisfaction of your own desires.

But what happens when one person believes strongly in the vision of the good that could manifest itself with another person, yet that person does not see it?  Interestingly, Wotijla attributes the phenomenon of unrequited love to “a stubbornness.”  It is a willful refusal to accept the other’s judgment that, “No, I do not see a life together producing good or a greater good than either of us would produce otherwise.”  Because true love is a mutual recognition of a potential good, and a desire to embark upon nurturing that good together, where such recognition does not exist in either person, true love cannot be present.  Oftentimes, a couple disagrees about whether joining together, or remaining together would be good.  One thinks yes, the other thinks no.  Sometimes people are tempted to blame the other, indulging in fault-finding as a way to explain why the other can’t see how good things could be.  “True love” can be a tricky thing to come to agreement upon, and many find disappointment before they find its fulfillment.

While people may well make poor judgments, have unrealistic expectations, lack grace, etc., insofar as their judgments are a genuine reflection of their attitude and outlook about life, the wrongness or rightness of those judgments is actually not the important part.  We are all maturing (or should be!) and will one day look back and see how wrong we were on some point(s), and perhaps sometimes with regret (though hopefully not too much).  But, nevertheless, true love cannot be created by “should-ing” someone into recognizing the good in another or the good that could be between them.  The recognition has to come authentically from within.  (I speak of those who have not yet entered into the marital covenant.  If one has already entered into that covenant, the task now is only to remain faithful to the good purpose for which it was formed.  For the married, there is no “unrequited” or “requited” love, only “unfaithful” or “faithful” love).

What makes this “stubbornness” of unrequited love so intractable for some is a deep seated belief that it is the depth and intensity of one’s own feelings that measure the truth of the love.  As I mentioned above, emotions are based on our beliefs and judgements–conscious or unconscious, and we might well be wrong about them.  But even if someone is right about the potential good that could be, no matter how much one person sees it, and no matter how wonderful one person finds the other, the intensity of those feelings for someone gratifies the person feeling them more than the other person.  Our feelings about others are in large part a reflection of how they make us feel, and a reflection of our beliefs about the good they bring into our lives, and are not about how we make them feel.  And thus, even those who feel in love, or once felt so, can find themselves feeling out of love according to how they believe they are benefitting from the other person at the moment.  But here is where Wojtila points us to the true love generated by faithfulness to a person and vision beyond ourselves rather than to simply the feeling of being in love, generated by the good we believe a person will bring to us.

Valentine’s Day is a day when we choose to celebrate eros, the exclusive love between a man and a woman.  Expectations and pressures can run high, and many seek to find that one who will make their days and lives brighter.  Let’s go further than this and seek to make that one’s life brighter, and through the fruitfulness of our love, brighten the lives of our families, friends, and communities.

A Summary of Karol Wojtila’s Love and Responsibility by Dr. William May

Singles–What’s Your BATNA?

good better best“BATNA” is a concept used by legal and business negotiators to figure out the point at which they will no longer compromise and will walk away from the table.  It stands for “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.”  Essentially, different parties face one another at the table with an idea of what they want the outcome of their negotiation to be.  They need something from the other and know that they might have to compromise to get it, but don’t want to compromise too much.  They want to get as much as they can without giving up more than they’d like.  To figure out the point at which they will no longer compromise, they think about what their best alternative would be if no agreement were reached and everyone went home with empty hands.  Then, they compare the other side’s offer to that alternative.

Essentially, negotiators have to ask themselves, “If I take this offer, will I be better or worse off than if I left it on the table?”  Contrary to some lines of thought, something is not always better than nothing.  For instance, if someone is selling a used car, the seller might negotiate with potential buyers who will offer him a certain amount for it.  Whether the seller considers their offers good enough for him will depend largely on the alternatives he has to selling it to them and whether he considers those alternatives to be better than their offers.  Examples of his alternatives:  He could give it to a family member instead.  He could scrap the car and get money for the parts.  He could donate it to charity and get a tax write-off for it.  By putting it on the market rather than doing one of those things first, he has inherently communicated that selling the car is, on its face, more preferable to him than those other options.  But, he will have an idea of how much value he wants to get from the sale.  And if the buyers aren’t offering the value he wants, he has to decide whether their offers are better for him than his alternatives to selling the car.

I think the concept of a BATNA is pretty relevant to singles trying to figure out who they ought to marry.  As with much of life, you have to know “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.”  Crafting a BATNA for a single person means that the single is in a negotiation with potential spouses.  Both have an idea of what they want from a marriage agreement, but neither wants to compromise too much for the sake of getting the marriage agreement.  So each person has to consider their alternatives, the most salient alternative being singleness, possibly prolonged.  But an alternative could also be pursuing another person instead.  For some, it could be religious life or committed singleness for the sake of ministry.  How attractive the negotiated marriage agreement is depends in large part on how well it compares to the ideal value we wanted to get from it, as well as how well it compares to our alternatives.  The ideal value someone wants from marriage and the value of the alternatives to marriage with a particular person will differ from person to person.  (For instance, some people have lots of good potentials to choose from, others are relatively content with a life of singleness, etc.  For that reason, it can be difficult to judge from the outside what choice someone should have made, since it likely made sense for their life and what is important to them.)  Each person has to weigh the implications of the alternatives and the compromises on the table, and then make a choice.  We all have to ask ourselves, “Am I better off marrying this person than choosing one of my alternatives?”

I notice two things that tend to muddy up the decision-making process:  1) Idealism that insists that anything less than the ideal value is necessarily not good enough, and  2) Focusing on hypothetical rather than material alternatives.

Regarding #1, negotiators come to the table knowing that they will likely not walk away with their ideal scenario.  They might get lucky, but they don’t expect it; rather they expect to compromise.  Knowing that they will likely have to compromise, they prepare for the negotiation by working out their BATNA.  They ask themselves what they must get out of the agreement in order to make making a deal more attractive than their alternatives.  They don’t say, “If I don’t get everything I want, I’m going to walk.”  But they decide what the value of their alternatives is to them, and then compare the other party’s offer to the value of their best alternative.  If the offer is a better deal than their best alternative, they’ll strike a deal.  If it’s not, they’ll walk.  Notice that good negotiators do not decide whether to accept an offer based on how important their ideal scenario is to them in itself.  Rather, the decision is made by making a direct comparison to their best alternative.  The reason is that, if they don’t strike a deal, but their best alternative is no better or perhaps worse than what was offered, they’ve basically chosen a worse situation for themselves.

Regarding #2, the idea that something better might come along can give people a false sense of what their alternatives actually are.  One might meet someone better, but judging whether to hold out for that can be tricky.  Some women, like Lori Gottleib wrote in her Atlantic article “Marry Him!“, overestimate the number of potential suitors that will be available down the line.  Men also can find that they’ve let a good woman go in order to explore their options, only to find that they already had the cream of the crop and let her go.  This is why it’s important to make one’s decision based on the alternatives actually presently available, or which you can say with reasonable certainty will be available if they aren’t at the moment.  (You’d also want to put yourself in the best negotiating position as possible before starting talks.  Analogizing to the car, this would be fixing it up, having it detailed, etc.  When it comes to people, it means looking your best physically, working on character, and generally upping the value of what you have to offer.)

It might seem a bit calculating to apply the concept of a BATNA to dating and marriage.  But the art of negotiation is really at its core the art of good decision-making.  Negotiators invest time and energy learning how to make the best, most beneficial decisions possible given limited options, limited time, and limited knowledge.  Our personal lives are full of decisions that must be made within the same constraints.

The trick is, though, to be genuinely grateful for whatever it is we choose, whether it’s the agreement or the alternative.  I really think this is important because none of us on the earth are guaranteed that circumstances and options are what we would ideally like them to be.  We’re just given the opportunity to make the best of what is available to us.  And given that we’re all fallen, we aren’t really *owed* anything from God, though He does mercifully give us good gifts as our Father.  Thus, we can definitely expect good things from God’s hand; we just have to own our part in the process.

Reading people might find helpful:  Good News for Anxious Christians by Dr. Philip Cary

Charge It to My Account

“If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.”  Philemon 1:18-19 ESV

Paul’s short letter to Philemon centers on the case of Onesimus, a slave who had run away from Philemon.  Onesimus, like his former master, had become a believer in Christ and began to serve alongside the Apostle Paul.  Knowing both Onesimus’ background and Philemon’s faith, Paul sends Onesimus back, but pleads with Philemon to receive him “not as a slave, but as a brother.”  Paul goes even further to bridge the fissure between Philemon and Onesimus–he says that if Onesimus owes Philemon anything that Paul himself will repay it; he will take responsibility for making it right.

In so doing, Paul is a Christ-figure for Onesimus.  To mend the fissure between ourselves and God, God the Son gave Himself as a perfect sacrifice to please the Father on our behalf.  He took responsibility for giving what we did not and could not in order to bring reconciliation.  And so we see in Paul a picture of how Christ brings us back into relationship with God.

We also see in this letter a picture of how wrongs committed amongst believers can be made right by peacemakers such as Paul; and also by the Lord Himself.

If we ever feel wronged by a fellow believer, we can remember that Christ already died for their sins and lived the perfect life they have not lived.  If they have been embraced as God’s son or daughter, then the Lord Himself is their ransom and has taken responsibility for righting their wrongs.  Paul, like Christ, says, “Charge it to me.  I’ll take responsibility for whatever wrong they have done to you.  I’ll be the one to repay you.”

The biblical model of forgiveness is that when a brother (or sister) sins against us, that we go to that person and tell them of the wrong.  If they will not hear, then we ought to bring another believer in to hold them accountable.  And if they still will not hear, we are to treat them as a tax collector.  I wonder if Jesus was not perhaps being a little ironic in saying that, for He chose a tax collector (Matthew) to be one of His apostles, and picked a tax collector (Zaccheus) out of the crowd (a sycamore tree to be exact!) to have dinner with.  Of course, both Matthew and Zaccheus became disciples of His, but even so, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told us to bless those who curse us and to do good to those to spitefully use us.  Whether someone acknowledges the way they have wronged us or not, we are always to bless them and to do good to them.

But many times, when people are called to forgive, they want to know how that’s fair–where’s the justice?  Why should the person who did the wrong receive a blessing when we have suffered because of them?  What would happen if, when we felt like someone owed us something, that rather than demanding every bit from them, we simply recognized that all of their sins have been charged to Christ’s account?   What if, instead of holding onto our estimation of what we’re due, we went to the Lord and said, “You have already taken responsibility for this person.  They belong to You, and they have wronged me.  I look to You to restore whatever I may lack because of them.”  I’m not suggesting that we demand anything of God, only that we recognize the work that the Lord has already done on their behalf.

Believers must forgive unbelievers as well, but I believe Paul’s letter to Philemon is more an example of what takes place when a person does know Christ, but may have done some things that hurt others.  Paul didn’t oblige himself for just any runaway slave–he did so for one who had become a disciple of Christ.  If the Father can accept Christ’s sacrifice to atone for sins against Him that we are not yet aware of, then certainly we can do the same.  If our Lord’s sacrifice is good enough for God, it should be good enough for us.

Should You Settle?

The article below was a thoughtful post from Boundless Line that I enjoyed reading. He mentions Lori Gottlieb’s Atlantic article “Marry Him!:  The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough”  For some reason, I did not enjoy Gottlieb’s article when it came out in the Atlantic, and not in the times I’ve read it since then.  I think it’s because to even speak of “settling” is to speak as if our imagined ideal of a mate is a picture that actually has validity.  Most of our ideas of the “perfect” mate are quite imaginary and likely unrealistic anyway. The Boundless article, “Brother, You’re Like a 6” comes to mind as an example of how our relationship expectations can be very out of sync with what is reasonable.  I think that more often than not, people don’t need to “settle” so much as we need to learn to love what is truly good instead of what we’ve simply imagined to be good.

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Willing to Settle
by Adam R. Holz on 02/24/2012 at 2:25 PM

In 2008, author Lori Gottlieb launched a national debate about whether women should “settle” for less than everything on their “list” with her Atlantic article “Marry Him!” (which shortly thereafter became a bestselling book by the same name and the subtitle The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough).

Gottlieb skewered the romantic notion that if a woman just waits long enough, sooner or later the man of her dreams will appear. In sobering fashion, she outlined a pretty compelling list of reasons why the reality might be disappointingly different.

“My advice is this,” she wrote in the article’s opening, “Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. … Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year.” (Listen to an interview with Lori on The Boundless Show.)

It could be argued that the question of settling is primarily one that women wrestle with. I know I’ve had plenty of conversations, both before I got married and after, with female friends who’ve lamented, “Where are all the good guys at?” And among Christians, the question is even harder: “Where are all the good Christian guys at?”

Interestingly, though, a new study addresses the issue from a male perspective. Men, it turns out, grapple with the question of settling, too. And despite the common stereotype of men being afraid of commitment, Rutgers biological anthropologist Helen Fisher actually found the opposite to be true: Men are surprisingly willing to trade in their romantic ideals for more practical considerations such as friendship and family. More so, in fact, than women are, according to her survey of 6,000 single adults.

In her Feb. 21 article “Why Men Are Settling for Mrs. Good Enough” at The Daily Beast, Jessica Bennett talked with Fisher about the results of her study. One of the most interesting statistics was the fact that 31 percent of adult men said that they’d commit to someone they didn’t love as long as that person exhibited all the other qualities they were looking for in a mate. Perhaps even more surprising still, the percentage of men willing to make that choice was actually highest among men in their 20s, nearly 40 percent, compared to just 22 percent of women in that age bracket.

Explaining her findings, Fisher commented, “We have a stereotype in this culture that it’s men who are the ones who don’t want to commit, who don’t want to settle down, who are the scarce resources. But in fact, it’s the opposite.” Fisher mentioned one man who told her, “My wife isn’t perfect. She isn’t the best I’ve had in bed. But she’s a wonderful mother to our daughter, she’s very helpful in our business life, and we get along very well.’”

While that comment may not seem particularly kind, romantic or flattering, I think it gets at the reality of marriage as an ongoing and deeply satisfying partnership. Lasting satisfaction is not, as this man’s quote hints at, ultimately based on permanent infatuation. Rather, it’s about the joy of companionship, of living and building a life together.

Bennett also talked with Tom Matlack, co-founder of the Good Men Project. He echoes Fisher’s assessment when he says, “Marriage is challenging. Are you always madly in love with your spouse? No. But being a good husband and a good father is about trusting the other person, about being willing to deal with difficult stuff. I think it’s a sign of maturity on the part of men to admit that. … I don’t need the Victoria’s Secret model. I don’t need the infatuation that’s not going to last. I need a partner in life.”

The question of when “settling” constitutes a mark of maturity and when it’s a mark of compromise is, admittedly, a very difficult one (and one I suspect Boundless readers will be happy to kick around a bit more). But I’d like to (hesitantly) suggest that I think there’s some wisdom in Matlack’s perspective.

Marriage is a partnership. As Christians, we believe that it’s a partnership with a spiritual purpose, that of glorifying Christ. And hopefully it’s a partnership that brings a deep sense of meaning and fulfillment. Sometimes, though, you’re just glad to have survived another day, another week, and having a soul mate is less existentially important in the moment than the fact that your loving spouse remembered to wash your clothes for you.

Parodoxically, as the years and mileage piles on — and after almost eight years of marriage and three kids, I think I can say this — there’s something about doing even those mundane tasks together (and for each other) that enriches and expands your entire conception of what a soul mate really is.

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Aspects of Love: Judge Not

Today I’d like to discuss how a judgmental attitude is detrimental to relationships of any sort.  And the difficulty of the subject is found primarily in the fact that most of the time we don’t realize that we are judging, or if we recognize it, we believe ourselves to be justified in doing so.  I’m indebted to Terry Francis for sparking the insight here, and what he has to say on the subject is very helpful.
To judge something is to come to a final conclusion about it.  Judgment goes beyond evaluating the current state of a thing and renders an opinion about the thing itself on the whole.  With people, to judge a person is to conclude that they are X thing and then to allow that thing for which we have judged them to form the entire basis of our interactions with that person.   For instance, if I have the opportunity to build a friendship with a co-worker, I might reflect on how I’ve observed her in the office and think, “No, I’ll keep my distance.  She’s a gossip.”  In a sense, I’ve judged her character—I’ve seen that she is a person that gossips and therefore it wouldn’t be wise to befriend her. I haven’t become judgmental yet.  However, another co-worker might comment, “Sue is such a gossip.  I can’t stand people like that and I won’t have anything to do with her.”  Aside from the hypocrisy of the statement, this person has a judgmental attitude toward our coworker.  She has allowed her dislike of gossiping to form the entire basis of her interactions with Sue.

Judgment is closely tied to rejection because when we judge a person our next step will be to reject them.  This is because we have chosen to view them as nothing more than that character trait we dislike.  Whatever just deserts we feel ought to be experienced by someone “like that” we act out.  And perhaps most significantly, once we have judged, we no longer seek reconciliation.  Because we believe that we have seen accurately into their heart, we don’t come to them to tell them we were offended, rather we decide that it would not be of any use because we already know they are X.  As Francis points out, there could be any number of reasons a person does something or acts a certain way.  When we judge, we leave no room for mitigating circumstances, misunderstandings, or genuinely different expectations.  Even if the person is 100% in the wrong, it’s possible that they haven’t yet seen their fault and if they were confronted with it they would ask forgiveness and change.  Therefore, a judgmental attitude makes it impossible to overcome offenses and to reconcile.

Judgement can also cause us to misread a person’s character.  Because we have focused on one or two aspects of their personality and allowed those aspects to loom largest, we then ignore many other qualities which would cause us to see them in a different light.  Are there terrible, horrible people in the world?  Of course there are.  I’m not saying that we have to go out and befriend everyone; I’m saying that we ought to simply allow wisdom to guide our interactions with people instead of our judgments about them, and then to allow love to move us to reach out to them to seek reconciliation and change.

Oftentimes people will disappoint, but insofar as it depends upon us, we ought to be at peace with everyone (Rom. 12:18)
with no bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness, or judgment in our heart toward anyone.

Aspects of Love: Confront & Change

You can overcome nearly anything in all relationships if there are two things present in both people (neither can be missing):

  • a willingness to hear that one’s actions hurt and/or are displeasing to the other, and to change our actions because of it
  • a willingness to bring our hurts and annoyances to the other when we are bothered by something she has done

What happens more often is that we do not bring our hurts to the other person in order to reconcile.  We do not tell him that we took umbrage at his tone.  We don’t tell her that our feelings were hurt when she repeatedly cancels our plans to get together.  Many times this has to do with our own fear of being vulnerable before other people, admitting to them that how they treat us matters to us, that they have power in our lives.  Other times our refusal to admit that we’re offended arises from impatience.  We just may not want to deal with someone else’s shortcomings.  We’d rather cut our losses and move on than stick around and do the sometimes awkward and trying work of attempting to reconcile what we want and think should happen with what someone else wants and thinks should happen.  And sometimes we really may not know how to forgive.

We’re also resistant to change, genuine change for the sake of another person.  It may be tempting to think that the best relationships (romantic, familial, professional) are when there is never any conflict between our personalities, habits, senses of humor, priorities or the like.  While such similarities can certainly make for smoother sailing, there will generally always come a time when something that we have done or said, or how we have prioritized our life, will cause offense to someone that we’re close to.  And if they have the courage to share that hurt with us, we have a great opportunity to show love by being willing to hear him and an even greater opportunity to show love if we are willing to make the necessary changes to stop offending him.  When genuine love is shown–when time is given generously, when a thoughful gesture is offered, when a sacrifice is made–the bond grows stronger between the two.

Now it is very possible to be in relationships with controlling people.  If my friend takes issue with things that I do that really should not be of any concern to her, then I should gently but firmly make it clear that I would like her to have greater respect for my independence.  If a family member wants something more from me than I am currently giving, then I should be willing to hear what she wants and see if I can invest more in our relationship.  It may be the case that I cannot, but love in relationships does call us to do more for the other than we might be naturally inclined to do if we were thinking only about our own wants.

Essentially, if we conduct our relationships solely on the basis of getting what we want at the moment, or only sticking with something insofar as we do not have to go out of our way for it, then those relationships won’t be very deep or lasting.  Likewise, if we refuse to make ourselves vulnerable to the other, or cannot be bothered to have patience with her faults, then we’ll find ourselves snuffing out potentially great relationships.

Forgiveness…sort of…

Friend 1:  You know, I have something that I really need to get off my chest.  You kind of hurt my feelings the other day when I told you I needed help and you brushed me off, saying you were too busy.

Friend 2:  I didn’t know that hurt your feelings.  I would never try to hurt your feelings…

Friend 1:  Yeah, I know.  It’s just that I would have thought that you’d make time if you saw I needed help.  I wouldn’t have asked if it weren’t important.

Friend 2:  I guess like I said, I wouldn’t intentionally hurt you, I was just really busy.

Friend 1:  I guess I can understand that…

Friend 2:  I mean, I have a lot going on right now.

Friend 1:  Yeah…

Friend 2:  So we’re cool?

Friend 1:  Sure.

Are things cool between these two friends?  Not really.  Things have been smoothed over, but there is still a crack beneath the surface.  Let’s examine this exchange again:

Friend 1:  You know, I have something that I really need to get off my chest.  You kind of hurt my feelings the other day when I told you I needed help and you brushed me off, saying you were too busy.  (read: I have been brooding about this incident since it happened and am confronting you so that you can confirm my side of the story.)

Friend 2:  I didn’t know that hurt your feelings.  I would never try to hurt your feelings… (read:  Automatically takes defensive posture.  Don’t blame me, I didn’t do anything wrong.  If I didn’t know it was hurtful, it shouldn’t count against me. )

Friend 1:  Yeah, I know.  It’s just that I would have thought that you’d make time if you saw I needed help.  I wouldn’t have asked if it weren’t important. (read:  I expected you to make me a priority and brought the issue up so that you can confirm that I am a priority to you.)

Friend 2:  I guess like I said, I wouldn’t intentionally hurt you, I was just really busy. (read:  It wasn’t my fault.  Don’t blame me.)

Friend 1:  I guess I can understand that… (read:  So, you’re basically saying that you’d do the same thing again.)

Friend 2:  I mean, I have a lot going on right now.

Friend 1:  Yeah…

Friend 2:  So we’re cool?  (read: I’m not in trouble anymore, right?)

Friend 1:  Sure. (read: whatever)

What happened here?  Starting with Friend 1, if at all possible, bring an issue up as soon as it is an issue–in the original conversation if possible.  When F2 first told F1 that he was too busy, F1 should have made it clear then that a) she really needed the help, and b) that she was hurt by F2’s unwillingness to make  time for her in his schedule.  Now here’s the tricky part:  Do we know whether it was reasonable for F1 to expect F2 to help?  No, we do not.  We don’t know whether “busy” for F2 is taking care of a family while working and going to school full time, or whether it’s baseball season and he just wants to make sure he’s home in time to watch the game.  We also don’t know how close F1 and F2 actually are, such that F1 would expect F2 to make time for her.  But, that is the point of the exercise, because neither F1nor F2 is clear on these matters, either.  Each has a perspective all their own. 

So, back to F1.  She begins the conversation well on the surface, but she brings to the table some unrealistic expectations.  She is not seeking to reconcile a breach, but rather to hear F2 accept blame exactly as she has assigned it to him, for him to take on her perspective and confess his wrongdoing as she sees it.  But as we see, F2 does not take the bait.  His response does not speak very well of him, either, as his only concern in responding to F1 is to deflect guilt away from himself. 

F1 attempts to put the ball back into his court by re-iterating the offense and giving him an opportunity to own up to it.  But he deflects once more.  F1 understands in theory how one could be too busy to help, but for one reason or another judged that F2 could have done otherwise if he chose to do so.  F2 deflects again and F1 retreats.  F2 senses retreat and rallies with another affirmation of his busyness.  F1 disengages.

This conversation did not end in yelling or tears, but it still failed to accomplish reconciliation between the two.  Both friends failed in this endeavor.  Regarding the first friend, her objective in speaking with F2 should have been 1) to discover his perspective and what was going on in his life at the time that could make him busy, and 2) to let him know that she considers them close to a certain degree and that she would like to maintain that degree of closeness.  After sharing that with him, she could have explored the deeper issue–how his actions seemed to indicate to her that he did not value her friendship and did not consider her a good enough friend to re-arrange his schedule for.  On the second friend’s part, he was too busy deflecting blame that he spent no time genuinely attempting to engage in his other friend’s feelings.

Let’s give these friends another chance:

Friend 1:  Hey, do you remember last week when I asked you to help me out and you said you were too busy?  Well, it seemed like you were brushing me off and I thought we were better friends than that.  I mean, can I ask you for help when I need it?

Friend 2:  I’m sorry that it seemed like I was brushing you off.  Unfortunately, there was no way that I was going to be able to help you and still take care of my own obligations; but I do want you to know that you can come to me for help anytime and I’ll do my best to give it.

Friend 1:  Thanks, I really appreciate knowing that.  I guess I didn’t realize how busy you were.  Is everything all right?

Friend 2:  Everything is fine, just one of those weeks is all.

Friend 1: I can understand that…

Friend 2:  So, were you able to get everything taken care of?  Is there some way I can help you this week?

Friend 1:  I was able to find some other people to help, but thanks for the offer.

Friend 2:  So we’re cool?

Friend 1:  Of course.

There are many possible variations on this scenario, but the improvements in the dialogue are that Friend 1 approached the situation not simply blaming Friend 2 for hurting her feelings, but getting to the root of how his actions toward her made her feel about their friendship.  She also openly affirmed her desire to remain good friends with him and asked for clarity as to whether her expectations were reasonable.  Friend 2 also improved in that he apologized for the way that his actions had appeared to his friend, even though he had not intended them that way.  And even though he was genuinely unable to help at the time, he re-affirmed his willingness to help his friend, which is the affirmation that Friend 1 was looking for.  He further showed that willingness by offering to help now.  Friend 1 realizes that perhaps she was being somewhat self-centered in judging him and takes time to better understand what he was going through.  In all this was a successful exchange between friends.

The take-away point:

Addressing an issue with someone who has hurt you will likely be disappointing if you are expecting them to understand exactly how you were hurt and agree on just how to slice up the blame.  Remember, relationally, no one owes you anything but charity (speaking of friends).  Emotions and perceptions, expectations, etc. differ among us all and often confuse things.  Judging the other because they did not meet your particular expectation will likely only lead to strife.  You can always ask for what you want from the other.  Their response will define the relationship.  Take it for what it is, and do not blame or judge if it is not what you wanted.