Last month, my best friend from home started dating one of my best friends at college. Besides being a prime example of how mysterious God’s Providence is (they met each other through me), this event has caused me to reflect much more seriously on the question:
What do you do when your friends start dating each other?
It’s not that I begrudge them their relationship. I’m very happy for them. But it is still very strange to realize that my best friend now has someone else occupying his attention. Now my classmate knows more about what’s going on back at home than I do.
It’s also tempting to view the situation with some wistfulness.
I feel called to priesthood and the religious life, and that is a vocation that may take a long time to come to fruition. Meanwhile, here they are, taking the first step of a journey that could progress, flower, and come to fruition, all before I even get out of seminary.
Sometimes I almost wish my vocation were different. They’re so happy. Why can’t I have the same?
I would love to raise a family. Why has God called me to take a different path, one which seems so hard and barren? This pattern of thinking can lead to frustration, which is then expressed by feeling irritated by the dating couple and criticizing them.
In other words, there is plenty of room for feelings of loneliness, discouragement, and even envy.
A single whose friends are now dating each other might feel ignored or left out by them, stagnant in his own vocation, or tempted to tear down the new relationship.
Given my own recent experience, I have a few suggestions for how to deal with each of these situations.
Feeling lonely? Accept the change
When two friends become more interested in each other than they are in you, it’s natural to struggle with some loneliness. But stop to consider a few things:
First, the change is a great opportunity to remind yourself that your best friend, ultimately speaking, is God. No matter what happens to your human friendships, you have a divine friendship which is worth more than all of those put together.
He is always there for you, especially in the Blessed Sacrament. If you feel left out by your friends, realize that God desires to be with you far more than you desire to be with them. Perhaps the experience is an invitation from God to spend more time with Him!
Second, the change is natural. They say you should marry your best friend, and that is true. But that means that since my friends have entered this new relationship, a relationship with marriage as its end, my status as best friend will change. She will be his best friend, and vice versa.
As hard as it is to accept, that change is necessary. It does not mean that my friendship with them has ended. It has merely changed. But, after all, you hope to be in the same boat someday, don’t you?
Third, the change gives you the opportunity to develop other friendships. Since your dating friends are so busy with each other, you have more freedom to make new friends or to strengthen other friendships you already have. You may well find that there is great good waiting in a friendship which you didn’t have time to cultivate before.
Discouraged? Have patience
Your friends are moving on in life, and you feel like you’re stuck. Maybe you think you’ve done things wrong. Perhaps you think you’ve done everything right but to no avail. Regardless, don’t let discouragement keep you from moving forward.
Don’t compare yourself to others. A priest once told me: “You can’t be a Saint Francis of Assisi or a Saint Therese of Lisieux. You have to be your own kind of holy.”
God’s plan for you is utterly unique. You can’t predict what will happen based on what others around you are doing. An oak tree takes much longer to grow than an aspen, but it is also more majestic and will last longer. Wait for your path to unfold. Pray for patience, and rest in the confidence that your life holds great things in store, though they may be long in coming.
Not only does God have a unique plan for you, but He wants you to fulfill it. He wishes you to shower His love upon the world, and no one else can do it in the way you can. God set aside a special place for you to fill with His love, and it waits for you. If you will patiently wait for it, God will not be outdone in generosity.
Struggling with envy? Be supportive
You’ve never heard him talk like that before. It’s so weird the way they look at each other. Aren’t they taking things a bit too fast?
These and other thoughts, if you take the time to look carefully at them, may just be a mask hiding the private desire to be in a relationship yourself.
Instead of letting yourself slip into negative thoughts about your dating friends, make an effort to find positive aspects of their relationship. No one is perfect, and so no relationship is perfect. But everyone has strengths and virtues!
You may not agree with everything they say or do, but make sure to actively encourage them in all the good things they do. You can build up your friends, rather than letting their weaknesses cause tension. Helping to strengthen their relationship with each other will also strengthen their friendship with you. They’ll see how much you care for their good.
Your job is the same as it always was: to be a friend to them.
The way you show your friendship is what has changed. Friendship involves presence. Now, your presence may be in the background, but be present all the same. Somewhere along the way, they will encounter difficulties. Your friends will find that they disagree or do not understand each other for some reason. When that time comes, who will they go to? Their friends. It is then most of all that the beauty of your friendship will shine. They will know that they can trust you, and that you care for them.
Ultimately, when your friends start dating each other, it is an opportunity to become more selfless.
It is a challenging time, but it can also be an extremely fruitful time. But it’s not the end of your friendship with them. Instead, it’s a chance to make your friendship truer still, for “greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).