Once upon a time, I had a community organization and development class in my Masters program which touched on types of friendships. The professor had argued that there were two types of friends/friendships, based loosely on Max Weber, based even more loosely on Ferdinand Toennies’ sociological types of groups in society:
1.) Gemeinschaft friendships are those that become your bosom friends, to steal a phrase from Anne Shirley. The ones that you see eye to eye on, the ones that stick with you through thick and thin, and ultimately the ones you refer to as family, even if your own family members have drifted away. These friendships are also typically the friendships that become lifelong. In current civilian communities, typically these are the people you find you drift toward when you move to a new city/state, and settle into a habit of getting married, raising a family, and retiring with, as everyone is very comfortable with each other.
2.) Gesellschaft friendships are the second type of friends. These are the friends for the season in life in which you find yourself. They come into your life, and some exit sooner and in a more spectacular fashion, and others exit slowly throughout your time together. These are the transient friendships, and it is usually a single common bond, or very view common bonds, that hold you together, and when that common thread has unravelled, then all that is left is a shell of a friendship. In current military communities, typically these are the majority of friends that you will meet and develop, allowing for varying degrees of strength in the friendship.
Several times recently, this specific lesson from school keeps coming back to me.
I have been known to be a very private person, allowing very few people into my physical home. I refer to my home as my “safe place,” where I can be myself without judgment, reproach, fear, or worry. My husband (lucky him) knows every facet of who I am, and (thankfully for me) loves me anyway. He accepts all of me for the person I am. While he does, at times, challenge me to grow as an individual and person, I think that is inherent in any true relationship – you challenge the other person to be the best version of themselves that they can become… It’s as though you recognize their potential before they recognize it in themselves.
Because of the sacredness of my home – a place where we are attempting to raise our family, I don’t allow “just anyone,” into my home. Everyone starts out as a potential “Gesellschaft” friend, but only those which I place in the “Gemeinschaft” category are invited into my home, to break bread and spend time in my sacred place.
In the past, these decisions have come back to haunt me. While I was under the impression I had a “gemeinschaft friend,” it turns out I was to this other person, a “gesellschaft friend.”
And, that realization hurts.
Recently, I have spent time reflecting on the friendships I have had in my past – ones that maybe I held as “gesellschaft friends,” when they thought we were more. Others that felt we were “gemeinschaft friends,” when I’ve only seen them as a “friend for a season.”
Social media makes it even more difficult to wade through the murky waters of friendships and acquaintanceships. I love being able to stay in touch with so many different people I meet, but sometimes I don’t want to share every single story or cute picture with every person. I love being able to share various pictures and stories with so many people in a one-shot blast.
However, when you realize that your friendships “for a season” are over, it makes it more difficult to just “unfriend” them on social media without hurting the other person’s feelings, even when it isn’t about any personal decision, but rather about you recognizing the friendship’s season has run its course.
As I consider all these ideas, I naturally worry for my children. How does a parent teach their children the concept of “treat others as you would like to be treated,” and, “be kind to everyone – extend your hand in friendship to all,” knowing that there will come a day when they are let down, and are hurting? How does a parent, struggling to ascertain why she needs to continue to reach out to build friendships, when she’d rather just stay comfortably in the company of her friends who have become family, impart the importance of both lifelong friends and “for a season,” friends?
And, as I reflect on these concepts, I also wonder – knowing we have a move approaching, how do I continue to reach out, build friendships every time I move, without becoming jaded and viewing all potential friendships as ones in which I’m using them for their company until we move? I have grown weary of befriending people, to just have the hurt when I realize I thought they were a closer friend than they were in reality.
As an adult, I have found comfort in the words from Casting Crown’s song, “Just Be Held”:
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place…
I find comfort in knowing that God has a purpose – for all my friendships, both lifelong and ones that come into my life for a season. I hope that those to whom I have disappointed as a friend in the past can also reflect on the positivity of why we were placed in each others’ lives, regardless of whether or not we know. There are ends to friendships that I did not handle well, and looking back, wish I could take the “ending” back; however, with age comes maturity, and I have to keep reminding myself that every person in my life is there for a reason, for however long God determines. He is ultimately in control, and He will ultimately be the one to “hold my heart,” just as He will to everyone’s heart.