This is a follow-up to some previous thoughts on friendship, and, if you haven’t already, you should read that first post because this one builds on it.
I am still thinking through how to think in a gospel-centered way about the idea that “needy” people make terrible friends. To repeat Douglas Wilson’s line:
Someone who desperately “needs a friend” will rarely make a good friend. A friend is one who overflows, not one who sucks everyone dry around him.
Yet improperly understood, it can sound as though the point of friendship is only to get, not to give. This is not what that Wilson means, nor what this Wilson means. What I believe we’re doing is just being honest about the way friendship is really forged. When an emotional vacuum of a human being requests — oh, let’s be honest: when they passive-aggressively demand — friendship, they are not positioning themselves as a potential friend, but as a patient. They are not looking for a friend, but a therapist, a supplier, a functional savior.
To be clear, you can be a friend to this person. But it is not likely you can be friends with them. They are takers, not givers.
That said, while a real friend is not predicated on neediness, a real friend is not someone who never needs you. What comes to mind is when a friend is hurting, grieving, or going through some other difficulty. I certainly don’t feel like they’ve stopped being my friend; I don’t feel put out or impatient with them. I don’t suddenly feel as though they are inconvenient. I think I don’t feel that way precisely because they’re my friend!
I wonder if we ought to look at friendships as covenants, somewhat like the marriage covenant. A covenant is predicated on grace, on mutual giving. Sometimes one party is weaker and must “take.” But the relationship is originated in two-way giving: of time, of respect, of interests, of laughter, of help, of “me too!”-ness.
While a needy person practically demanding a fixer might sound like a great opportunity for grace, it doesn’t result in real friendship because:
a) this person wants a relationship predicated on law — their demands, your measuring up — not gospel, and
b) this person wants a relationship that precludes the real picture of the gospel — reconciliation — because it is a one-way street relationship.
Let’s back up. An emotionally needy person looking for their functional savior does not make a good friend because they reflect the demands of the law, not the gifts of the gospel.
You hold your arms out for me. Is it to give me a hug? Or to size me up?
You can have some kind of relationship with an emotional vacuum but not a real grace-driven friendship because they’re treating you like an idol. And if you enable them, you’re returning the favor.