I lost my first friend when I was 11 years old, and I still remember the pain. An aching, searing emptiness that consumed me. I felt alone, exposed and ashamed. I was no longer one of the besties. I didn’t belong to anyone. I was a rejected, frizzy-haired girl with glasses walking home from the bus stop. Just a few dozen yards ahead of me was my former best friend. I had no idea what had gone wrong.
Her name was Andrea and she lived two houses down from me. We did everything together: sleepovers, walking to school, going to the clubhouse in the neighborhood for a swim and then playing cards. Our hair wet from the pool, we’d buy Cokes, two candy bars each and sit in the lobby playing cards.
She had a cool older brother named Steve who liked my older sister and parents who seemed nice and normal. We rode our bikes all over the neighborhood in the summer. We’d play hopscotch and tag and hide and go seek with the other kids. Andrea had long, straight hair I envied and a sharp guttural laugh that belonged to someone years older.
We pretended to hate a boy named Dennis who lived in the house between us, but secretly we had crushes on him. We both babysat for a younger kid named Rod who lived a few houses down on my side. We always walked to the bus stop together, sat together at lunch and hung out as one unit while at school. Nearly every weekend, we would have a sleep over. I preferred her house because it lacked the drama of my own.
And then one day about a third of the way through the sixth grade, a new girl came to our classroom. She was pretty and strange in an enticing way—quirky but confident, commanding the room and attracting the other girls. The boys were kind of scared of her, but the girls wanted her attention.
The takedown happened so fast I cannot recall the. All I know is this: one day Andrea was my best friend, and the next day she was Nonique’s best friend and my enemy. There was no room for a third person.
Suddenly, I had been thrust out into the cold. I remember sitting in a swing by myself at recess while Andrea and Nonique carried on just a short distance from me. I could see their heads together—Andrea’s silky red and Nonique’s dark brown—and hear their tinkling laughing. They were hugging and laughing, brimming with effervescence.
They were fairy princesses glowing in sunlight, and I was a dark gnome sitting beneath a thunderous cloud. Their display was so exaggerated, so palpable, I wondered if it was deliberate. Were they really having that much fun or did they just want me to feel as bad as possible?
The next year, Nonique moved away. Andrea and I began talking again, but things were different. Although she apologized, I never trusted her again. I couldn’t understand why she had betrayed me. As sixth grade became seventh, I was still reeling from the ruination of that year.
The next one arrived when I was 15. Her name was Lisa and we were locker mates at school. We shared a few classes and began doing things together. Her older brothers would drive us to the movies. I’d sleep over at her house fairly often. When I was 16, I got my first job at Dairy Queen. Lisa was looking for one too., so I recommended her and she was hired.
A few years later, a rift ended our friendship. You’d think it would be embedded in my mind, but I only remember the resulting trauma. Moving out of our locker. Avoiding Lisa in the halls. Walking into school feeling stressed and alone, because I no longer had my friend.
Two years later, Lisa and I sat one seat apart at our high school graduation. Our last names began with the same few letters, so only one person separated us. Something that once bonded us now showcased our broken relationship. We sat there in our gowns not speaking, not celebrating together later. Our circle of friends had been split with a few of them supporting me and the rest siding with Lisa.
My break-up with Lisa was not as painful as the one with Andrea, but it was probably more damaging. It set the stage for friendships that continued into my 20s, 30s and 40s. Here is a sampling (names have been changed):
Melanie—coworker and bestie until she tried to steal my boyfriend
Diana—social butterfly who stood me up at bars/restaurants more times than I could count. Or she’d make plans with me and then cancel last minute when something better came up (usually a guy).
Claire—needy, dramatic and prone to making sarcastic jabs at me, which I tried to ignore. She was frequently angry with me, usually for reasons she wouldn’t explain. Our last interaction was when she unfriended me on Facebook and then wouldn’t answer my calls. I still have no idea what I did to offend her.
Tina—Spiritual sister in Christ (I thought) who claimed to be my friend but seldom had time to talk to me, see me or respond to emails or texts. Calls had to be scheduled. She usually decided when and where we could meet. Once when I proposed an alternative, she declined, saying she had “set aside” this specific time for me. Set it aside without any input from me.
Candace—Once I moved out of town, we were done. She stopped answering my calls and texts.
For decades I’ve been on a seesaw. Weighed down by different friends, thrust into the air and then stranded. Legs flailing beneath me, powerless and exposed. Frustrated. Hurt. Upset. Each time it happens, I feel the Andrea wound all over again. Suddenly I am 11 years old and on the wrong side of the mean girls. This is the moment when the devil smells blood. He attacks. I make a few feeble attempts to bat him away, and then I roll over.
However, I’m not a victim, because I am responsible for who I let into my life. I chose these women as friends. I allowed them to treat me the way they did, and then I got upset about how they treated me. It’s like handing over your car keys to someone and then getting frustrated at how they’re driving.
Why have I done this? Why do I keep doing it? Over the years I’ve entertained buzz words like “alcoholic upbringing” and “codependency” (and how one leads to the other). I’ve gone to support groups and shared my angst with other children of alcoholics. I’ve taken numerous plunges into my childhood, trying to dredge up something or someone to blame.
My quest for understanding led me to one core truth. At around 9 or 10 years old, I chose to believe a lie about myself. The lie became a launching pad for all my relationships. This is what it said:
- You are here to serve others and earn their approval.
- Do everything you can to make people like you.
- If they don’t, it’s your fault.
- If they are upset with you, it’s your fault.
- If you make people angry, they will leave.
- If they leave, it’s your fault.
And the root from which it all springs: Your worth is determined by what others think of you.
When I accepted this lie, I wasn’t a believer in Jesus Christ. I became a born-again believer at the age of 31. Until then, instead of deriving my worth from the Lord, I got it from the world. Subconsciously I told myself if I could just get the right friends, then it would mean I was acceptable. It would mean I was lovable. The relationships would also give me relief from the darkness surrounding me at home—the shame and failure that defined me.
Satan knows this about me, which is why he has continued to use the same tactic to break me. He doesn’t even have to work hard. He just whispers it in my ear, as soft and seductive as a promise. See? People don’t like you. Remember Andrea? Lisa? All the others? It’s not them. It’s you. There is something wrong with you.
Being a child of God doesn’t protect me from attacks. In fact, it puts a target on my back. The enemy seeks to discourage me and separate me from the Lord. Every time I succumb to his lies, I relinquish the power I have in Jesus Christ. I turn from my real self—a new creation adopted into the Lord’s family—and back to the little girl of my past. A scarecrow blown down by a gust of wind.
This is what I need to remember the next time, every time I am attacked: I am no longer that girl. I’m not defined by my friends; I am defined by my heavenly Father. He is my source, my strength and my identity. No matter how many times I fail or disappointment him, he will never leave me. He will never forsake me.