Saturday, February 03, 2007

Imaginary Friends

Not too long ago, one of my rapidly aging friends, Jessica, posted about a girl with a crush. Before reading more, you should go see her post here.

Jessica's post got me to thinking about a couple of things. Not the least of which is why people have such meaningful imaginary relationships that real relationships pale in comparison. What is it that makes the girl in Jessica's blog cling to this "distant acquaintance"? What is it that makes so many of us (including me) have imaginary friends that we turn to when we are lonely or hurt or tired or angry? Why do we look to a fantasy world for relationships that can sustain us and give us meaning instead of looking to real people and real relationships for encouragement? Why is flesh-and-blood less real to us than our imaginary friends?

Deep down, I think we all long for a face that will never turn away. We long for a face that will love us and accept us. We long for a face that will kiss our scars and hug us as we cry. We long for a face that will be crazy when we need some spontaneity. A face that will think we are beautiful, brilliant, and worth having around. We long for a face that intrigues us and stimulates us, and that face in turn is intrigued by us. We long to know, and be known.

But in our consumer-driven culture, friends like that seem impossible to find. I know I've never found one. Instead, friends seem like disposable cups - you use the same one until it's time to leave the party, and then you leave it on the coffee table for the host to sweep away with the rest of the garbage. Or, to put it a less depressing way, we become consumers shopping for the perfect friend just like we are shopping for the perfect pair of jeans. If they don't fit after they've been through the wash a few times, go find another pair.

Some single people think that marriage will solve this friend problem. Some married people think a different spouse will solve the friend problem. They're both wrong, because what they are really looking for are imaginary friends - instant gratification without the effort.

And this is where I think the imaginary friend problem comes from: We're scared. Because of something that has happened in our past, or something we saw on TV, or something we read in a book somewhere, we're afraid of what will happen if we let flesh-and-blood people face us in ways that mean they really know us. We fear being rejected and hurt by flesh-and-blood people whom are outside our control. We fear the work it will take to actually get to know someone else - warts and all. We fear being vulnerable because we are afraid that some how, some way it will come around and bite us.

So we chose our safe imaginary friends. They're no work - they don't disagree with us or disappoint us or challenge us. It is impossible for them to hurt us, so there is no risk. These imaginary friends are perfectly harmless, perfectly lovable, and maintenance-free. They are completely under our control at all times, with a 100% moneyback guarantee. We know that without a doubt that they will fit.

Real relationships are scary and hard and time-consuming. Of course they are - that's what makes them worth it! In the past couple of years since I have grown tired enough of my imaginary friends to actually risk getting hurt, I've noticed something interesting. This issue with imaginary friends isn't just a personal issue, it's also a spiritual one. The more I've been willing to risk myself for the sake of making meaningful relationships, the more I've realized how I treat my relationship with Jesus just like He is an imaginary friend - harmless and controllable. (Instead, I've realized Jesus is far more disturbing than we give him credit.)

Does anyone besides me wonder how on earth we ended up with such retarded relationship skills?


lorri said...

i think friendships or male-female relationships are just such an awful lot of work that people get tired and that is one of the reasons why they bounce from friend to friend or have imaginary friends as you are saying. i think we want what we can't have and we romanticize (sp) former friends/relationships. when i am mad at steve it is easy to say "well, so and so was so perfect for me because...." or "my friend stacy does so and so, but Jessica never did that..." when really every relationship is hard work and no one is the "perfect friend" or "perfect love". good post ben.

Benjamin said...

Yeah, I should have emphasized how much work good relationships are. I mentioned it briefly ("we fear the work it will take"), but I didn't develop the point.

Those former friends/relationships that we romanticize are so much easier because they require such little work.

Wow, there is so much to say on this topic that I don't even know where to start. I'm glad that you get my point.

Here's to good relationships!

lorri said...