The Good Places of Friendship
- 2011 November-December
In A Blue Fire, archetypal psychologist James Hillman writes about the relationship between trust and betrayal. According to Hillman, our fear of betrayal can cause us to try to protect ourselves by creating the “perfect” relationship, one that tolerates no risk of betrayal. But a relationship that cannot accept the prospect of betrayal is less about love than it is about power and fear, because trust always contains within it the possibility of betrayal. And betrayal, as painful as it is, offers the gift of forgiveness, which can transform pain into wisdom, and open doors to reconciliation.
Within our marriages and family relationships, we are often encouraged by the larger contexts of shared lives, family ties, and marriage contracts to weather betrayals. In friendships, however, there is much more freedom. As Caroline Knapp noted in an essay called “Grace Notes: An Ode to Best Friends,” friendships are not institutionalized relationships, the way marriage and family are, so they tend to be more transient. In our friendships, when we encounter feelings of betrayal, breaches of boundaries, or even just complexities of the heart, it is often easier than we would like to admit to walk away or let things drift.
But then there are those rare friendships that can traverse even the most difficult terrain.
In such friendships, the friends understand and accept the imperfections of the relationship, themselves, and each other. They accept the risk of betrayal because they understand that the seed of forgiveness is contained within the betrayal. This kind of friendship demands that the friends go the distance.
In Knapp’s essay, she shares a quote from her best friend, Grace: “We go good places in this friendship.” Grace was referring to the painful but rewarding trials and tribulations that friends must suffer if they are to arrive at true trust. In my life, I have had the pleasure of going to lots of “places” with my friends. We’ve shared adventures, collaborations, weddings, births, funerals, joys, sorrows, and much more. However, I have had only a few friendships within which I have gone to the “good places.”
It seems like when I have most needed to learn lessons about trust, such a friendship often appears. At first, as with most new friendships, the process of getting to know each other is joyous and magical, nurturing and transformational. Then, in time, the terrain changes because there is some kind of betrayal, and we have a choice to make: can we accept the chance of betrayal that is always inherent in our trust? And can we recognize the gift of forgiveness that awaits us in betrayal? If we can, the friendship then serves as a profound reminder that trust is a great adventure, full of risks but also endless possibilities.