“Ask a Priest: What If I Now Feel Phony Hanging Out With a Childhood Pal?”

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Q: I’ve had a friend since I was in grade 4 who I’ll call Abby. In grade 6 I got close to a friend who I’ll call May. For reasons I won’t get into, Abby did not like May. She actively tried to dissuade me from being friends with May. By the time we reached high school, she got over it more or less. Abby tolerated my friendship with May but made it clear she still didn’t like her. Now that I’ve graduated, I see May much more than I see Abby. May and I do not have a perfect relationship, but I feel much closer to her than I do to Abby. But Abby clearly still thinks of me as her best friend. She gets me gifts for my birthday and Christmas, and often not for any of our other mutual friends. I then feel obligated to do the same for her. I always come home after hanging out with Abby feeling cheap and kind of phony and overall guilty for not being able to reciprocate her feelings. When we were in middle school, we could keep each other entertained for hours. But now I find her awkward and strange and kind of immature. My mom encourages me to still hang out with her because I am her closest friend. But it’s going to come out eventually that May is my best friend now and Abby isn’t anymore, and I know it’s going to hurt Abby when she realizes this. I don’t know how to approach this conversation with her or if I even should. Any advice? – B.J.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It sounds as though you are simply experiencing a normal process as you come of age.

People change. Interests change. Friendship ebb and flow. Paths of life diverge. One day you wake up and realize that your set of friends has shifted. All this is normal.

A few things are key. One is to make Jesus your best friend. He will never leave you.

A second thing is to cultivate a spirit of Christian charity in your life. This means loving everyone, regardless of who they are.

Mind you, this isn’t the same as being friends with everyone. Friends ideally should be people we can be open and honest with, people who help us grow in virtues, etc. Real friends aren’t easy to find.

Another key issue is sincerity with yourself. Be who you are. Don’t try to put up a facade for others.

If you feel cheap and phony after spending time with Amy, that should be a warning. Perhaps the chemistry simply isn’t there anymore. This is nothing to feel bad about. But you shouldn’t feel as though you need to fake affection toward her.

The question you might ask yourself is how you could improve your relationship with her. Can you and she get involved in serious undertakings, such as volunteer work?

If that isn’t an option, and if the relationship isn’t helping you, you might ask whether it is better to back away from it. You can do that discreetly, perhaps. It might not be necessary to officially “break off the relationship.” That might cause needless bad blood.

Maybe a healthy approach is to simply dedicate yourself to activities that will help you grow — your job, your schooling, volunteer work, Church activities – and time with friends who will help you to grow in your own identity.

Little by little you will find yourself gravitating around a different set of pals — ideally, people who can help you to develop your talents and deepen your faith.

At all times try to stay charitable with everyone. Loving others means wishing the best for them, and helping them when you have an opportunity. It doesn’t mean trying to maintain forced smiles and feigned feelings. Again, be who you are.

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