In his latest column, managing editor Scott Warden explores the concerning statistics regarding friendships among…
3 ways to gauge authentic relationships
I’ve been watching my young adult nieces and nephews deal with their various relationships. Twentysomethings spend their time paving their careers while also looking for future spouses, but friendship and love are challenging paths to navigate. Young adults often ask: How do I know if he/she is the right one for me? It all sounds like a Jane Austen novel with its joys and struggles. But God desires our happiness, and if we seek his will, he will reveal it. So what wisdom can I, as a religious sister, offer about love and friendship? From my life experience and the study of human nature, I share three gauges of authentic relationships: mutuality, genuineness and inner peace.
Even though marriage is not part of the celibate lifestyle, love and friendship are. We are called as consecrated women to embrace others — family, friends and sisters in community — with a love that is self-giving and self-sacrificing but also one that makes us the best version of ourselves. True friendship leads us to be better because there is a mutual desire to wish the best for the other person. I have many friends within my community and also outside the community, both men and women, married couples and priests. These friendships keep me grounded in reality and reflect back to me aspects of my personality that need growth and God’s grace so that I can always become more Christ-like. And I do the same in turn.
A 12th-century English Cistercian monk, St. Aelred of Rievaulx, wrote about the value of friendship in his classic work “Spiritual Friendship.” He said: “No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy.” The deepest value of friendship is that we are present to and for one another. When people are looking for future spouses, the first sign in a relationship is mutuality. Is there an easy give and take, or does the giving seem one-sided? If so, that may be a sign that although there is attraction, this may not be a long-term friendship or spousal relationship.
Another gauge in relationships is genuineness. Can each person be who they are with the other and feel accepted? This doesn’t mean there won’t be differences of opinion. We all need to grow in learning how to communicate well during crucial conversations. What it does mean is that each person is appreciated and loved for who they are and believes that they have the best of intentions for the other person. Genuine desire for friendship and love seeks the good of the other — always.
My niece recently called off her engagement when she realized that she was not at peace. After five years of dating, she realized she and her fiancé struggled with communication because they ultimately lacked trust in each other. Communication is easy when there is trust. Without trust, there is no peace. This is true for any relationship. And peace is the surest sign we are following God’s will for our lives. It’s important to be authentic by taking time to know ourselves and question if mutuality, genuineness and peace are present in our relationships.
In a world where selfishness is praised and sex is equated with love, Austenian friendship and romantic relationships may be hard to come by, but they are out there for those who have the patience to wait, work on knowing themselves and seek God’s design for their lives. And when found, true love and friendship make us the best version of ourselves, procuring joy and undisputed happiness.
Sister Nancy Usselmann, FSP, is director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles. She is a media literacy educator, writer, film reviewer, speaker and author of a theology of popular culture, “A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics.”