What a Restaurant Yelling Match Taught Me About Friendship
“You don’t have to fix me,” Edmund blurted out.Kathy and I were having a pleasant dinner with Edmund, an out-of-town friend (not his real name). He is about my age and was talking about the transition in life which is staring him in the face.He attended seminars to pursue his new interest of coaching/personal development. He wants to coach individuals by helping them understand how God made them. And more importantly, how God made the people around them. Armed with this information, combined with prayerful reflection, his aim is to help his clients have deeper and more fulfilling relationships.As I write this, I realize this is the first time I have been able to articulate what Edmund is aiming to accomplish. He coached me over the last few months. During that time, I told him more than a few times I didn’t see the value in what we were doing. Clearly, not a very good encouragement.
Something happened over dinner.
Edmund likes to think out loud. It seems to me he talks about a subject repeatedly. While he is talking about himself and his struggles and challenges, I sometimes think, “I get it. Let’s move on. Let’s define the issue and address it.” We had one of these moments over dinner. But this time, I didn’t just think it, I said it. I jumped in and gave Edmund a bit of advice. Loudly.“People are not seeing you and your new positioning. You are always talking about what you can do for them, rather than about them. What you need to do is define the problem the people in your network are experiencing. The problem they have but don’t see. They think their pervasive problem is just part of the difficulty of life.”Edmund continued saying the same thing over and over again. It was like I hadn’t said anything and he was completely ignoring me. The more he talked, the more impatient I became.Then I leaned across the table and loudly exclaimed, “You need to define their problem so you can connect with them.”
I was clueless I did this.
It was like an out of body experience. Kathy later told me I yelled at Edmund. She said it made her jump.As I was leaning across the table, I saw Edmund’s demeanor completely change. It was in his eyes. After what seemed like a minute of us staring at each other, he leaned in and yelled back, “You don’t have to fix me. I’m OK. I don’t need you to do this thing you do.”When he yelled at me, I immediately was aware of everyone in the restaurant staring at us. I was also uncomfortable and guilty because Edmund is a soft-hearted and caring man. I said to myself, “Look what you did.” When he was done speaking (yelling at me), I apologized for what I had said and the way I had said it.
I knew I was wrong.
But Edmund went on for at least 30 more minutes. He dressed me down by explaining what had just happened. Then he started to bring up things I had told him several years ago. What I thought was a playful jab clearly wounded him.When he told me what I had said over the years, I began to feel very guilty. I was thinking, “Who was I to say these things to this man? He certainly didn’t deserve it. If someone had said these things to me, I would have left and never come back.”
I thought about it all night.
I was tossing and turning in a fitful sleep. This guy loves me. He invested his time and talent in me. And this is how I pay him back? Why do I try to fix him? He doesn’t need me to do that. He is smart and fully capable.Edmund wants me to simply be his friend.When Kathy and I got home, I asked her, “What was that about?”She said, “You have a tough time just being friends with someone. They want to be friends, and you want to help them. They don’t always want help or advice. They just want you to listen and share and be a friend. They want you to love them.”
I knew she was right.
After 41 years of marriage, she knows me better than anyone in this world.Over coffee this morning, Kathy and I were sitting in our living room. I was looking straight ahead, deep in thought about last night, and she said to me, “I love you.”I need to call Edmund and talk to him about last night. I need to be a friend. I don’t need to fix him. I need to love him as he loves me.That’s friendship.