Acquaintances and Friends: Acceptance and Forgiveness

Acquaintances, Friends, and Forgiveness

Like strangers, and every person in our path, we encounter acquaintances and friends for a reason. More accurately, we attract them. Sometimes the reasons appear obvious, as when a stranger gives us directions in an unfamiliar neighborhood or a friend springs to our aid in a crisis. Other times the reasons are not obvious at all and may take months or years to dawn, as when a stranger crossing the street smiles at us for apparently no reason, or a friend gets insulted over something minuscule and hangs up on us.

We need not feel guilty about how people weave in and out of our experience. As Eva Bell Werber says in The Journey With the Master, “They are in your cycle of experience and have crossed your path for a purpose.”

Whatever the immediate or deep-seated reasons, we can be sure of one thing: we attract relationships with acquaintances and friends, like those with everyone else, to learn. If we don’t learn from one person, another with similar traits, quirks and even hair color will materialize until we do. They’ll make us grow, nurture our sense of good, stretch our love—and teach us to forgive.

We should know, too, that only a few people are real friends. This is how I know: time passing between contacts makes not a speck of difference. Neither of you ever needs to make excuses. No matter how much time has passed, when you reconnect both of you can hardly talk fast enough to share everything you want to. A friend I hadn’t heard from in six months summarized it perfectly. She wrote, “No apologies. Time between emails doesn’t matter. Friends are friends. Time between anything doesn’t matter.”


A lot of people are acquaintances. We have pleasantries, even closeness, but nowhere near the intimacy and rushing joy of being with a friend. Acquaintances don’t last as long as friends— there’s nothing solid that joins and sustains.

One day, neither of you calls back. This is a signal: When the “use” of a certain person is complete, in our learning, receiving and giving, then that person fades from our lives.

We must be true to ourselves about whether this person continues to nurture us or not.

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Former Friends

As we grow in understanding and consciousness, some people drop off. If we try to resurrect an old friendship, it’s usually stilted and uncomfortable. At the holidays, when you're feeling nostalgic, have you ever spontaneously phoned your high school best-friend-in-the-world you haven’t talked to in 30 years? What happens? Small talk, exchange of children head count, too many repetitions of “How the hell are you?” and “How great to hear your voice!” Sadly, you’ve got to admit the magic vanished, probably not long after the lockers got aired out.

A friend reminded me of the wisdom of that anonymous quotation: “Don’t worry about people from your past. There’s a reason why they didn’t make it to your future.”

Forgive that former friend for no longer being your buddy. Forgive yourself for the lingering feeling of betrayed loyalty and your inability to recapture the old closeness and easy fun. You’ve both changed and grown in different ways, have traveled different roads, made different choices. Overlook the faults and memorized wrongs, be grateful for the former camaraderie and joy, and bless that friend for the help and affection you gave each other all during those old times.

Lasting Friendships

Real friends, on the other hand, can feel more like family and are to many of us. Although without blood ties, we often feel more connected to friends on more levels than to family. In fact, we often attract friends with qualities we wish our family members had.

Friends, of course, are the people we feel a soul connection with—we’re comfortable, relaxed, talkative and unashamed of admitting our most secret thoughts. In addition to mightily enjoying their company, we unhesitatingly help them, and they do the same—like encouraging us in our ridiculous dreams, goals or plans. When we are angry at them, we’re not only disappointed, and sometimes dismayed, at their behavior but also really mad at them. In retaliation we may do or say things we regret. There’s a better way to respond.

Forgiving Friends

Forgive that former friend for no longer being your buddy. Forgive yourself for the lingering feeling of betrayed loyalty and your inability to recapture the old closeness and easy fun. You’ve both changed and grown in different ways, have traveled different roads, made different choices. Overlook the faults and memorized wrongs, be grateful for the former camaraderie and joy, and bless that friend for the help and affection you gave each other all during those old times.

Forgive current friends for some action you’ve labeled as disloyal, uncaring, inconsiderate, stupid or any other disparaging and disappointed adjective your anger dictates. Remember that they too are learning and growing—and both of you are avenues for each other’s growth. You were brought together for a reason—and probably more than one.

In forgiving you don’t have to become a doormat. Practice the steps below. They apply to any relationship and are especially effective with friends, because we generally bring a little less baggage to these than to our relationships with parents or partners.

The first step is enormously important. It sets the tone for the others and assures you will complete them in the right spirit.

1. Meditate on love, pure love, pure Love. Forget your hurt, your rage, your disillusionment. Forget your friend. Just bathe in Love.

2. Ask your Inner Voice (yes, it’s there waiting for you) what you did to cause or contribute to the situation. Maybe it was something you didn’t do or say or failed to make clear. Maybe you sent a mixed message. As you become open to some candid introspection, answers will come. Jot them down to remember them.

3. Ask your Voice what you should do next, what to say, what steps to take. Listen and obey. You will hear.

4. You may consider dismissing the situation or behavior, not making a big deal of it. Only you know if you can do this without it nagging at you, or if it’s a ploy to avoid facing your friend. My body always tells me I need to confront the episode, from a heaviness in my chest to a gray feeling when I think of my friend or our exchange. If you can honestly find in yourself no vestige of anger, even a little irritation, or heaviness, and if you really do feel at peace with letting it go, then let the incident roll off you with generosity and kindness.

5. If you can’t reach that point (and most of us can’t), then it’s time to talk it out with your friend. I recommend you make notes beforehand on what you want to say. Preparation helps you from blabbering, blathering or blasting out.

Choose a quiet spot, preferably not by text message (for heaven’s sake!) or even over the phone—too much opportunity for evasion and miffed slam-downs. Preface what you’re going to say with assurance of continued love and your sole intention of air-clearing and strengthening the relationship.

By now, if you’ve followed the steps above, you should have dissolved your anger. Couch your grievance in terms of your feelings only; don’t indulge in accusations or demands for explanations. Then allow your friend to respond.

Next, listen. Your friend’s intention may have been completely opposite to the assumption you made and got enraged at. Your friend may also voice some gripes about you. Breathe deeply and listen without springing to your own defense or yielding to self-protective rationales.

End by committing to new actions. For example, you can both promise not to react with hurt when the other wants to go out only with a third friend; to behave better in the situations that have caused misunderstanding (“Okay, I’ll call if I’m going to be late.” “I won’t discipline your daughter anymore.”); to air feelings right away so your grievances don’t fester and build up. Finally, eat something sweet together and, if you’re moved to, hug.

A Lesson in Love: Forgiving My Friend Jen

Sometimes the story doesn’t end so happily. As I said earlier, friends’ interests or growth may not keep pace with ours. Despite the friendship’s duration, rich history or satisfaction, sometimes you have to face the reality that the friendship no longer works, and either you or your friend does something to jettison it altogether.

I learned a painful lesson about friendship and honesty with a friend I’d met through a writing critique group a few years ago. Jen was bubbly, extremely intelligent, wickedly funny, and, at a moment’s notice, always ready for new adventures. On many Saturdays we’d take a bus downtown, get off as our whims dictated, buy ice cream and ethnic foods, and eat as we walked and marveled at the city’s ever-changing architecture. We’d exchange sly remarks about the people passing and issue witty pontifications about life, art, our writing, and the other, obviously inferior writers in our group. We laughed so much we often had to stop walking to lean against a lamppost and catch our breath.

One night, the phone rang. I groped for it and squinted at the clock: 2 a.m. It was Jen. I thought, My God, what happened? She said cheerily, “Hi! I wanted to say hello. Can you talk?” She’d never called at that hour, and I was shocked but pretended I didn’t mind. After she’d recounted her day’s activities and her cat’s antics, we said goodnight. I was so angry I hardly slept.

Three days later we had lunch together in a local restaurant. As we finished our coffee, I brought up the call and asked her not to phone at that time any more. I expected her to nod, shrug and say, “Sure, I understand.” Instead, I was bowled over by what happened.

She launched into a screaming surge of words in a high-pitched voice I’d never heard, like a child stuck with a knife. People stared, and I tried to calm her, but as we left the restaurant and walked to our neighborhood, she kept up the torrent, hardly taking a breath and apparently not caring who heard or what they thought. I couldn’t get a word in as she continued that screaming flood of recriminations of me and curses and accusations of the rest of the world for not understanding her.

After this, Jen never answered my phone messages or called me again. Eventually I stopped leaving messages.

For a long time, I asked myself what I could have done differently. After finding out that her late-night call wasn’t an emergency, I could have immediately asked her not to do so again after 10 p.m. I could have acknowledged to myself that she’d been insensitive and inconsiderate. I could have called her the next morning and told her how I felt. Her reaction might have been similar, but it was probably worse because I brought it up three days later, a measure of my own lack of courage.

Of course, it was also Jen’s choice to react the way she did. She seemed to take my single request (not unreasonable) as a negation of everything good about our friendship, a total obliteration of my affection for her, and an annihilation of her very worth as a person.

I later realized I’d never known Jen as well as I thought. Obviously, she was deeply disturbed about something that brewed under the surface very close to her vivacity. Looking back, I see now that she had major emotional problems, and my criticism must have triggered some traumatic early childhood scenario of rejection.

Although I never had the chance to speak with Jen directly again, I’ve forgiven her for what I believed were her psychological problems and myself for assuming she was more mature than she demonstrated. I also forgave myself for not being more forthright and acting immediately.

I’ve been helped by using the steps I gave you earlier, especially seeing Jen surrounded by an accepting, vibrant light, all emotional scars healed, all insecurities assuaged. I picture myself in this same light, which lovingly expands to encompass us both, and I see us holding hands and smiling at each other.

Love, finally, is what forgiveness is about. Love works when we envision anyone bathed in it and project it to them. It works even for those whom we rightfully expect should love us, we assume love us, and of whom we can list 5,328 reasons showing how they haven’t shown us love.

So, with acquaintances, former friends, current friends, and even friends to come, project only Love, think only Love. Know you and they are guided to your right meeting at the right time. You cannot make any “mistakes” because all is for learning. Know that your exchanges and mutual learning can only be blessed.

© 2016 Noelle Sterne.
Adapted from Noelle Sterne, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself
and Go After Your Dreams
(Unity Books, 2011).

Article Source

Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams by Noelle Sterne.Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams
by Noelle Sterne.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book.

About the Author

Noelle SterneNoelle Sterne is an author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor. She publishes writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and fiction in print, online periodicals, and blog sites. Her book Trust Your Life  contains examples from her academic editorial practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her book for doctoral candidates has a forthright spiritual component and deals with often overlooked or ignored but crucial aspects that can seriously prolong their agony: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (September 2015). Excerpts from this book continue to be published in academic magazines and blogs. Visit Noelle's website:

Listen to a webinar: Webinar: Trust Your Life, Forgive Yourself, and Go After Your Dreams (with Noelle Sterne)


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