I’m Not Good at Friendship. Or Am I?


I’m not good at friendship.

Myers-Briggs tells me that I’m an INTJ, which is a fancy way of saying, “Doesn’t play well with others.” While I certainly don’t hate people, I don’t always understand them. Half the time I don’t even understand myself. Give me the world of the mind, the place of concepts and dreaming, not the confusion of humanity.

That retreat into headspace? It’s not all just how I’m wired. Wounding plays a role, much as I’m loathe to admit it. More than once my friend picker has been broken and I’ve ended up investing in unsafe people. Perhaps inevitably, this has led to lasting hurt. And so I’ve erected walls.

Save for a few who have proven to be true and were grandfathered into the “Don’t Get Too Close” clause, I have operated on the assumption that anyone new who crosses my path will hurt me in the end, no matter how genuine and warm they seem. When I find myself longing to get to know one of them better, I poke at the never-quite-healed sore and remind myself that the pain isn’t worth it.

So imagine how I felt when asked to lead a small group.

Bible study, sure. That’s my jam. I can talk about context and structure and meaning all day. But being involved with people? Being in charge of somehow bringing together an unknown assortment who would land on my doorstep?

No way.

But, you know, God has a sense of humor. I don’t think He likes to watch us squirm, but He is certainly all about getting us out of that revered comfort zone and into the place He’s prepared for us. A place beyond our control.

The first official meeting of what would become “Messy Mondays,” I was in the middle of beginning to wrestle through yet another broken friendship when this band of misfits of all ages and sexes traipsed into my living room and altered my life forever.

One of my rules for starting this group was that everyone show up in their sweatpants that first night. I wore no makeup, because if they were going to come to this group I was leading, they were going to get the “warts and all” version of me. The cranky me, really. I promoted both things as “vulnerability” and “authenticity,” but what it was really a defensive move. Level the playing field, so to speak. Nobody was going to look “better” than anyone else. Nobody was going to put on some show and slip through my defenses again. (Of course I didn’t stop to think too deeply about this. Anyone can put on show no matter how they present themselves).

Isn’t it strange how we can build walls when we think we’re working to tear them down? My idea of being “real” was one more way of keeping people at bay. Just goes to show that our human ideas and effort always pale in comparison to what God has in store.

Over the last year our group has dealt with divorce, chronic illness, disagreements over politics, differences in learning style, anxiety, depression. We’ve also had moments of intense joy and sidesplitting laughter. Along the way, I have slowly felt myself opening up to them as they have slowly opened up to me. In their honesty, I have been encouraged to be honest. They’ve accepted me in that. Even when I don’t make sense or even when they think I’m wrong, they accept me. In that I’ve learned to take leaps of trust. I’m learning to battle the lie that everyone and anyone will hurt me just because a few have.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be good at friendship. I’ll probably always feel awkward and a little out of place. I can’t make small talk if my life depended on it. My preferred plans for a Saturday evening include Netflix bingeing or reading. If I could communicate with the world solely through texting, I would. But, slowly, this beautiful, broken group is teaching me how to give it a go. They’re showing me that vulnerability can be a good thing. They are living out grace and acceptance.

That, I think, is the kicker. Acceptance. I am on a journey to learn to embrace who I am, flaws and all, for only in the embracing will I find the ability to cast myself into the arms of Christ and ask Him to remake what needs to be remade – in His image. Nobody else’s.

Their acceptance has led me to question my assumptions, like assuming I’m not good at friendship. What does that even mean? I’ve been trying to live up to some vaguely defined ideal that boils down to “not me.” Surely only the vivacious and outgoing can have good relationships. Surely only the life of the party will be the only one worth spending time with.

There’s a sharp pain that comes in realizing you’ve been living as if God made you all wrong.

If I were a betting woman, I’d wage good money on the belief that you’ve also dealt with this. I can’t be the only one on the planet who gets all goofy and worked up over what it looks like to be a friend. Can I just tell you, one struggling sojourner to another, that you’re lovely? That you, in all your quirkiness, are wonderful? I don’t want to know some fake version of you, some person you think I will like better. Don’t pretend for me and I won’t pretend for you and maybe, just maybe, we will naturally discover how to simply be together on this journey.

In the battle to accept myself so I can in turn accept others and let friendship unfold in an unforced or false way, Jesus has been telling me that I need to stop expecting others to be and do only what He can be and do. In short, I must rest in knowing that He is that forever and true Best Friend that my heart aches for. As I learn to nurture my relationship with Him in a new and deeper way, that will spill over into how I approach relationship with people. I can think the best of them instead of the worst, because I know that, if the worst does come, I am never truly alone.

So if we meet on the street someday, I’ll be brave and give you a wholehearted smile and a welcoming hug. Even if, right after, I blurt out some random historical fact.

Marie Gregg

Marie Gregg lives somewhere in the Pacific Northwest with her husband Chris and two fat, neurotic dogs. She loves studying Scripture, libraries and chocolate. You can connect with her over at her blog, Along the Way.

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  • Molly

    Thank you! This speaks so beautifully into where I am in my journey at the present moment, desiring relationship but struggling with deep hurt and putting up mile high walls to keep everyone away, but surely they will hurt me, or see the real me and leave. I have a tendency to wind up working in places with extreme extroverts who area always overshadowing, the life of the party, the ones everyone else wants to get to know while I shrink into the background in my inadequacy- crying out to God about why He made me this way because it hurt and was hard and I desired so much to create the seamless and stress free relationships that seemed to come so easily to those around me. It’s good to hear there are others who walk that same road. Thank you for sharing!

    • Marie Gregg

      Darling Molly, you are not inadequate in any way! God made you with the personality He wanted you to have. Of course He molds and shapes us as we walk with Him, but He was pleased to fashion you an introvert. Please know that He loves you and smiles upon you!

      It’s hard being an introvert in this extroverted world. Have you ever read “Quiet” by Susan Cain? That and a whole lot of prayer have helped me to learn to stop trying to be what I’m not (an ongoing process to be sure!)

  • Its as if you were inside my mind! As a fellow INTJ, I have struggled with building and sustaining lasting relationships. I retreat regularly which doesn’t fit well with other personality types-and (admittedly) doesn’t make relationship sustainability an easy task. I am 51 now and have finally come to accept that I don’t need to change. This is only after many, many years of trying my best to be what other people expected. I have found contentment in the few friends I have-that close handful who understand that I still care deeply for them even if I am on radio silence mode and this has made our friendships deeper and richer than any I have had before! Sure, I am able to turn on all the buttons, get the public me all gussied up and do things like teach public speaking (yup-I said that), lead workshops and teach and hang out in a group but my sweatpants and t-shirt are waiting by the door along with a good book and a glass of wine for the second I get to ‘turn off’. We are each created in the form He intended-leading some to be deeply introspective or gregarious and extroverted. Each is beautiful and each is perfect and all that therein lie.

    Thanks for a great post and from one INTJ to another…Hi!

    • Marie Gregg

      Hello, Susan!

      I’m with you in that I can “turn it on,” but my tolerance for doing so is less than it used to be in the context of friendship. I’m fine with being more “bubbly” with coworkers (I see myself as being so around them; they’d probably disagree!) and I love the chaplaincy work I just began at a women’s shelter where I live. But with friends? Forget it. I don’t want to have to wear a mask or strain for approval. I want to be me. After all, if I’m not being me – then is it really a friendship?

  • Fiona Lloyd

    I had so many “me too” moments as I read this! I’ve spent a long time wrestling with the notion that God made me all wrong: even though my head tells me that this is not the truth about who I am, I find it so easy to slip back into negative thoughts about myself. And small talk scares me rigid: I feel like my brain and my mouth are somehow disconnected. I like your point that self-acceptance is a journey, as it reminds me that I don’t have to get this right all in one go. Thanks for your honesty, Marie – and may I just remind you that God thinks you are wonderful, too!

    • Marie Gregg

      Thank you, Fiona! Your kind words make me smile.

      Oh, small talk. I’d rather have my toenails ripped out. I completely understand what you mean when you write about the brain/mouth disconnection. Thankfully, people who really love us, as we are, see past the awkwardness and don’t expect us to be anything other than who we are.

  • Kate

    So appreciated reading this, Marie! Well done for following God’s nudging to step out of your comfort zone and risk vulnerability. Thank you for sharing. You are a blessing.

    • Marie Gregg

      Thanks, Kate!

  • Shelley Lancaster

    Oh this is so me! Well except for the leading bible study & being a writer.
    I have also seen over the past 5 yrs the closer my rekayionship is with God, the easier it is to force myself out there to try to make some friendships. I wish you well out there too!

  • “Don’t pretend for me and I won’t pretend for you and maybe, just maybe, we will naturally discover how to simply be together on this journey.” I think this is a big key to have nurturing and sustaining relationships. And being willing to accept our own self as we are and giving our lives to God to lead and guide and mold us into the people we were meant to be. Thanks so much for sharing your heart here, Marie. Blessings to you!