friendship and refuge

Montalut 2010 (28)

Society has been able to create refuges of every sort, for since it preferred to take love-life as an amusement, it also had to give it an easy form, cheap, safe, and sure, as public amusements are.
– Rainer Maria Rilke

Refuge as cheap.  Safety in relationships as cheap.

I never thought to look at them that way.

I’ve always regarded friends as people we feel safe with, that it’s the number one factor that determines a friendship: Do we feel safe to be?  To be honest and just be?   Friends are sanctuaries not necessarily because they protect us from harm, but because they’re just there– no judgment, no demands.  They listen, they understand, and sometimes they don’t even have to say anything. And we do the same for them.

But I never realized how hard it is to really have no demands.  And to not demand even this safety in friendship.

One of the most hurtful things I’ve ever told a friend was “I don’t expect anything from you.” It came from a place of disappointment, of not wanting to be disappointed again, and it also hurt me to say it.  When you don’t expect, you acknowledge a diminished regard for the other.  And yes, some kind of safety sets in, because you’re not putting yourself out there anymore, you’ve already pulled back.

This isn’t the kind of refuge we want in relationships.   Rilke calls it cheap and advises us to brave the difficult path of learning to say “No expectations” sincerely, up close and with zero bitterness, coming from a place of love.

Maybe it helps to ask, “What is refuge?”  We often equate it with comfort or protection, maybe even a certain untouchability: I am comfortable at a safe distance.  I feel safe when I don’t know you, or when I only touch you up to here, and when you only touch me up to there.

But I think true refuge is actually the opposite– it’s a drawing as near as possible, and also an opening as wide as possible, to someone, something:  I am near but I am moving, we are both moving.  And the time and place where we meet is also moving, adjusting to what it needs to do, what it needs us to do.

I am learning that friendship is movable, and that shifts are not endings.  Safety is not presence or 24-7 availability.  It’s not even loyalty — there is also a danger in over-loyalty.  There is no promise of tomorrow or yesterday, only a sensitivity to what is and what is not, right here, right now.

Where does friendship go?  It goes where it goes.