Stories: The relationships of women


When I was eleven years old, my family moved from backwoods Minnesota to a large Mennonite community in central Ohio. Overnight, my friend set changed from girls who climbed trees, slept over in haymows, and jumped rope to girls who followed professional football, talked fashion, and stalked cute boys. At the first birthday party I attended, my new friends exhibited behaviors I had never imagined – taunting a father’s employee with fingers in ears and tongues stuck out, throwing food at each other in a deli, and talking about someone who’d had sex. My mother had instructed me about sexual intercourse, but I didn’t know there was anything about it to be had.

I was so lost as to be practically dirt beneath their feet: lost for years in terms of secrets, belonging, and real connection; lumped in with the other outcastes and misfits; a hopeless goody-two-shoes in a world of rebels.

Sometimes I wonder how many of my adult relationships are still centered around trying to get in.


There is only one close friendship in my life that I walked away from. I didn’t actually know her; we met through our writing and fell deeply into like with a flurry of fascinating emails and disclosures. We made plans, dreamed dreams. Suddenly I panicked that she wasn’t who I thought she was, that she was out to get, that I couldn’t team-dream at that level, and I backed out the door with a bang.

At the time, it was easy to say that “she” did this or said that, but the firm reality in retrospect is that I was terribly afraid.

And I broke a beautiful thing.

This is still a discordant note in my life.


I am usually honored when people want friendship with me. I haven’t forgotten the eleven-year-old days, and the pain of finding myself on the outside of an impenetrable circle.

Only once in my life do I recall being pursued by a woman I didn’t want friendship with. She was an intense person, and delightful and talented, and she wanted something and I didn’t know what. She did everything right – gave little gifts, said kind words, reached out, spent time, asked and offered services. But everything in me said no no no no no no no no I can’t.

I received, but I did not reciprocate. Later, we found a working relationship, but we never achieved the level of closeness that I believe her to have been reaching for. I wish I knew then, as I wish I knew now, what I might have done differently.


I once knew a girl who was exactly suited to be a great friend, but despite similar situations, close proximity, and warm times together, I just couldn’t quite get there. She had a unique sense of humor I didn’t understand – the kind of person who would eat Triscuit crackers at a ladies party and say, meditatively, “You know, these crackers always make me feel like a cow.” I stared at her. She said, “I mean, I kind of like it. You know, hay.”

These days, it would make me howl. Back then, I thought, “Who likes feeling like a cow?”

My husband said, “Maybe you have to think of it as a different kind of friendship. It might not be the spark kind, the kindred spirit kind. Maybe it looks like raising your babies together and attending the same events and comparing notes on laundry.” So I did that, and I thought like that, and it began to come.

Then we took one very special trip together, an overnight retreat, just us two, and late at night when our emotions were haywire we took a drive over a mountain to our lodgings. While she called her husband on the phone, I drove, and we got the giggles trying to impress him with our competence and we laughed until I was crying so hard I couldn’t see the road and I still think it’s a miracle of Jesus that we didn’t crash off one of those switchbacks.

Now for many years she has been the dearest friend I have nearby, and the spark is there for sure. When I am with her, I still laugh hard and I cry.

Today my friendships feel rich, though sometimes spread too thin.

These are the stories I think of when I hear yours.

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4 years ago

Story 1. I remember those exact trees, haymows, and the move to Ohio. ????

Story 3. I feel like I could possibly be “that friend” who intensely pursues. And many many do not reciprocate. If you could dare to contemplate your why, I would dearly love to hear and understand …

Story 4. Your husband is wise. I am learning too, that every friendship might offer something different , and to not expect each one to offer me the exact scenarios.

Audrey Rhodes
4 years ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

Re. story 3: Sometimes when I am too intensely pursued, it scares me. Perhaps because too often the ones who intensely pursue, who want to instant best friends, will turn on you just as quickly if you make a mistake (“I did ALL this for you, and THIS is how you treat me in return?!”) I tend to feel smothered, controlled, and/or manipulated if someone wants too much too soon. I don’t necessarily know that it’s healthy for me to feel that way, but that is how I feel.

Aimee Stauffer
4 years ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

I can echo Louise on number four, “. I am learning too, that every friendship might offer something different , and to not expect each one to offer me the exact scenarios.”

I have found friendships can be so different . . .

4 years ago

I am comforted in hearing your stories of places where you did not find belonging and connection. Discordant is a fitting word and it resonates loudly with me. Learning how to live in the discord is something I have needed to hear about from other people and I would happy to hear your thoughts, too ????

Louella Martin
4 years ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

Maybe I am too late to be asking this question but how in this season of babies and naps and carseats does one pursue friendships with ladies who also have babies and naps and carseats?? It takes me almost two hours to get myself and my babies out the door to go anywhere half decent. This squashes all desire to try. Yet I crave friendships more now then I ever have.
All good things take effort I know!

Sarah Beiler
4 years ago

Oh, thanks for sharing your stories. I enjoyed them immensely, even though some of them stirred painful memories of my own friendships.

4 years ago

I could relate to these stories in different ways. But story number 4 really resonates with me because I do find myself desperately wanting friends who think and believe exactly the way I do. That will definitely set me up for disappointment if a friend decides to go a different way.
So I’m learning to cautiously expand my ideas for what I want in a friend.

4 years ago

So much fuel for a good long think! ???? I like story 4 best, probably partly because it ends on a happy note. But also because it sounds a lot like “whosoever shall lose his life, the same shall find it.”

Rachel S
4 years ago

Very interesting read, Shari!
#1 I had NO IDEA about this! I always believed you must have blended beautifully into the world of popularity because in my book you were the coolest girl ever! Honestly. I still can hardly believe this. And sorry! =(
#2 hits home. I am often that girl reaching out, offering friendship – doing it “perfectly”, at least in my book. And then she turns away. And I think WHYYY? If someone had welcomed me so warmly, I would have LOVED it.
#4 I think I am at the beginning stages of knowing this friend. A bit odd, quirky, very different from me, but reaching out for friendship. I hope I am a big enough person to let it go somewhere.

4 years ago

You moved here when you were 11? I was as well when we moved here. And… it took until I moved away again for college to start feeling at home here. Those were long years. Maybe this is why I connect to your many posts so well. Glad for this series on friendships.

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