Emotional dependence, says author Lori Rentzel, “occurs when the ongoing presence and nurturing of another is believed to be necessary for personal security.”25 Unhealthy dependence can be particularly seductive because it can give us a feeling that “we have at least one relationship that we can count on and that we belong to someone.”26 For the most part, I have been spared a lot of the pain that comes from getting utterly dependent on one friend. But I can think of one friendship in which there was a painful break a few years after college, and the break hurt me deeply. Too deeply.

In retrospect, I genuinely loved and still love this friend, and her rejection of me at the time was a legitimate loss. But in fairness, there was also a shady side to my sadness. The pain was also the result of having, on some level, worshipped my friend’s life-giving intelligence, beauty, and depth. So losing a connection with her felt uncannily close to losing a connection with the Source of Life itself. Of course, I never would have said that, because I knew she wasn’t God, but something in my heart had been leaning on her in this wrong way, giving her more emotional power in my life than was good for either of us. And I didn’t know it until she pulled away.

Actually, that wake up call helped me begin facing the fact that any relationship can get twisted. Moms and dads, heroes and feelings (like pleasure, intimacy, power, or comfort), or men and women – no one and no thing is immune from being put on the altar and wrongly worshipped. Gratefully, and probably as an expression of God’s grace for my weakness, I’ve experienced the protective fences of a schedule filled with meaningful work, a sensitive conscience, husbands who’ve come along for my friends, a family to keep going back to, a relentless desire for a husband, the presence of a few older, wiser friends who’ve let me voice my loneliness and disappointments without shame, and a God who can simply fill up my soul with himself, supernaturally.

Still, especially when I’m feeling emotionally thirsty but busily swimming in a sea of salt water, I’m not immune to the feeling of an emotional “pull” to make people my savior. Conscious of it, I sometimes must simply choose to resist the pull. While, as one friend says, it’s “much harder and not nearly as instantly gratifying to allow my needs to be met from a whole array of resources,” it seems to be the strategy that is the most life giving. I’ve got to believe that God will give me, today, my daily bread. And I’ve got to trust that, as another friend put it, such provision includes food for my heart.

25 Lori Rentzel, Emotional Dependency: How to Keep Your Friendships Healthy, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1990.
26IBID, p. 18

Adapted from "Revelations of a Single Woman: Loving the Life I Didn't Expect," © 2006 by Connally Gilliam.  Published by SaltRiver Books (an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers).

Connally Gilliam earned a Master's of Teaching (English) from the University of Virginia and has taught high school and college writing.  She now works for Navigators as a Life Coach for Twenty-somethings in the Washington, DC, metro area.  She loves sharing coffee with friends and discovering how God is real, even in a crazy, changing and unintentionally single world.