What is Trust? [or thank you for being a friend]

For my oldest daughter who asked, “Dad, can you write about trust?”

Relationships are just plain hard, and when it appears that people tend to think only of themselves and their personal well-being and enjoyment, finding someone you can trust can seem a near impossible feat.  

In a simple (and perhaps simplistic) view, trust is developed when something or someone meets our expectations.  This is observed in how we relate to our technology.  Though my trust does not exist on a conscious level, I go to bed every night trusting that my phone’s alarm will wake me up.  In the morning, I trust that my car will start and take me where I need to go.  This trust comes from two places: the belief that I have purchased a quality product (because either the company or a third party has provided convincing arguments), and the history I have with these products.  My phone alarm and car have displayed time and again that they will meet the expectations I have entrusted to them.  If they prove untrustworthy by no longer meeting my expectations, I will either get the product fixed or replace it with a different product that will do what I need it to do.  

This concept gets a bit convoluted when we include the human variable, including our own self and those pieces of us not in plain sight.

To live is to have expectations.  So many of our expectations remain unspoken and never reach the conscious level.  But they exist.  Why do people get so upset when driving and discover traffic is heavier than anticipated?  Or have a tirade when the wifi goes down?  Or become very vocal when our sources of entertainment let us down (e.g. Star Wars, Game of Thrones,  Harry Potter prequels)?

We constantly live and walk through our day with unsaid expectations.

What takes courage is to dig into the dark and neglected parts of our soul to unearth what lies below the surface.  What are our expectations?  Not only of trivial things, but of our relationships? 

Your mother and I went through a very difficult time in our lives when I was a pastor.  It was a season I re-discovered how unkind and passive aggressive some Christians can be (speaking of expectations…)  When I left church ministry and we relocated to Southern California, I lacked awareness for how much pain and hurt existed below the surface.  I didn’t realize this at the time, but I had some friends that I leaned on too heavily to take the pain and hurt away.  Not only were my unspoken expectations unmet, but the relationship was severed. I can’t help but wonder if the friendship ended due to my unspoken and unrealistic expectations. 

What expectations do we carry into a relationship?  To feel loved?  To feel accepted?  To never be alone?  To find connection?  To take away pain?  To share life?  To be respected?  To feel “cool” by association?  To have someone that shares similar interests?  To feel validated?

Some expectations are realistic, others exist in the land of unicorns and jelly bean fields.  Part of our role growing up is to ascertain the real from the fairy tale.

Trust IS a realistic expectation of a good friendship, but we won’t expect it of everyone.  Time, observation and experience assist us in determining how deeply we can trust another human being.  Trust is revealed in conversation, not only in your conversations with friends, but also observing their conversations with others.  Trust is observed by someone’s personal standard of ethics.  Do they lie, cheat, steal, or do things behind other’s backs that they shouldn’t be doing?  Because once you notice this particular pattern, what’s to determine that they aren’t doing the same thing to you when you’re not looking?

For me, trust is ultimately developed when I discover that my friend considers me important.  This does not necessarily mean that they will be able to meet all of my needs (because some of my needs, especially emotional, may be incredibly unrealistic).  But my friend wants the best for me, wants me to succeed, and is willing to be a structural support to my life and faith.  How do you know if you are important to someone?  You look at how they consistently treat you.  If their treatment of you is inconsistent, this leads to exhaustion as you find yourself accommodating them and their unpredictability.  Inconsistent behavior and treatment gives them control of the relationship and intrinsically creates a one-sided situation.  This may meet an emotional need of ours—to be a caregiver, but it will not blossom into a mutual caring relationship.

If you find that you treat the person as more important than they treat you, back away.  These dynamics will most likely not change, and I would encourage you to do the introspective soul work and ask why you keep investing in a non-mutual relationship.  What is it you’re hoping to receive?  

A trusting relationship is a mutually caring relationship.  You care for them and they for you.  You initiate times to hang out and they with you.  You hold their secrets and pain, and they hold yours.  When you find someone who is fun to hang out with and desires nothing but the best for you, this person is gold.  These are the friendships to invest your time and energy in.  Or date.  But not til you’re twenty-one.  

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