What my SUV taught me about friendship

Don’t you wish there was a driver’s manual for relationships? As I flipped through the book for my new SUV, trying to figure out how to turn on the headlights, I pondered what I would include in my “relationship manual”:

  •  A table of contents directing me to page X for “How your husband thinks,” page Y for “Starting a conversation with a stranger,” page Z for “Making a new friend.”
  • Diagrams illustrating the components of a friendship (sharing thoughts, laughing and crying, being unselfish, respecting boundaries), with directions for how to respond in any given situation.
  • An entire appendix devoted to troubleshooting in those tough times in relationships, plus two more for solving the problems in a parent-child relationship and in a marriage.

I found the right page, flipped on the car headlights, and an idea lit up my mind: learning to drive my SUV is a lot like making a  friend.

  • Everything is different than what I was used to. I never anticipated that having the gear shift down by the console rather than behind the steering wheel would be confusing. My hand grasps for the gear shift and grabs the windshield wipers instead. Swish, swish go the wipers across the dry windshield as I fumble with the lever. Do I turn this thing off by twisting something or pushing the lever up or down?

When I meet a new person, I have so many questions. Do I have to pull words from the throats of quiet people? How do I get the overbearing yakkedy ones to shut up? You get the idea. Like the windshield wiper versus gear shift lever positional switch, it’s confusing. People are different and so the potential friendship will develop differently, too.

  • I’m out of my comfort zone. I was used to my big bulky Buick, with the long hood and huge trunk; I knew exactly where the bumpers were. My SUV doesn’t have a trunk; I never know if it is fully in a parking spot or not, and I’m constantly switching the gears between reverse and drive to back out of a tight parking spot. (I do a lot of double parking now.) 

When I find a new person driving down the same road I’m on, getting to know her requires a similarly awkward maneuver. Move forward a few inches as I open up. Change gears and let her talk. Cautiously watch for the metaphorical bumpers in the conversation: have I scraped against her relational boundaries?

  • It can be dangerous. Toyota recently issued a recall on some of their models, including the popular RAV4. People had reported problems with the accelerator suddenly speeding up. (One woman drove into a laundromat when her pedal became stuck. I guess that’s one way of getting a car wash.) Guess what kind of vehicle I had bought? A 2010 Toyota RAV4. Now as I tap the gas petal, I wonder if the SUV will surge ahead, spin out of control, and wind up in a laundromat with someone’s clothes basket on the hood.

Reaching out and “friending” someone makes me wary. I worry . . .

Will she respect my boundaries or run over them? My heart has enough dings, dents and scrapes already, thank you. Any more and I might end up in the junk yard.

If I confide in her, will she air my dirty laundry for the entire neighborhood to see?

Will she hit the accelerator and speed ahead, not letting the friendship develop naturally?

  • It’s worth the risk. I need to drive places, so I have to get used to the different style gear shift and wacko windshield wipers. I have to learn where the bumpers are (and stop double parking). I have to hope and pray that the gas pedal on my RAV4 won’t malfunction. A risk, but a necessary one.

Friendship is a risk, too. If I don’t get used to her little quirks or befriend a person different from my other friends or move beyond my natural hesitancy to be vulnerable with another person, I won’t have any friends at all. That would be a tragedy. Do I want to take the road of life by myself, safe but lonely? Or do I desire journey-mates, even if it means my life isn’t as comfortable and predictable as it could be? This is a risk worth taking.  

Ready to hit the road?

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