How to Be a Friend to Someone You Hated

The Challenges of Creating Friendship

Friendship can be hard! No matter how close you are, there will always be challenges, whether you disagree about something important or have to contend with hundreds of miles of distance between each other’s homes. Making friends, maintaining those friendships and being a good friend is the work of a lifetime. It’s astonishing to imagine adding unnecessary obstacles to these crucial relationships, but sometimes life has other plans. What if you suddenly find yourself considering friendship with the most unlikely person imaginable? The person you used to hate. Is that even possible? It kind of depends.

Sometimes it works out. My best friend from high school hated me the first time we met. On the first day of 7th grade, I had the audacity to admit to the whole lunch table that I had not yet seen The Lord of the Rings movies, and she instantly wrote me off as uncultured garbage. 15 years and a lot of cookie dough later, I was the Maid of Honor at her wedding. On the other hand, I have a friend who ran into his high school bully a couple of years ago, and the guy turned out to be pretty nice as an adult. My friend was torn about how to interact with his old nemesis but ultimately decided he couldn’t make nice with the person who made his teen years torture. He was polite and respectful, of course, but they didn’t exchange phone numbers or become Facebook friends. They don’t keep in touch. 

Maybe you have a coworker who wasn’t very warm on your first day on the job, so you kept your distance for a few months, but now they seem nice. Maybe you find yourself one locker over from “the mean girl” from your old elementary school, but now you’re both older and actually have a lot in common. Whatever your past is with the person, if friendship is now on the table, there are a few things to consider, starting with the concept of “hate.”

Why Did You “Hate” Them and Why Do You Want to Be Friends? defines “hate” for us as “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest.” Hate is a big word. It’s used to describe attacks against minorities and underrepresented people groups who experience oppression. It’s used to describe the thoughts and feelings that motivate self-harm and suicide. Tossing it around lightly can be a dangerous way of devaluing the intensity of things like “hate crimes” and “self-hate,” so be careful when you use it. Make sure that your aversion to something is truly at the level of “hatred.” It may be that if you’re even open to the possibility of becoming friends with someone you used to “hate,” perhaps it was never “hatred” in the first place.

Ask yourself, then, what really happened between the two of you to cause this level of tension? Does this person even know that you “used to hate them,” or are they blissfully unaware of your previous distaste for their existence? If they are aware, what part did they play in your conflict? What part did you play? Have the two of you been able to openly and honestly discuss the past, forgive each other, and make peace? Even if this person doesn’t know how you used to feel about them, it’s crucial that a conversation to clear the air takes place. If the two of you can’t even have a mature conversation about your less-than-perfect past, you may not be ready for true friendship.

What’s true friendship? That’s another article, but a lasting and meaningful relationship hinge on honesty, basic kindness, and a genuine appreciation for one another. If those things don’t exist between you and your old enemy, legitimate friendship may still be possible, but you have a few steps to take before it can happen. If you and this person are truly determined to form a positive relationship, good for you! Consider going to therapy together or chatting with a school or campus counselor so that you have someone to help mediate when your conversations about the past get difficult.

The Power of Forgiveness

If you can forgive whatever went down between you and truly move on, there’s the potential for this to become a deep and lasting relationship based on an honest conversation and an intimate understanding of each other’s experiences. Find things that the two of you have in common and start spending time together. Take it slow! There’s no need to rush it—something that’s real and meant to be will develop over time. Maybe you both enjoy outdoorsy activities. Go on a short hike. Pack a picnic lunch and meet at a nearby park. Maybe you are both passionate about a common goal. Be workout buddies who meet at the gym, help each other campaign for a cause that’s important to you, or volunteer with each other at the local homeless shelter or animal hospital. Uniting to fight for something bigger than both of you can be an incredibly healing and bonding experience—but that first step of forgiveness has to happen first to give your newfound friendship a solid foundation.

The Power of Boundaries

Forgiveness can bring you a lot of peace if something from the past has been eating at you for a while. But it’s important to know that just because you’ve forgiven someone, or they’ve forgiven you, doesn’t mean you have to be friends. You can want to clear the air and want to keep your distance from this person in the future. If they’re interested in staying in touch or becoming friends but you aren’t, it’s okay to say “no.” You don’t have to let everyone into your life. It’s not mean or unkind to simply want something else for yourself. Treat them with the respect and kindness that every human being deserves, but if you can’t see yourself settling into a true friendship with someone who used to be a source of toxicity in your life or who reminds you too much of a time before you grew into the person you are today, you don’t have to. Invest in your true friendships and move on.

Redemption Is Possible but Isn’t Your Responsibility

At TheHopeLine, we’re believers that redemption is always possible. God’s love covers a multitude of past mistakes, and everyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, deserves a chance to start again and live a life of love and fulfillment. That doesn’t, however, negate the reality that there are consequences in life for wrongdoing. If someone bullied you, abused you, betrayed you, or if you did something like that to someone else, it’s okay for everyone involved to go their separate ways and pursue a better life. It’s not your responsibility to give someone a chance at redemption—they already have that chance with the grace and love of a God who sees more than our worst moments. They will find their redemption with or without you, so rest easy knowing that while you can form a friendship with that person you used to hate, you absolutely don’t have to, and neither do they. There’s enough time, forgiveness, healing, and love in the world for everyone to share.

Building stronger relationships are all about setting healthy boundaries. For more read "Healthy Relationships: 4 Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries".
-Cara Beth

Cara Beth Graebner
Cara Beth Graebner is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, Illinois. With a degree in creative writing from the College of Charleston and a Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting from Western Michigan University, she's been living by her pen for many years. She loves the way words come together to bring light into dark places, which is the goal of every piece she writes for TheHopeLine and other clients. When she's not writing, she's probably snuggling her 2-year-old pup, reading a book, or gardening.
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