My husband and I started out as platonic friends. I thought I’d write about our experience of turning friendship into romance, and why I think it happened when it did.
When we met, we were both bitterly divorced. I was about to turn 30 and he had a 10-year-old and a shared custody agreement. Not only are neither of us terribly romantic people, but I had gone so far as to get down on my knees and pray to any entity listening that I would please never, ever, ever feel infatuated with anyone ever again. Our expectations were at zero. This is important because I believe our desire to be in love leads us to overlook all the wrong stuff. What we need is an accurate picture of the other person’s character and personality, and then the ability to accept minor flaws as endearing quirks. What we tend to have is a muddled mess of our aspirations, projections, and fantasies mixed with bits and pieces of reality.
Shortly after our casual work friendship began, I started dating someone. My work buddy/future husband had also been seeing someone, although I didn’t know about it because he never talked about her at work. This was another reason why we were able to become platonic friends. We weren’t even available. When our coworkers started gossiping about us, we thought it was funny, because there was totally nothing going on. We just liked hanging out and eating lunch together.
We bonded quickly because we have a similar sense of humor and we could quote a lot of the same movies. It also turns out that we are both great confidantes, the kind of people always giving someone else a shoulder to cry on. I helped him set communication boundaries with his ex. He gave me financial advice and helped explain why I was having so much trouble shifting gears in my car. (“It’s not binary.”) I helped him clutter-clear his garage. It wasn’t long before we knew virtually every major personal detail about each other’s lives. We learned that we could trust each other. We felt empathy for each other. We cheered each other on and gave each other advice. We cracked each other up. We left each other notes. Suddenly, we were on the phone every night. Somehow it crept from 20 minutes to 2-3 hours.
I was outraged when he told me he was having romantic feelings for me. I swore at him and raised my voice and accused him of all sorts of things. You see, I’ve had to have the “friend zone” conversation several times, and a couple of times it has ended what I thought was a perfectly good platonic friendship. I’m not a bakery and you’re not holding a ticket! This was a conversation that went on for at least a week. It seemed that no matter what happened, there we were, looking at each other and talking about it. He had become the background of my life.
He was right, of course. We’ve been best friends for 10 years. My prayer was granted, and I got the love of my life without an infatuation stage. But was it inevitable? Why did it take us roughly a year and a half to start dating? Why did we date for three years before he proposed?
I don’t think our friendship-to-marriage story was inevitable at all. For starters, if we had met at any earlier stage of our lives, it couldn’t have happened. Either I was too young or he was married with little kids. Second, I had gone on a couple of dates with an intriguing stranger I met on an airplane. If I had carried on with this person, our window of opportunity would have closed. (The guy turned out to be a dodgy character, which I found out on the third date when he shouted at me on the phone and then tried to convince me to go to a Super 8 with him on a coupon). But those are circumstantial. There are a few salient features of our friendship that I think are highly relevant to single people.
When we met, I was obese, broke, in debt, and sleeping on an air mattress in a rented room. He was in such a bad place over his recent divorce that it was basically the only thing he could talk about. None of these characteristics say “meet cute.” There aren’t a lot of rom-coms about two train wrecks who fall in love, although, heck, it is the human condition after all.
It turned out that my new work buddy/future husband had started a company tradition of holding an annual weight loss competition. He was down about 40 pounds from his top weight. They had me at “cash prize.” I wanted to eliminate my credit card debt and this looked like an enticing avenue. Between three of these contests, I won over $200 and succeeded in paying off my credit cards. So, suddenly I was free of consumer debt and a full four dress sizes smaller. Somewhere in there I got a promotion, a raise, and benefits. Then I moved from my shared house to my very own one-bedroom apartment. I wasn’t a train wreck anymore; I was starting to look like a fully functional mature adult. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the “romantic feelings” attached themselves to new apartment/size 6 me rather than air mattress/fat/broke me.
Then what changed? I had never had my very own apartment before, and I was loving it. I decorated it with new furniture and started learning to cook. I kept working at my debt-reduction plan and paid off one of my student loans six years early. I got a better job and another promotion and more raises. I rented my own tiny house and moved across town. We went on vacation to Hawaii and he proposed on the top of Diamond Head.
In a lot of ways, the progress of our relationship has been a series of “leveling up.” We’ve always liked each other and made each other laugh. We’ve always been honest and supportive to each other. We’ve always gravitated to each other and wanted to spend time together. We’ve always felt able to tell each other anything. The physical chemistry magically seemed to appear after we’d both lost 30 pounds. The emotional security grew over time, and it tracked closely with my career growth and financial security. The marriage came about when my little nest looked more attractive and homey than his. Whatever the mystical qualities are that cause the spark of love between two people, they weren’t all present for the first couple of years of our friendship. It makes me wonder whether it would have happened for us sooner if my life had been more together when we met.
I was hell-bent on improving my personal situation when we met. I would have continued to do so whether we had made friends or not, whether we had dated or not, whether we had gotten married or not. I knew after my nasty divorce that it was infinitely better to live alone than to be with someone who was anything other than a fantastic match. I paid off my debts because I took responsibility for my own financial security. I was ambitious about my career because I wanted to rise to a level that fully engaged all my abilities and attention. I got fit because I hated being chronically ill and I wanted to be strong and healthy. I learned to cook because I like to eat awesome dinners. I made myself a cozy home because I like it that way. It is the irony of independence that all the things I did for myself attracted a husband. We revel in fantasy and romance because we wish they would solve all our problems. Solving our own problems makes room for the fantasy and romance to come in.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.