Friends first. Why is this such a mystery?
I know all sorts of fun, smart, successful, attractive people who can’t figure out why they are single, and neither can I... except that I can. I know why.
For some reason, a lot of people seem to think that dating exists under completely different rules than all their other friendships. It’s some mystical exception, alone among every other aspect of their social life.
It isn’t! That’s the secret!
Everything you know about making friends is true about dating, too.
I’ve been in the same relationship for long enough now that other women are like, “You’re so lucky! You’re so lucky you found someone like him!”
This is true. It’s also a fundamental misunderstanding of how this stuff works.
I didn’t find out until recently - like, THIS YEAR recently - that my hubby made a formal decision to be “friends first” in his next relationship. He didn’t feel like he and his ex were really friends. They sort of jumped into a relationship and got on with the business of parenting and making financial decisions together. After they split, he thought it out and realized that the lack of friendship was most likely the missing piece.
Me? I only ever dated guys if I could have a real conversation with them. What else could I possibly have been attracted to in a person?
I always saw dating as a shortcut to learning tons of new things. I counted on my boyfriends to introduce me to their favorite books and movies, their favorite bands, and all their hobbies. I also liked meeting their friends, especially their female friends, and I made an effort to befriend their roommates, too.
I can thank the various gentlemen of my past for introducing me to entire new cuisines and musical genres, teaching me to play games, taking me to their favorite campsites, and so much else. What fun!
As I got older, all of this accumulated culture exchange started to make me more attractive as a date and a partner, too. Whatever else you can say about me, I am incomparably good at restaurant recommendations. If I take someone out, they’ll still be going to that place ten years later. If I take the time to teach someone a card game, they’ll go out and teach it to all their friends the next weekend. Fun spreads quickly.
My hubby, divorced single dad, put it out there that he wanted to date someone who felt like his friend. I had no idea! I just showed up, being my same old self.
Ask his ex if you don’t believe me, but he wasn’t a turnkey solution. He wasn’t “perfect husband, just add water.” You can’t order these guys up out of a catalog.
What made him perfect for me was a process of time and communication. I customized him, just as he was customizing me. We built a little world for ourselves out of inside jokes and catchphrases, out of tens of thousands of conversations and references.
This is why he believes that our marriage can never be replaced to a mathematical certainty. You can’t just go out and get another fifteen-year friendship. With every year that goes by, you are less and less likely to be able to rebuild something similar with someone else.
If our entire civilization were to go through some sort of wormhole, and on the other end a bunch of people had been swapped around, it would never work. I can’t be this type of wife to some random dude, and my husband would only be perfect for me, personally.
True, we do sweet things for each other all the time. We make each other special breakfasts and lunches. We plan surprises for each other. We have enviably cute traditions in our marriage. They aren’t one-size-fits-all, though. What’s cute and sweet is that we made it all up. We imagined ourselves into reality.
I married my husband because he’s the most interesting man I’ve ever met. Interesting to *me* though. Another woman wouldn’t be all that interested in marrying someone who is on business travel half the time, especially because he goes to some of the world’s most unglamorous locations. It’s not as fabulous as it sounds. If I went with him, I’d be stuck hanging around some mediocre hotel all day while he sat in a conference room for ten hours. Woo, right?
People always want to cherry-pick. We think we can imagine small pieces of someone else’s life for ourselves. We want just the juicy parts.
It’s easy to envy someone else’s ten-year marriage and think, “Ooh, I wish I had that.” You have to put in years of conversation first, though.
The thing is, I thought my husband was interesting and funny even when he was at a low point in his life. When I first met him, basically the only thing he could talk about was his ongoing custody battle. I was able to look past that because I had been divorced, too, and I could listen patiently. I could return the favor that my friends had returned to me, when I needed someone, and be present for him.
That’s another part of the friendship that supports the best marriages, the enviable ones. We’re such good friends because we’ve been there for each other. We’ve been to funerals together. We’ve cried on each other when our pets died. We’ve taken each other to the hospital. Quite a lot of our relationship has been stressful and cruddy, in fact, because a lot of life is that way. We’re friends because we have reason to trust each other, and we’re reliable because we owe each other a hundred ways.
I’m not sure, because I haven’t tried it, but I think other people may be expecting something different when they date. Maybe they’re going for someone who looks hot in their photos? Or someone with a great resume who can impress their friends? Maybe they have a long checklist because they basically want a personal butler/massage therapist? Maybe they have a romantic fantasy where the other person acts out a role similar to their favorite movie? I have no idea how I would go about a date-finding project like that.
All I can say is that I have a lot of platonic friends, and every now and then, one would cross the line into something more. The one I married was the one who was the most interesting to talk to and the one who made me laugh the hardest. As far as I can tell, those are the traits that will still interest me even when we’re eighty years old.
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.
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