We were one of those couples who spotted each other across the room. We had to meet. We had to date. We had to have a lovely summer romance, and we did. At first there were the butterflies and the nervousness, then the growing trust and fondness. Then there was the fall of his third year of law school.
The romance didn’t last the semester. By Christmas, his stress over school and job searching and my anxiety over discerning whether he was my soulmate had killed it. But even as we parted ways, something unexpected became clear to me. We weren’t deeply in love, but I really loved him. We understood and respected each other. We had become true friends.
We dated other people, always comparing them to each other. No one would do.
Ultimately, it was our friendship that led us back to each other. As we sat across the table in a little St. Paul pub on our second first date, it felt like home, and he was the handsomest man in the world. So, I married my friend and my great love.
It’s pretty much undisputed among experts that friendship is important for lasting love, yet we so often get the friendship factor wrong. We date for romance, in constant pursuit of a feeling, and hope the feeling gets us through love’s ups and downs. Or, once we’ve landed on someone, we neglect to nurture the friendship; then one day we find ourselves wondering where the heck the love went. There’s no way around it. Friendship is the heart of great love. When you date and marry your friend, and stay friends through the decades, you have an ever-renewing romance.
Knowing what I now know about married love, here’s what I’d tell my anxious dating self about friendship and real romance:
01. You have a deep respect for your spouse when you marry your friend.
“I’m so jealous of the girl who gets to be with you,” I remember telling Kyle so many years ago, as we sat discussing a break-up. It was all but intolerable to imagine. Not only did I admire his character and sense of fun, but I also knew he really respected me. He cared about my thoughts and feelings in a way no one I’d dated before had.
I knew if he were mine, he would follow me through life’s journeys and root for me, as I became a mother, as I pursued a career. And he has. He thinks I’m lovely pregnant and smart when I challenge him. He calls, “Have fun!” from the messy kitchen when I escape the house for a run. He loves me as woman, a mother, and a person. And I’m invested in his happiness, goals, and experience of fatherhood because I love him as a person.
Love rooted in friendship lasts because it is selfless. It does not depend on a feeling that I get from being with you. It is a decision and an act to love you even outside of us.
02. It’s important to genuinely like the man you marry.
When I was dating Kyle, I was always struck by his good nature. I found him refreshing and interesting. He liked that I was feisty, stimulating, and “wholesome.” Over time, we came to just like being together.
In marriage, you gotta just like being together. Marriage is not all wedding dances and walks on the beach. It’s chatting while doing the dishes, pushing kids on swings, discussing schedules.
Now, half a decade into my marriage, I long to be with my husband. At the end of the day, I want to hear his thoughts about what happened in the news. I want to sit on the couch with my legs in his lap and laugh at a show, critique the characters, then give up and go upstairs to brush our teeth and read in bed. These everyday things are what make up a shared life. And you really want to enjoy the guy you do it with.
03. Being friends with your spouse allows you to look out, together, at your shared dreams and goals.
“Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest,” writes C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves. When you are married to your friend, you see your life together as a common pursuit of what you love and value. In my experience, two great friends in marriage stand side by side, holding hands. They look out at their common interest with little knowing glances back at each other. Their two lives intertwine and their dreams converge.
What we work on together in marriage—raising children, growing in a profession, discovering our faith, serving the world in some small way—we do as a team.
At our stage of life, Kyle and I are most connected by our task of raising little people. We frequently discuss what makes for a good family life. When someone is naughty, we’re in it together. When someone is adorable, we laugh and retell the tale. Like anything really worthwhile, raising a family is difficult—it takes an outpouring of self, a constant willingness to get back in there and try again. Because we are friends, this work ultimately brings us together.
A marriage of friends pursuing life together is rich in experiences and deeply meaningful. It is ever invigorating, ever romantic.
04. Friendship in marriage restores romance again and again.
As time goes on in marriage, friendship makes continual connection possible, and connection is the lifeblood of romance.
Picture this: You have both been busy, you feel overwhelmed. You sit on the bed telling your husband all your woes and he gets defensive. You realize the man watching you in confusion is not at fault, but you’ve made him think he is. The real problem is the fight with your mom, the negative pregnancy test, the whatever. So you burst into tears about the real problem. Suddenly he’s right there, kneeling next to you. You are in it together. You are his beloved friend, and he is your most trusted ally.
In marriage, there are the hard times and the times of disconnect. But two close friends living in the same house find their way back to each other. You miss your friend. You long to be on the same team again. And since you trust in the goodwill of the other, you rekindle your intimacy. Your deep friendship leads you back to love and understanding. It allows you to fall in love again and again. What is more real and romantic than that?