I love when an APW post inspires someone to think something over, decide that they agree with it (or not), and write a follow-up post. It’s even better when that person is on staff, or is Associate Editor Maddie. So after our post about how spouse and best friend are not (always, at least) the same thing, Maddie did some thinking. And she came up with a beautiful meditation on what being a partner really means. In sum: good, but sometimes damn hard.
The other week, my husband, my roommate, and I were invited to a party. Having a roommate who is also our best friend (a badge of honor I’m sure he wears proudly. Sigh. Poor guy), Michael and I often get invited to places as three. And we’re fine with that. In our situation, having a roommate with whom we spend most of our time has yet to feel, for lack of a better word, third-wheel-ish. In fact, having three people in our home usually serves as a way to improve our dynamic. (I’ve written about this before, but having an extra person around keeps Michael and me on our best behavior. Not to mention, Joe is enjoyable company and his dry humor is usually a hit at parties. Also, have you ever tried to play board games with two people? Exactly.)
But sometimes, I’m embarrassed to admit, I forget that we aren’t actually a three-person team. So when I received the party invitation, I hastily RSVP’d with an enthusiastic yes on behalf of the whole house. And then the day of the party rolled around. As Michael and I got dressed to leave and Joe settled into the couch to watch a Warehouse 13 marathon, it became increasingly evident that Joe had no intention of joining us. I started to get miffed. Joe knew about the party, we’d been talking about it for days. Didn’t he know how important this was? How was this going to make me look, if my best friend, my roomie, declined an invitation to hang out with my friends? Would they think he hated them? What if he did hate them and he just wasn’t telling me? And yet, there he was, practically waving his free will in front of me and refusing to go. The nerve. So I tried to convince him to go. Tried coaxing him with promises of beer and bratwurst and new friends. He wasn’t budging. When he starting feeling me getting more flustered, Joe turned to me and said, exasperatedly, “Listen, I am not married to you. I don’t have to do anything.“**
Wait, huh? What does marriage have to do with it?
Well, I guess, it kind of had everything to do with it.
You see, the problem was, I was treating my best friend like my husband. Because when your roommate is looking for a job, and you work from home, and you spend almost every waking hour of every day together, and you’ve been friends as long we have, well it’s easy to start blurring the lines between best friend and partner.
Which is when it hit me. Ever since we ran that post about your partner not being your best friend, I’d been looking for clues in my own marriage to figure out where I stand on the subject. (Because believe it or not, Meg and I don’t always agree on the opinions we post. Sometimes I just give her the benefit of the doubt about these things. Heck, sometimes she doesn’t agree with the opinions we post, because APW is complicated. But I digress.) Because on the one hand I kind of knew it was true, and on the other hand, I wasn’t totally buying it. Of course my husband and I are besties! We travel together; we know each other’s favorite color, favorite car, favorite breed of small mammal. We fart in front of each other for Christ’s sake! If that’s not a best friend, well, you tell me what is.
And of course what my actual best friend had pointed out to me, if not somewhat (ahem) rudely, is that of course my husband is all the things I want in a BFF. But he’s also more. And more comes with a lot of responsibility. It is never going to be Joe’s job to come to family functions with me. It’s never his responsibility to pick me up when I’ve had a bad day. He doesn’t owe it to me to come get me at the airport in the middle of the night when I fly home from the East Coast. If he does these things, it’s out of generosity and kindness (and he’s done plenty of these things), but the difference is, of course, that I would never, and should never, expect it. And, well, with my husband I do.
Now before you discredit me for making painfully obvious observations, let me clarify. Of course marriage brings extra responsibility to your relationship. And yes, it’s a no-brainer that I should be perhaps expect a little less involvement from my best friend in my day-to-day life. But the important takeaway here isn’t about Joe and me. I don’t even know if it’s about Michael and myself. I think maybe what the takeaway is, is what it means to be a partner. Because as I get older and am surrounded by more married couples each day, I’m seeing how hard it is to navigate the space between being best friends, or romantic buddies (notice how I just avoided the word lover), or roommates with your significant other and being partners. It’s a scary step when you accept the responsibility of caring about someone else as much as you care about yourself (and it’s one that plays out in practical ways like sticking up for your partner to your family or accepting each other’s financial debt as your own or compromising your career goals so that you can live in a city that will sustain both of you).
So what living with my best friend and my husband has taught me, is that expecting your partner to be your best friend is a cop out. What we should be aiming for is so much more than that.
Because being a best friend is kind of easy. You can promise forever, but it’s OK if you grow apart. You can be 100% supportive of your best friend, and still put yourself first. Simply put, you have minimal obligation to consider your best friend’s thoughts and feelings as you go about your daily existence.
Being partners isn’t easy. Having to think of two people when you make a decision is daunting, especially if you’ve had a lifetime of independence to enjoy before meeting your person. (Which I’ll admit, is not a struggle I’ve had to deal with much myself. Michael and I have been together since we were teenagers, so we’ve always been building towards our shared future. But that doesn’t mean we don’t fall into the trap sometimes ourselves.) Which is actually where all of this thinking came from to begin with. You see, when Michael, Joe, and I first moved to the ranch, I started to get this twinge of guilt whenever I thought about my relationship with Joe. It’s just so easy. We hang out, we cook dinner together, we watch reruns of Dawson’s Creek on Netflix. It’s all fun all the time (until he won’t come hang out at parties, that is). And sometimes Michael and I have these things. But sometimes we don’t. And I worried about what that meant (no surprise there).
I worried that if the relationship with my husband is more difficult than the relationship with my roommate, that maybe we were doing something wrong. I mean, I know marriage is work, but isn’t it also supposed to be easy? (I feel like I hear both arguments with equal frequency and sometimes I forget which to listen to.)
But as I’m spending more time in this living arrangement, I’m realizing each day that what sounds easy in theory is actually really hard in practice. There are certain days when it would be much easier for Michael and me to be best friends, to have fun in each other’s company and then take care of our own interests. There are days when it would be so much easier if we were twenty-years-old again and all we had to think about was who would be paying for dinner instead of where we might end up in ten years.
But I’ve seen what happens when relationships don’t evolve past this point (there are plenty of examples in my own family). And what I’ve witnessed, and am learning first-hand, is that if I don’t challenge my marriage to be more than a glorified friendship, if I don’t fully commit to the idea that we are a unit, that we must think as two but act as one, then we run the risk of missing out on all the rewards that marriage has to offer (like stability, and the strength of a support person in your corner, and the security of knowing that you are looking out for each other’s best interests). And the thing is, I already have a best friend (actually she’s probably reading this right now and wondering what the hell all this nonsense is about Joe being my best bud). And I’m just not sure that I need another one. Not to mention, I can’t help but think it might send the wrong message if my husband and I walked around every day wearing matching broken hearts around our necks. But maybe that’s just me.
**Editor’s note: Ten years of friendship makes statements like this permissible. On a separate note, can someone please give me a good reason not to go out and buy these now that I know they exist?
Photo by: Emily Takes Photos