Words can say one thing, but dating habits can say another – are you sure you really want to marry your best friend?
Mature written content warning.
Everyone says being able to marry your best friend is the absolute goal when it comes to dating and marriage. I wholeheartedly agree to be honest. So much so that on our wedding day we made sure that the words of Bishop Jeremy Taylor were shared during our ceremony – that love is friendship set on fire. I’m very fortunate and blessed to say that years later this is still the case in ever increasing measure.
The research backs this up. Dr John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work charts out how couples with deep friendships “have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in the big ways but in little ways day in and day out”. After over 25 years of research, John and his team go as far to say that the quality of the couple’s friendship is the “most important predictor” of marriage satisfaction – including romance, passion, and sex. Big call!
It’s a really great idea too. How cool to be able to hang out with your bestie potentially all day every day.
And so, many people tell all their other friends, “I want to marry my best friend”.
And yet, as with all those common statements we make about relationships, I would like to examine what we really mean when we’re saying this, and especially whether or not this lines up with the dating habits employed when proceeding towards marriage. After all, if we want it to be true, we need to date like we do.
So, let’s have an honest look at the way we’re going about this. Do you really want to marry your best friend? And are you dating and relating in a way that means you’re going to? Let’s find out!
#1: Would you date any of your friends?
We need to talk about The Friend Zone.
I think online dating, speed dating, and blind dating are all signs that you’ve given up on everyone that you know from a romantic perspective. Or at least, that’s when it seems to be employed – when there’s no one left that you can think of that you would even consider “seeing that way”.
This isn’t a diss on those forms of dating – I know plenty of people who got together and married and happily indeed as a result.
But I’m just highlighting what it means.
You might say you want to marry your best friend, but the irony is that many people actually date like they’re waiting for a tall dark and handsome stranger or some new hottie to appear in their lives and sweep them off the feet, all the while dismissing all the people they already have built successful friendships with.
It can be hard to change your mind on the potential relationship you have with your friends, and obviously there can be a risk that you jeopardize or even lose the friendship in the process of trying to change the rules and seeing if there’s something more there.
But the truth in love is that we either have to take romance first and add friendship, or we have to take friendship first and add love.
When you’re friends first, you begin relating without romance on the table. When you’re dating first, you usually begin relating with romance as the first thing on the table, especially given the sorts of romantic environments that first dates take place in.
You’ve already been able to get to know a ton of people in great detail without them always putting their absolute best foot forward to try to win you over romantically, and without that romantic pressure you’ve probably seen a fully realistic picture of what they’re like. Whereas when you go on a date with anyone, you inevitably put forward the best picture you possibly can, and it’s not always a fully accurate one at that.
As I’ve written about in 6 Problems With “The Spark”, love and lifelong love at that requires a sustained and consistent effort to build and maintain.
I think it’s just worth considering that if you truly want to marry your best friend, it’s probably worth thinking about who already are your best (or close) single friends, and whether or not they’re worthwhile marriage material and worth exploring changing the rules with.
#2: How many of your current friends do you have sex with?
Shocking question is #DeliberatelyShocking.
Because chances are likely the answer is 0. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
And yet surveys such as one carried about by Groupon and surrounding commentaries show that men are having (or expecting) sex by date five, whereas women are having (or expecting) sex by date nine. On top of that, several sites, books and magazines recommend three to five dates before the hanky panky starts.
In other words, people are being pushed to take their completely new relationship into the bedroom within the month, and many are approaching their dating lives with this in mind.
You say you want to marry your best friend, but how many of your friends do you need to have sex with in order to keep the friendship? How many friends are you fooling around with after the first month of knowing them? How many people you have just met explore your mind and then your body straight after?
I hope you see what I’m getting at here.
Friends don’t boing friends, unless they’re in that specific category of “Friends with Benefits” – although most of those only stay in that casual relationship category with very clear boundaries and lines between their real friends and these other “friends”.
And it’s hard to build a friendship when you’re getting busy in other ways. In fact in researching this area you’ll find there are hundreds of resources giving you long lists of ways to avoid romantic feelings or loving expectations from developing such as this one from Bustle. Why? Because sex changes everything. It’s not just physical – it’s emotional, it’s spiritual, it’s vulnerable, and it connects you like few other things can.
My point is this – if you want to marry your best friend, you need to make sure there’s enough breathing room to be just that – friends. A lot of people will be telling you why sex doesn’t matter, but I’m sure your own personal experience shows just how much it really does.
Heck, I’ve known guys who’ve struggled to be friends with women (and vice versa in thinking about it) just because of the sexual thoughts they have towards them, much less when they’re actually acting them out.
If things work out, you can always add the sex in later. I’m still a huge fan of this being in marriage given the additional safety and commitment that marriage brings, but it’s going to be your decision.
Make sure the right F is the one you want to do with someone first.
#3: What’s the focus of your dates with people you don’t know yet?
So, let’s say you’re in the category of meeting someone explicitly in a dating scenario as your first meeting, rather than promoting one of your friends who you’ve already met and developed a relationship with. Now what?
We’ve established the role that adding sex in too early can play in interrupting a friendship, but how about romance?
A study from UpJourney with Branded Research revealed over 53% of 14000+ participants were comfortable with kissing on the first date. A further 33% were okay with it from Date 2 or 3 – so that’s 86% all on board with romantic actions from the very early stages.
I asked earlier how many friends you’re having sex with – how many friends are you comfortable kissing or being romantic with? Actively?
Even if you’re not in their pants, the romantic atmosphere from the start can slow or inhibit the friendship development if it’s the primary or sole focus.
If you look at any list or book or public speaker on developing friendship in your relationship, whether it be from The Gottman Institute, Focus on the Family, Louie Giglio, Bishop TD Jakes, Dr Gary Chapman, Mark & Grace Driscoll’s excellent book Real Marriage, or even a site like YourTango, they’re all clear – friendship is built on the personally focused tasks.
Not on their lips, their hips, their buttocks or their vvvvvvvvvvvery other interesting body parts. On their mind. Their heart. Their personality. Their interests. And how they mesh with yours. What they’re into, what they’re not. Doing fun things together. Going on adventures. Talking life and doing it with others.
Whether friendship or romance comes first in how your relationship started, friendship at some point needs to be a focus.
The Shulamite of the Song of Songs said of her husband that he was her lover and her friend. Successful and beautiful marriages can be built towards by making sure that your relationship focuses on both.
#4: Are you still waiting for and relying on a Spark that will inevitably go out?
Here’s the reality about love, sex and marriage – someone divorced Brad Pitt. Someone divorced George Clooney. Someone divorced Channing Tatum and Ryan Reynolds and Bradley Cooper. And that’s just the guys who have been considered some of the most desirable people on the planet, not to mention all the desirable women in the same boat – Scar Jo, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Garner…
And you look at some of these insanely attractive and desirable people and think, HOW?! If the Spark was so strong, how on earth did it fade away?
The truth about the Spark is this – even if you start your relationship with it (which only the minority of relationships actually do), it’s not enough to sustain it. Eventually, as with any unsustained fire, it will go out if left to burn alone.
Unless you fan it into flame. You keep adding fuel. You sustain it with something long term. That kindling needs to catch something larger alight in order to continue.
Friendship is like the large log that sustains the bonfire. You can add the quick flashes and sparks to get things going, but if you want that fireplace to be warm for a long time, you need to have something truly substantial and strong in there.
We’ve faced some hard things in our marriage so far. And the realistic truth is there are times when the lovey romantic part of the relationship is just not there or is struggling to compete with other issues in your lives or other relationships.
You yourself would know how it can be. You’re busy, you’re tired, you’re disagreeing on something, the Kiddo is crying at 3:30am still, or is out partying at 3:30am still, or has crashed the car into the garage, the finances need sorting out, the greater friendship and family circles are having issues, or there are stresses going on that are making it hard for the romantic part to flourish at a certain point in time.
But the great thing about marriage is we can be friends when we can’t be lovers, and if you build your relationship in such a way where you truly did or will marry your best friend, you’ve got the base to survive through all the storms that will come your way, ready for sparks to fly once again.
As a husband or wife, what’s happening may be hard for you to hear or face or work through or to take on board, but as their friend… you can face that as their friend. Because a friend was born for times of adversity, and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.
I love what the Song of Songs says about love – that is the most brilliant flame which many rivers cannot quench. What a powerful picture. A river is a constantly flowing body of water. There’s no way an ordinary fire could ever stand in the face of such a continual assault.
But that’s what life can be like: a river that is perfectly suited to quenching the fire and that will keep throwing things at you. Another set of bills, another set of concerns, another set of reasons why you both need to give it up and go home, another year of pressure and unknowns and how are we ever going to get through this?
But you can. And if you stick it out, you will.
If you’re relying on or waiting for a spark to keep things going, that river is going to annihilate you and your relationship.
But love that has been built to last, with the right foundation, with the supports built in, with a continual commitment of friendship to each other – then no matter what comes your way, you can truly do as the songs say and conquer the world. When you marry your best friend, you’re going to make it.
Call me old skool but I’m a huge fan of courting – friendship on purpose. We’re still friends and we’re not doing anything explicitly romantic yet but we’re thinking of moving towards it. We’re not just accidentally bumping into each other but we’re talking and hanging out regularly with everything and with ourselves.
And there certainly does come a point where it’s now time to go to the next level and do the romantic one-on-one let’s get closer stage, and if you’ve built that foundation of friendship right, it’s a very rewarding experience indeed.
How about you? Do you want to, or did you, marry your best friend? How do you think this is achieved?