Photo: Courtesy of Free People.
I had a tough-love therapist awhile ago who frustrated me to no end. I’d complain about the behavior of men I was dating and most of the time her response was simply, “That’s because he is not your friend.”
My response was always to sit back in my chair and stubbornly stare at the wall. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. Your partner is not your friend.
Slowly over time, as I’ve aged from a 22-year-old deer-in-headlights to an actual adult, I’ve started to understand what my therapist meant. In retrospect, it was the most important dating advice I’ve ever received. It helped me to relax. By the time I hit my late 20s, my outlook on dating had changed. In case anyone out there is stubbornly staring at the wall like I once did, allow me to try to explain my evolution.
Picture it! Me on a couch, cozying up to whomever I am dating at the time! Perhaps we are conversing over wine, but more than likely, there are two bottles of Corona with a splash of orange juice and we are enjoying what is known as “man-mosas.” As things get more comfortable, perhaps I introduce him to my Al Gore impression and, if that goes over well, my theory that in the event of an actual zombie apocalypse, the undead would simply rot away within a few days and no longer pose a threat. Suddenly, I find myself talking about something at work that frustrated me. This is serious. My gentleman-friend listens carefully, hugs me genuinely, then blows things off with a joke. Yet, for some reason, he never really responds verbally to the feelings I’ve just laid out. I feel awkward about that. If this were my best girlfriend, she would have validated my emotions and then added to them with her own story. Then we would have laughed and felt stronger for having talked it out.
Six words pop into my head: “Your boyfriend is not your friend.”
Picture it again! Months or years later! I am texting with a guy I’ve been seeing for months. The boyfriend and girlfriend titles have been dropped, you guys, and this is real. This particular night, he is out with the guys. The next day, I see on Facebook that his buddy’s girlfriend ended up hanging out at guys’ night. Where was my invite? This gets in my head. I quickly flash back to a time I found out my friends all went to dinner and didn’t invite me, because they thought I was working late. And they had margaritas and guacamole and everything! My friends felt badly and apologized, because there is an unspoken protocol to friend invites. This dude of mine does not feel sorry. Invite protocol is on a case-by-case basis with couples. He doesn’t always want to be part of a couple, even if other couples are present. In my early 20s, I would have felt offended, but suddenly, I’m getting it. After all, sometimes I, too, feel like having a date is a total buzzkill; you’re always having to make sure they are comfortable and having fun. Sometimes I want to be alone. After all, as we grow up, our arms don’t always want candy.
It hits me again. “Your boyfriend is not your friend.”
Back to picturing it! This time I have been dating someone long enough that he has a set of my keys. As I climb the stairs to my apartment, broken and defeated from a long, tough day at work, I begin to smell spaghetti and meatballs being prepared. I perk up. I walk through the door to see that my boyfriend has made me dinner! And he just wants me to relax while he serves me! He is pampering me! Like I’m a little baby! Truth be told, we should all expect this regularly from our significant others, and they should also expect it from us. Yet, it’d be way out of line to expect this from your best friend regularly. Can you imagine your best friend getting mad, because you didn’t prepare them dinner after a long day of work? Because you failed to properly romance them?
And then I get it. “Your boyfriend is not your friend.”
There are a lot of reasons our partners, as close as we feel to them, are not our friends. And that’s a good thing. They have some crossover points, and they get closer as time wears on (a lot of time), but I’m glad “significant others” and “friends” don’t share a definition completely. After all, I don’t want to have to make out with all of my friends. Well, most of the time, I don’t want to make out with my friends. If they bring me Domino's bread sticks, lines get blurred and all bets are off.