Friends & Benefits
Each time I sit down to write I find that I am exploring and exposing new parts of myself. My last post was about an alpha male and it got me thinking about the nuances in the relationship and people dynamics. I keep circling back to the significance of building trust when we meet someone new. Trust is the bedrock of all human interaction allowing people to feel safe and let their guard down. When it comes to matters of the heart and trusting someone with your emotions in a romantic way, it’s not just important it is critical.
From my twenties to my early forties I was in a marriage with a stranger for seventeen years. This reality finally set in on my fortieth birthday. We had been married for 17 years, had four children, and lived in four different homes together, yet it became so glaring how little he knew or cared to know about the most basic things that mattered to me. He started the evening with no plan for my birthday, anyone that knows me knows that I like to celebrate and be celebrated on my birthday. He had to ask me what cake I wanted as he walked into the store as we left our last-minute family dinner together. I don’t think that every man is required to know each detail about the woman they are with, but listening and paying attention to those things says a lot about who you value.
If the roles were reversed, the birthday plan would be set weeks before. He would have a low-key birthday at home with just me and the kids because he hates a celebration. I would have prepared a home-cooked meal of his favorite dishes and done myself up with a sexy outfit to make the occasion fancy and feel special. The evening would have ended with a carrot cake with cheesecake frosting and the playlist in the background would be 80’s rock. Every detail would be about him. I listened, paid attention, and cared about anything that was important to him. From the stats of his favorite NCAA team “Roll Tide” to the details of his body and face. I knew him because I thought I loved him and I wanted him to feel that love was solid and unconditional. In return, I was an afterthought who lived in his world. How can you feel safe enough to trust when there is nothing to hold and sustain that investment?
I walked out of that dynamic exhausted from feeling like I single-handedly worked on sustaining the emotional relationship. Like many single folks out there, I don’t want to jump back into marriage. Independence is present in my life, it’s also a source of my strength and resilience. I love the freedom of being able to dictate and determine what my home feels like. I want to maintain my free spirit to explore the world and create new experiences with and without someone. However, seventeen years of feeling lonely when you are with someone leaves a desire for companionship. That is where I sit today. I want a friend and companion.
Trust comes from friendship. You can’t be a friend to someone when every ounce of who you are is scrutinized for flaws. I was never able to just be me. My humor was off-putting, my desire to see the positive and focus on the good things was a threat to the pessimism and negativity, my free spirit was something to be controlled rather than embraced. I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. You aren’t in constant competition with a friend. Friendship is a partnership of respect and appreciation. I missed the opportunity to have a friend and partner for two decades of my life. I never thought I would have another chance to find it, but here I am searching once more. The difference is this time I know what I want and how it should feel.
Watching the reality show “Married at First Sight” led me to examine the impact of friendship as a building block for a strong future. The show brings the ancient ritual of matchmaking and arranged marriages into a twenty-first-century stage by intentionally creating experiences and moments to test the fortitude of five couples' ability to create a foundation for a lifetime of marriage in the span of 8 weeks. They are in a reality TV petri dish navigating a new relationship with a stranger. The couples that seem to be the strongest have friendships and through the friendships begin to trust each other. You can see how they see each other as people with admirable qualities and are willing to open up a little more each day because they trust in a friendship they are creating. At the same time, when the flaws surface and the challenges arise, the couples that put a friendship first are the ones that move through upsets with ease and find common grounds.
These days and due to the constraints of Covid, people are looking for companionship, casual friends, or love online. Finding someone on Hinge, OK Cupid, or Bumble is not remotely the same as having experts match you up to get married, but you are meeting a stranger that can potentially become more than that one day. How does a stranger move from “our paths would’ve never crossed if I didn't swipe left”, to holding a significant place in your life?
It starts with a friendship. It should be simple, but friendships don’t always come easily in romantic dynamics. We value our friends, we take care of their feelings, we care about their successes, and support them through the challenges. We make time for them when they need it, and we turn to them when we need it. If the friendship is strong and authentic, walls can come down because you know that the person you are with is looking out for your well-being and will take care of your heart as a friend because you and your feelings matter.
As simple as it seems, the barriers that can come between two people allowing a friendship to take root are real. We might overthink the dynamics we are in because they have labels, or need relationship labels. We could be fearful of vulnerability and opening ourselves up to hurt. It all makes the water murky and leaves uncertainty and disconnect where friendship could have bloomed.
For me it’s three basic things; see me, know me and value me. If those are present, we are friends and I can trust enough for the potential of more.
See me in my entirety. Naturally, that goes beyond the surface, but never underestimate a thoughtful compliment on appearance. Every woman and maybe man wants to know they are attractive to the person they are with. Hearing those words provides a sense of security and is affirming. See my efforts. I am a giver. I give my time, my advice, my services to the people I care for. A person who sees beyond their needs to notice what you need and your preferences is a genuine person to have in your corner. I may ask you about the things that matter from the mundane details of your jobs to the emotional relationships of your past because I actually care about it all. Recognize that effort is present when it is. Feeling invisible when you care for someone is a hard pill to swallow and leads to distrust and uncertainty. See the person and how they show up for you consistently.
Know and appreciate who I am. Knowing someone goes beyond the what to the why. It’s not just what I like it’s why that is important to me. Know that I overthink because I am a visionary and I see many angles of things, it’s an asset, not a liability. Know that I carry the world on my shoulders with grace and strength for most of my day and life, so when I let go and need to break down, it’s not a weakness. It's a vulnerability I am trusting you with. Know that I have knowledge about a lot of random things and absolutely no clue about things like electronics, pop culture, and cars. I am human and I can’t know it all, but I am always open to learning and it’s nice to rely on someone else for a change and not carry everything for everyone. Know the details of my body. When you share yourself with someone in the entirety, you are exposing yourself completely. Cherish the curves and moves of my body no one else has access to see and feel. Acknowledge the intentionality and time I put into being a mother with my children and recognize that it is not an easy road. Being able to know who someone is in their gifts, idiosyncrasies and flaws make them feel safe to be themselves. Know and appreciate that I am human.
Value me. We feel valued when we are told and shown that we are. When I am with you, value the time I have made to be there. We may both have our phones around, but our focus is on each other. You look at me when I speak and you hear what matters to me from my words and stories. You value the small gestures as much as the large ones and reciprocate with small and large gestures that show me I matter. Pick up the phone and facetime me in the evenings when my children are at home with me. Stay connected when we are apart. Knowing that someone has you in their thoughts can be settling and provide reassurance. Hold me and have a conversation when we wake up side by side. Value that you are laying next to me and have space in my life and heart. Above all, be consistent with those actions. When we feel valued, walls come down and we are able to show up authentically without reservation or fear of rejection. Value what you have when you have me.
There is a sense of freedom that comes over you when you feel safe enough to just be. You are no longer trying to fill expectations or fit a mold someone requires, you are safe to let go and lean into the friendship. When we harm or offend our friends, we reflect on our actions and own our behaviors. That is no different than how we need to treat someone with whom we are romantically involved with. If they have made time for you, they need to feel you value that effort and opportunity to get to know you more. That is what we do for our friends that solidifies trust and creates a safe space to lean into something and someone new.
I am starting to understand better what I want a companionship to feel like so that I can trust in it enough to invest myself and share the parts of me that allow me to show up authentically without games or restrictions. I will be a friend and expect it in return.
If you have a person that makes you smile, knows how to get a laugh out of you up close or from afar, can go deep into complex topics or keep it light with wit and holds your attention, then focus on being their genuine friend. See them, treat them with respect and courtesy, and value who they are.
Without friendship, the dynamic is just a benefit, and these days benefits are easy to come by. Friendships are rare and require more effort but the payoff is worth the time if you value whom you have in front of you.