It’s popular now to say “I married my best friend.”
The sage advice from old married couples, the recommendations of people who have experienced divorce, the ambition of young lovers is always “marry your best friend.”
Follow that advice, and you can make some early assumptions that preclude all the rest:
- This person genuinely likes you and wants to be around you.
- This person is willing to be vulnerable and trust you with their vulnerability.
- You can be vulnerable and they can be trusted with yours.
- You can cheat on the golf course and they'll still love you.
Best friendness does not, however, make you lucky.
Last week I had some skin cancer removed from my forehead. It was benign, basal cell carcinoma, the result of a childhood spent on the pool deck. The effect, though, was to completely deflate me. Just holding the mirror up to my face with that open, gaping wound, was enough to terrify me.
Bandaged up and healing, medicated and muddling through, I put on a brave face for days. Admittedly there was some binge watching and frozen vegetable face packs but mostly I took it like a champ.
Then Saturday night we all crawled into Hollie’s bed to snuggle like we do sometimes and she raised her head to nuzzle my chin and caught my bandage with a head butt. The pain was excruciating. I made a quiet escape and staggered down the stairs, tears pouring down my face. When Charlie joined me, the vulnerability between us swelled in the room.
Me for my open expression of pain and him for his stunned helplessness.
In fifteen years, we’ve only rarely been in similar circumstances. Our vulnerability usually looks like this:
Partner 1: Oh shit.
Partner 2: What are we going to do?
Partner 1: We'll figure this out.
We’ve been lucky. Really, really lucky.
So far we haven’t had the kind of medical issue that makes us worry what life will be like without the other. We haven’t had military service to separate us for long periods of time or financial devastation to require liquidation of assets. Our kid is healthy and happy.
We’ve been lucky. So maybe it’s not so hard to survive 15 years with your best friend in pretty much ideal conditions. But marriage is hard. The people who tell you it’s not are the same assholes that say tattoos don’t hurt. Do not trust those people.
Still, when you marry your best friend the hard is different.
It’s hard to remember that this is, in fact, a marriage. As such it requires certain things to maintain it. It requires all the stuff First Corinthians tells us: patience, kindness, no pride, no boasting, no envying. It requires all the stuff financial advisors tell us: a legal will, financial goals, a vision for retirement, a savings plan.
Hard when you’re married to your best friend is remembering that there’s work to be done. It’s not all a Wednesday on the golf course. Sometimes it’s going to work on a Saturday when the other is heading out for a Clemson game.
Hard when you’re married to your best friend is getting out of the comfortable habits of pajama pants and video games and challenging yourselves and each other to try new things, meet different people, grow your relationship. Maybe go to Five Points.
Marrying your best friend does not guarantee that you can handle crises together, you can weather presidential politics together, you can objectively evaluate Fox News as the Dark Side together, or that you can parent together.
Best friendness does not provide immunity from the shit life throws at you like a monkey in a cage. But it does improve your odds.
Thanks for 15 of the luckiest years on record, Charlie Whitener. Here’s to 15 more.