Well as I have mentioned here before, I absolutely devour any article I can find on relationships. No matter how cheesy the article, or how potentially dubious the source, it is almost as if I cannot help myself: I have to read the article, and analyse what it is saying, to see whether or not I agree with its viewpoint, or what it might add to my current understanding.
On the whole most of these articles seem to me to be so simplistic. “5 easy rules….” Seriously, a whole five rules?! I’ve got an entire blog of thoughts – and growing! I guess though that there is of course something to be said for simplicity, especially when compared to my posts, many of which (like this one!) are over a thousand words long – in fact, this post has almost 2500 words!
So I was reading one of the relationship articles recently, “5 ways to know if you’re marrying the wrong person”. Most of it was quite straightforward, but there was one of the points listed that made me pause for thought. Apparently one of the ways to know that you’re marrying the wrong person is “if they are not your friend”. I myself have written so many times about the importance of building friendship into a marriage. And yet I found myself wondering: “How do I know whether or not he is my friend?” As I write this now, it seems clear that what people mean when they say this is that there should be basic compatibility between the two of you; you should like the same things to a certain degree, you should be able to talk about things, you should genuinely care for one another.
However, this is my big challenge, as always. When you are strongly attracted to someone, and you have started dating them, then will you not emulate all of these things while you are dating, even if it is not fully sincere? Will you not talk endlessly about things, demonstrate care, concern and generosity for and to one another? Will you not go out of your way to support his interests, as he too will go out of his way to support your own? So how then would you know that there is indeed genuine friendship between the two of you? Is this something that can only reasonably come to light after you go ahead to get married, when you discover to your mutual disappointment that actually, you don’t particularly like one another as much as you should or you really can’t bring yourself to be bothered about his interests, as he can’t quite move himself to care enough about you; you manage at best to tolerate one another?
And then you get situations when people evaluate their own marriages from hindsight, and say:
“I did not marry my friend”. I always silently think to myself:
“Well obviously you were friendly enough during dating and courtship!”
Well then, how would I know while I am actually in that dating situation, with all the friendliness and tenderness and talking and sharing of activities, that actually, this guy is not truly my friend?
I guess that another way of looking at it is that the attraction that would lead you to date someone by itself provides a kind of energy to sustain friendly behaviour while you’re dating. This is often enough to deceive the two people in a relationship that they truly are the best of friends.
I usually “hammer” on character here on this blog. Well I was just thinking to myself that even if you do marry someone with phenomenal character, (even) that might not be able to compensate for a lack of true friendship between you. That said, it will obviously be easier to be friendly with someone who does genuinely have excellent character.
This is what I’m thinking. Here’s a big surprise – not! I’m thinking that once again, the answer lies in getting to know someone very well before embarking upon a relationship with them. I’m thinking that the strong feelings that you experience during attraction and dating, simply cannot be trusted to represent true friendship. I’m thinking that the “friendship” that results from the energy that is fuelled by attraction, will simply disintegrate if it is not based on a real grounding of understanding one another and having a basic compatibility with one another. And yet at the time, it feels so real!
Some people will get lucky. They will fall passionately for one another, and then they will happily discover that they genuinely do have necessary compatibility and authentic friendship between one another. For most of us though, things will not be that easy.
So ultimately I would say that, instead of trusting the feelings of friendship that come with attraction, determine true friendship first, in the absence of feelings. These are a few questions that occur to me now: “Even if we were not going out, would we still care deeply about one another? Would we still be able to talk? Would I still listen to what he is saying? Would he still make me laugh?” And the unavoidable fact is that this takes time. It takes time to truly know whether you like someone, or whether you think that “they are not serious”, as we Nigerians says. It takes time to know whether someone is filled with common-sense, or whether, as we Nigerians say “they are not serious”. It takes time to know whether they truly provoke in you thoughts of care and compassion, or whether, on thinking of them, you can only think “they are not serious”, as we Nigerians say. As you can see, we Nigerians use this phrase for everything! Yes, I’m a Christian, yes, I’m supposed to care about everyone, and yes, I do invest myself into this, but frankly, the mere thought of some people just irritates me. And yet often, on first meeting these people, I am so excited and I think that they are great.
Alongside consideration of friendship, I think that another important question to resolve is whether the two of you are truly moving in the same direction, and moving there in the same way. This is harder to determine. As I write this, I honestly don’t know how you could decisively answer this question as “yes” or “no”. That is because I feel it is something that requires phenomenal self-awareness from each party, and also phenomenal honesty, if you were to discuss it with a potential spouse. I just don’t think that most of us, myself included, can truly see or understand ourselves that clearly to be able to assess whether we could truly mesh with someone else, even if we were sincerely the best of friends. The only reliable solution I can think of is to truly know someone, inside out. Not to merely discuss with someone, but to see them, observe them day in, day out. I often think that this is one of the issues with modern relationships, that people of 300 years ago and earlier would not have had to deal with. Back in those earlier days, you grew up in smaller communities, everyone literally knew everyone else; for most people you would literally grow up alongside potential spouses in the same community, so you would have had a lifetime to get to know one another, to realise that for some reason you just quite liked being around this person, or you had an affinity for their approach to life. This would have been the same pretty much all over the world. You would also have had a good few years to build a real friendship, to fall out countless times, go possibly years without talking, eventually forgive one another…and then (much to no-one’s surprise!) suddenly start realising that he’s kinda cute, or perceiving new, dangerous and unexpected depths to his smile!
24 A man who has friends must himself be friendly,[a]
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.