Worried you don’t have enough “Dating Experience” to bring to your love life? Well, “Dating Experience” is totally overrated. Instead, work hard on your Dearest Friendships! Here’s why……
When I was 20, I went on a road-trip with one of my lifetime BFF’s. We were both dealing with some major trauma in our lives. Still missing the pre-frontal cortex we’d use to cope with our emotions when we turned 25, we instead went on an epic road trip to escape our troubles.
On this trip, we entertained ourselves by singing to the tune of rattling pans, evaded at least one traffic ticket, drove for several hours without pants through the burning desert, and learned to successfully pee on the ground, not on ourselves (…..a skill all women must learn to develop).
Looking back on this memory, years later, I know this: Were it not for my dearest friendships, I wouldn’t have developed the interpersonal, life skills I now bring to my romantic relationships.
Here’s what I mean.
1. You learn to work through major conflicts with your best friend….. and stay friends. This same skill will make or break your romance.
Five hours into our road trip, L and I pulled into a gas station to refill the tank. She swung open the gas cap and paused. We stared at each other. Who was paying? Being aforementioned carefree college students without the foresight of experience, we hadn’t thought to discuss this in advance. On one hand, I’d purchased a plane ticket in order to help her drive her car out and back from the Southwest. On the other hand, it was her car.
It was a tense moment.
The reality of the empty tank in our faces, we had to talk through this. Knowing we were at the start of our epic trip, together, we had to find an agreement we were BOTH happy with. One person’s unhappiness would easily taint the next 70 hours.
There could be no bullying, no personal attacks like “You need to learn how to _________!” or refusals to listen. Steamrolling over the other’s opinion with our own would not serve either of us.
To work through this, we had to collaborate on a solution: not just express ourselves…… but listen, empathize, and respond to each other.
There’s a saying that criticizes people who don’t know how to “fight clean” with loved ones, but bend over backwards to please others outside of these relationships: “Angel in the street, Devil in the house.” Learning to work through conflicts in a loving, empathetic manner with your BFF’s will have people saying about you, “Angel in the street, Lover in the house.”
2. In your dear friendships, you learn to know someone DEEPLY, like REALLY deeply….. both in words AND actions. In romance, you will learn to know someone just as deeply, if not moreso.
Setting aside the road trip, here’s some real talk about some of my dearest friends in general. Some conversations we have include:
~ Asking each other for help: “Do you have any recommendations on books I can read so I can become a better communicator?” “What do you think I should say to _______?”
~ Calling to check in about major, important events: “I know your Mom is sick……. how is she doing? How are YOU doing?”
~ Honest, kind expression of our positive AND negative feelings towards each other, and other Life Things: “Elisa, I’m feeling bummed because I’m feeling a little guilt-tripped by your email,” a friend recently wrote me.
~ The details of the last fight we had with our lovers, and ALLLL the perspectives and approaches that one could take in it.
Some actions we take are:
~ Protecting each other from an ex at a bar, 10 years after the break-up (Hint: Apparently, it involves helping a BF hide in a corner)
~ The protective grilling that comes when one of us starts dating someone new…… and the subsequent evaluation. My BF’s “I like him so much!” is going to take my new relationship much, much further than a lukewarm, “He’s alright.”
~ Taking care of each other: Riding a bus several hours south for a visit, wading through a flood to meet someone at a train station, or looking out for each other when we’re unwell……. in my most recent visit to my friend L, she was sick while hosting me,
and yet offered to cook me several meals because I’d gotten sick, too.
3. Your BF teaches you to make important decisions with someone else. When you are in a relationship, you must learn to make equitable, kind Joint Decisions alllll the time.
Broke-ass college students on a road trip, L. and I had to make several important decisions together. Especially when one of us starting randomly vomiting for two days straight, and one of us broke our toe. We had to negotiate: What route should we change when someone started puking? Did we have enough money to take an extra day on the road? If we went to the hospital, what pitstop should we cut out?
Off the road, my friends and I check in about choices we know will impact each other:
~ “Is it okay if I invite two friends along on our beach trip, or would you prefer one-on-one time?”
~ “I am sorry that I’m going to be late to dinner tonight….. would you like to reschedule, or do you mind waiting?”
When you’re making choices whilst single, you (generally) can do whatever the hell you want without worrying about dragging people into your mistakes.
When you’re with someone you care about, you learn to make sure your actions also suit what THEY want. You learn that your choices aren’t just about YOU.
Learn to make joint decisions with your Best Friends, and you’ll be able to do this successfully with your Partner.
4. Your Best Friend teaches you it is OK to be YOU. Being Ourselves (and Seeing Ourselves) are the hardest parts of entering a new relationship.
A breakthrough moment of my life as a young’un was when my dear, dear friend A.M. told me this:
“You’re controlling, but it’s not like it was ever a problem to me.”
I was shocked! A.M, like my dear friends did, often had the nerve to see past the image I wanted to project…….. including but not limited to who I had crushes on and when I was upset (both of which I usually denied, even to myself).
And now, she had the audacity to use a descriptor (“controlling”) that I had never used to describe myself. Shouldn’t people only see what I wanted them to see? Shouldn’t I get 100% control of my public image?
Well, maybe I “should”…… but the reality is, none of us get to control what other people think of us.
So with friends like A.M, what were my options?
(A) Ditch all of my closest friends and surround myself with “friends” who spouted only happy platitudes and flattery at me. OR, forcefully deny anything remotely negative people said about me: “I’m not controlling! I’m not awkward! I’m not selfish!” and assume that will change their minds.
(B) Learn to accept and work with other people’s perspectives of me. Even use them to grow more self-aware, and thus considerate, of others.
My best friends make it possible to choose (B). They lovingly show me what I need to know about myself, telling me when I am being wack, selfish, hypocritical, or controlling; thoughtful, (overly) giving, resilient, kind, and considerate.
They encourage me to work on my flawed self by bravely opening up their own journeys to scrutiny. “I knew I was co-dependent and I wanted to change that.”
They ask Tough Questions of me and themselves: “Elisa, I think the choices you’re making are interesting because…….”
They show me it’s okay to flounder, because they will always listen…… and then ask ten more questions to prove that they care.
Through the positive and negative comments, I know my Dearest Friends have my back. Their implicit trust and acceptance gives me the courage to acknowledge when I am being “controlling” — because I know that I will still be loved when I am that, and when I am lots of other things as well.
I take this courage with me into my relationships, this willingness to hear other people’s reflections of me without “taking it all personally,” because I know my friends will stick with me as I grow. I can bravely exist in romance, because my friendships show me the depth of being loved for who I am; an infinite Work-in-Progress.
So I travel these roads with my loved ones, through the twists, turns, and potholes. I know when we get to the end of the trip, we’ll all look back and say, “That was a lot of fun. And it was more fun because we went on that journey, together.”