After a slew of difficult conversations with her newlywed husband, one of my dearest friends L called me in a panic last night. Her voice was stuffy and brittle and though I’ve only seen her face-to-face once in the past year, I could imagine her scrunched face and droopy eyes. I’ve always thought her to be one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever known, but she’s no chameleon – whatever she’s feeling, she wears it.
Hearing her strain to explain her frustration, I played the part of the level-headed friend who is there for her bestie when she needs her. I can’t say I approve of her husband – they met right when I moved to New York and married less than a year later. She seemed happy while they were dating and always gushing over him. When I finally was introduced to him, he was pleasant and attractive enough. Though he isn’t my type, he seemed as if he adored her and without any reservations from her end, I had no choice but to wish them well.
While the relationship is solid, life around it is affecting them. They did a lot of things at once – they said their “I do’s”, moved across the state, both started looking for jobs, and signed the lease on their first apartment. With all of these changes, it’s normal that their marriage is under stress and because of that, they’re having to figure out how to communicate with one another. You’d think the whole “talking” to your partner thing would be the easiest of all – we all have friendships where we blabber beyond end without thinking twice. Conversation comes casually and naturally and it’s something we take for granted – we’ve always been able to talk to everyone in our lives, so why are men so difficult to talk to?
It’s not they are – it’s that everything seems emotionally-connected to the relationship that any words they say (or don’t say) mean more than anything else. Like one afternoon your boyfriend is super talkative and flirty, affectionately touching you and saying the sorts of things you only hear in rom-coms and then that night, he’s a little moody and sensitive, requesting a bit of space and some time apart. Or you mistakenly set your alarm for early in the morning and it goes off, waking up your partner when it’s their only morning to sleep in the entire week. Annoyed and a little drowsy, they snap at you and roll over, breaking that peaceful nook that is impossible to replace with any “boyfriend pillow” regardless of what wonky promises infomercial make. Or after spending countless nights together, the need for a night alone outweighs that pretty little nook.
I’m not an expert at this – Mr. P can definitely testify to that. He has a tendency to slide open his other girlfriend, his Blackberry, when he can’t sleep. Having read dozens of articles about how that light is particularly harmful to your eyes when you’re trying to fall asleep, it not only keeps me awake, but I know it’s not going to make his arrival in dreamland any sooner. Instead of saying this maturely or making a joke out of it, cranky-me huffs-and-puffs and makes a silly comment, only causing him to sigh heavily – obviously annoyed. These sorts of things – like asking for room so the heart can grow fonder or a guy’s need to veg – I’ve learned how to handle better and more effectively by adopting one single phrase into my vocabulary:
What would I do if we were just friends?
Say the same situation happened while having a girl’s night with my friends. We’re all sharing a Queen or a blowup mattress and one of us can’t sleep so she pulls out her phone to Facebook or check Gmail (though it takes forever to load) – what would I say to her? I’d probably toss a pillow at her and giggle, say something about the guy she flirted with that night and tell her to play a little harder to get. She’d probably throw some playful profanity my way and shut down the phone and fall asleep. And if we woke up to the sound of someone’s alarm clock going off randomly, it wouldn’t cause an argument if we were disgruntled, it’d just be something we’d laugh about over coffee and pancakes at the diner in the morning.
These sorts of irritations and miscommunications happen all the time – but they only seem to matter when they involve someone we’re in love with. But maybe if we approached our partner as a friend, not as this loverboy who holds our band-aided heart in his hands, we’d avoid a lot of arguments. We’d be a little more understanding, lighthearted and relaxed about our relationships. We’d forgive each other easier, treat one another how we would a best friend, and stop thinking that because your guy is a guy, his reactions mean more. As far as I can tell from my own relationships, the best thing you could ever give a man is breathing room. And to you know, treat him like a dude or how you would your own friend.
Because if your boyfriend isn’t someone you’d pick as a friend if you weren’t sleeping with them or in love – then you have no business being with them to begin with. And if you can’t give your guy a break or learn how to listen more than you jump to conclusions – then maybe you’re not ready to be a girlfriend or wife. Those seem like alluring titles when you really want someone to call you yours, but once you have them – you’ve gotta remember that they take a lot of work. And that same patience you’d give your freaking-out-friend on a Sunday evening.
In fact – that same patience times a hundred. Or so.