Bruce Sallan: Couples need couples
A Dad’s Point of View column by Bruce Sallan
While on a recent vacation, my wife and I had a stimulating discussion with friends about friends. We were enjoying a meal with two other couples and one of the men asked the question, “Have you found many couples that you are friends with and, if so, how have you met them?”
What followed was a spirited discussion about friends-same sex friends, friends as couples, and opposite sex friends, when you’re married (or monogamously involved). The conclusion was that it is not simple.
As we were on a trip hosted by Dennis Prager (radio talk-show host, writer, and lecturer), I found myself immediately paraphrasing him because he’s often discussed this issue. He said that for two couples to be friends, a number of relationships have to be in place. Each man must like the other man; each woman must like the other woman, and the same for the opposite gender in each couple. If any one of those relationships doesn’t work, the friendship of the two couples is in jeopardy.
We began despairing over the difficulties of finding good couple friends. One of the couples that had been married for 47 years related that their friendships with other couples changed over time. When one of them didn’t truly like one of the other people in a couple, that friendship was ultimately doomed or, at best, marginalized.
Several of us were in second marriages, and we all had the same surprising experience of what happened to our friends from our first marriages. Everyone at the table had suffered the same thing-that most of their friends vanished as a result of their divorces. Only those same sex friends that existed prior to the marriages were likely to remain friends. My wife and I had exactly this experience and over the years that we were single again, we each built up a new group of friends.
Now remarried, the challenge has become to integrate those friends into our new married life and we’ve found somewhat difficult. My wife’s friends were mostly single women without children while my friends were mostly men in marriages with children.
We’re again facing the struggle of finding and nurturing new relationships. And, like most things in life, one gets what one put out. Since my wife and I have found ourselves increasingly busy, we’ve not put in much effort to nurture new friendships. We’ve met each other’s friends and some have made their way into our lives, but many have not. As Dennis says, he’s got to like the other husband, she’s got to like the other wife, and so on, meaning you have to have eight relationships to work for two couples to get along. Not that simple, is it – think about it.
Also, as my wife didn’t have children before becoming a stepparent to my children, her friends more often than not also didn’t have children. That is a defining difference with couples. No, it’s not wise to only talk about your children, but it’s inevitable that you will, to some degree.
My best friend and his wife make their primary friendships with other parents when his three children were young. For this friend and his wife, these friendships sprang from relationships developed at their synagogue and their children’s schools. With my children now older, the connection to their schools is practically nil, and my wife and I don’t share the same faith so our religious affiliations are also different. Consequently, those avenues are not available to us.
Ironically, there is a couple that we’ve started to become friends with via the same sort of connection that my best friend had when his kids were younger. My older son has a girlfriend and for “young love” it seems to be a very enduring and a good relationship. Her parents live nearby; we both are concerned about issues that they may have (e.g. intimacy at this age) so we share similar interests plus, of course, we’re geographically compatible. They are likely candidate to fulfill our couples’ friendship vacuum.
We also have the added hurdle of a second marriage and the previously mentioned loss of friends that occurred to both of us during our respective divorces. Ironically, I began this column quoting a discussion that took place on a trip hosted by Dennis Prager. The friends we made on that trip were perfect for us because we shared similar values and interests. The frustration was that only one of those couples lives nearby. The other two couples we befriended live out-of-state.
We finally got together with that one local couple after several failed attempts due to mutual scheduling conflicts. I hope that friendship develops. But, it’s very clear to me that developing new friends in our “middle aged” second marriage status is a challenge. And, we also acknowledge that we haven’t put enough of an effort into it yet. I’m counting on my wife to take care of this, and she’s counting on me. Checkmate.