I’d just returned from New Orleans with a woman I’d been dating when she promptly informed me: “I can’t see you any longer.”
Thoughts pinballing, I tried to recall anything noxious that might have occurred. “Why?” I asked.
She shook her head slowly and said in a sad voice: “Because I’m having too much fun.”
Too much fun? What reason was that for dismantling a friendship?
“You’re the one I want,” she explained. “Sex is great. Spending time together is amazing. But since you’re not ready to settle down, being with you keeps me from finding someone who is.”
Throwing away friends! I couldn’t grasp the concept. While she pursued Mr. Right, I was glad to stay her friend—someone she could confide in, someone she could call late at night, someone she could have sex with, someone who would cut her grass. But she said she couldn’t do both. Having a friend impeded her objective. She wanted to go steady, agree to exclusivity, get engaged, and quickly get married. For her, hopping aboard the relationship escalator was more important than keeping a friend.
As the same time, I was dating Debbie. I knew her and liked her. But having just come out of a seventeen-year marriage, I wasn’t any more interested in “settling down” with her than I was with anyone else. Debbie, however, understood friendship. When I told her about the woman who couldn’t see me anymore, she said that regardless of what I eventually choose to do, she sensed we’d always be friends. She encouraged me to date as many people as I liked, not only to figure out what I wanted but to enjoy every day of my life.
Like the woman I’d taken to New Orleans, other women I was dating began pulling away, informing me that my befriending two or more persons at once was no longer acceptable. “I know I said it was fine at first,” they echoed, “but I’m ready for a relationship.” At the same time, Debbie was saying: “I love our friendship. I want you to do whatever you want.” I remember hanging up after one such exchange, staring at the phone, thinking: What was that? Everyone else wants to tie me down. Debbie wants to set me free!
I began to understand that friendship—true, deep, heart-connected friendship—is at the apex of the relationship pyramid—not marriage, which far too often ends in unpleasantness. Friendship is the thing that everybody strives for. Debbie and I never went steady, never got engaged, and never get married by mutual agreement. In place of all that, we decided to just have fun. That was years ago. Today, we’re life partners, building partners, romantic partners, and the best of friends without having set foot on the relationship escalator.
A young friend recently asked when you should move from a friendship to a relationship. “Never!” I said. “Friendship’s the best there is.”