I had an epiphany a few months ago, but in order to give it context, I need to tell you a story.
It’s a story that few people know — not because it’s a secret, it simply doesn’t come up in conversation very often.
Once Upon a Time…
I married my best friend.
Yes, I was married once, a long-long time ago, and since it was only the case for less than 5% of my life, it rarely comes up.
The thing is, I married someone I trusted. We were a team.
Many of our circumstances changed after the wedding. One of us graduated, we moved to be closer to their new job, the other transferred schools, got a new job, new city, new expenses, new acquaintances,… but that was all ok, because we had our team.
One thing that many of my friends know is that I’ve moved a lot over my lifetime.
Starting over in a new place really isn’t an unfamiliar thing for me. You discover new hangouts, meet new people, discern the difference between those who will become friends and those who simply enjoy the newness of you, or view you as a source of entertainment — and the same goes for you and how you view the new people in your life. As long as you have a good handle on who you are, what you’re made of, where your boundaries are, etc., all of this can be a breathtakingly awesome experience.
I also happen to be incredibly realistic.
A lot of this comes from growing up in a body that is prone to pain. You have to learn at a very early age to weigh the very real consequences to each and every decision you make.
Each and every thing you decide you want to do, or not do, comes with consequences.
So, when I say, “I know what the next few years are going to be like, and it’s going to be painful, frustrating, and not a lot of fun… but it’ll totally be worth it,” I truly mean that I know how much my bones are going to ache, how tired I’ll be every morning, how cranky I’ll be when I forget to eat — which will happen a few times a week because I’m too busy too keep track, how tight and stressful money is going to be for a certain period of time, and how irritating it’s going to be having someone talk at me when I haven’t gotten enough sleep… but they live there, too, and it’s part of the package.
I wasn’t naïve about what I was walking into, but I sometimes take for granted that not all people think about things realistically.
I also take for granted that many people are still desperately trying to fit in, wherever they are.
Not Villains, but Not Friends
Now, my new acquaintances didn’t know me very well, and didn’t know my partner at all, so when they made comments (which they did), I knew better than to give them any weight. I knew myself and I knew my partner better than anyone in our lives at the time, and I trusted him to have my back in the same way. He was my best friend, after all.
To be fair, some of our friends didn’t entirely want us to get together either, but that had more to do with being afraid that their relationships with us would change, and they were more afraid of something changing than they were supportive of their friend’s happiness. This is something I’ve seen many, many times since, and it’s worth noting who in your life claims to be looking after your best interests, but is really more concerned with their own comfort levels or fear of change. I’ve seen this sort of thing dissolve relationships that were truly good matches, too.
Enter: the new coworkers.
A delightful conglomeration of bitter divorcees who were convinced that I must have ulterior motives for marrying this man. Ignoring the fact that I stood to earn nearly twice what he made upon graduation, they were convinced I was after his money (among other notions — but this is the one that made the rounds most often).
In my mind, this bitter suspicion that the new coworkers held toward just about everyone’s wife shouldn’t have mattered. They didn’t know him, or me, and had nothing factual to base this opinion on… they were just angry and hoping for a little confirmation to justify their bitterness.
However, my best friend decided to take their delusions to heart.
In effect, he decided that he trusted their judgment over what he knew.
He decided that he didn’t trust me.
And to be honest, that decision hurt way more than any of the other things he did after that point.
This is not the only time this sort of scenario has played out over the past 20 years, either.
Thoughts on Trust
Trust, for me, is paramount to anything else. If I can’t trust someone, I’ve got nothing else for them. It’s essential.
Trust also has many facets. It’s not just about belief, it’s also about respect and granting someone the benefit of the doubt.
For instance, if I understand the way your brain works and respect you as an intelligent, discerning person, even when we disagree about something, I’m not going to dismiss your point of view or opinion as nonsense or ignorant. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and try to understand how you came to your conclusion, because I trust you. I trust that you’re not an idiot, I trust that you’re not so reactionary that you can’t think through something, I trust that you’re not too self-absorbed to see your own flaws, I trust that you’re actually striving to grow and understand things around you… not just looking to confirm some pre-conceived notions, I trust that you’re secure enough to change your mind if you discover that something else makes more sense, and I trust that you trust me in the same ways, too.
- This means we get to talk about everything, because neither of us are going to be dismissive to the other.
- This also means that we respect each other enough to have discussions, not fights. Fights tend to stem from a lack of trust or respect for one another.
- This means that when we screw up (and we will), we’re not afraid to come to the other and say so, because it happens… and we trust that it wasn’t intentional.
- This means when one or the other is stressed or otherwise having a rough moment, day, week, month, etc., we do our best not to take it personally, because we trust that they’re not a hurtful person, that they’re still on the team, but may need a little extra understanding and support… ‘cause sometimes, it’s not about us.
- This means that we consider each other in the decisions we make, and strive never to harm the other with those decisions — knowing that from time to time, we may… but again, trusting that it wasn’t intentional and giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
Trust is essential.
Choose who you trust very carefully.
Given all of the betrayals of trust over the years, I’ve come to expect them.
I don’t care for this resignation.
I also don’t intend to nurture it and give it weight.
Until recently, I didn’t even realize it had taken up root.
It bothers me that after 40 years on this planet, I can only point to one instance — relationship-wise — and honestly say “this is an honorable man, both during and at the conclusion of our relationship, and I have nothing but good things to say about him.” I’m quite grateful for that particular experience, because it reminded me that it was possible, that there were still people who would conduct themselves honorably. I only wish I could point to more than one experience.
To be honorable doesn’t mean to be perfect, either — that’s neither definable nor achievable, but it relies heavily on trusting and respecting one another.
So, What Now?
Do I think that getting romantically involved with my best friend was a terrible mistake? No, not in theory. 20 years ago, it didn’t turn out real well, but I learned a lot from the experience.
I still have lots of acquaintances and many friends, but I’m very selective when it comes to taking the time to build a trusting relationship, and I absolutely cherish those like no other.
I also don’t think I’d ever be interested in a romantic relationship with anyone who wasn’t my best friend. Someone I trust, respect, admire, am willing to learn from, and who — likewise — trusts, respects, admires, and is willing to learn from me.
Yes, it raises the stakes quite a bit, because you’re no longer using ‘dating’ as a way of getting to know someone (then, by the time you figure out whether or not they’re someone you’d want to be tangled up with… you’re already tangled up), but you’re saying “yeah, I know who you are and what you’re made of, so I already know you’re someone I want to be tangled up with.” While this can be really scary, it also means that you’ve taken the time to develop a trusting relationship with each other, and I’d like to think that maybe (just maybe) this also means that you already care enough about each other to be kind and honorable to one another from the get-go.
I won’t let the assumption of inevitable betrayal settle in, because I don’t think it’s inevitable.
And yes, I’m still learning how to ensure that my actions don’t lead anyone to believe I’d betray their trust, because I couldn’t do that. It’s not who I am.
I am, however, a work in progress.
We all are.
My hope is that we keep working on it.