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We met a couple at a dinner party about a year ago, and the four of us instantly hit it off. We were similar enough, yet different enough, that there was great potential for that most elusive of adult relationships -- a new "couple friendship." That's when two couples become friendly not just because there happens to be a work connection, a kid connection, or a friendship between half the couples into which their spouses are dragged kicking and screaming. I'm talking about a real emotional rectangle where all four people actually become instant friends.
A year later, I still think we are truly couple compatible. But there's a roadblock, and I have a pretty good idea what it is.
My wife and I are weird.
Lovably weird, I hope, but still weird, and in a very specific, socially challenged way. In a gender role reversal that may not seem like a big deal but actually is, I am the social director in our marriage. I am the one more motivated to make plans, keep plans, and make follow-up plans. I am, okay, the wife, and Diane is the husband, who can be counted upon when asked to commit to an outing to sigh, "Okay, if we must."
So, in our 20 years together, I've had a lot of discussions that go like this:
Me to another husband: "The four of us ought to get together for dinner sometime soon."
"Okay, I'll have my wife call Diane."
"Um, well, maybe you better have your wife call me."
By the way, I'm not trying to suggest that my wife is antisocial. Quite the opposite. Anyone who knows us will tell you Diane is much more charming than I am and infinitely more interesting. Not only is she an ideal guest, but she gives great thank-you note and even greater handwritten acceptance note, treating even the most casual get-together as though we've been invited to the White House. But until we actually leave the house to go see other people, getting her to commit to socializing can be a struggle.
Sometimes she doesn't want to tear herself away from her writing; sometimes her health problems keep her from wanting to stray too far from home. And she also resists surrendering all the time required to prepare for nights out, which I understand. For me, it takes about 20 minutes, from the start of my shower to the last slouching look in the mirror. For her...well, let's just say this is the one aspect of socializing where she is still very much the wife.
So, you can see the problem. Think of the sheer amount of time and energy all wives need to prepare themselves -- shower, hair, makeup, dress, re-dress, ask how she looks, ignore the answer, go re-dress again, and then enter into a round of accessorizing before a period of self-hypnosis to get to her "happy place." If the wife wasn't the driving force in making the plans, what would keep her going through these arduous rituals, once used only to prepare Egyptian queens for burial?
While there are times I wish Diane would take the lead in our social life, I might have a hard time relinquishing the job. It's a position I've held since teen-hood, when my house was always the one where people congregated (perhaps because we got cable early, and my mom had developed a technique of refrigerator stocking that allowed her to double the snack capacity of each shelf). If I had my way, the home Diane and I live in (and work in) would be a similar kind of adult clubhouse, but it hasn't worked out that way -- which represents, I think, one of the few clear and recognizable compromises I made for love.
Still, I do realize that guys aren't always well suited to be family social directors. While Diane and I both treasure the integral role our couple friendships play in our marriage -- and in some cases, we rely on them more than on family -- I'm much more openly emotional and downright competitive when it comes to their care and feeding. I'm one of those people who treat every friendship with the same intensity that I did when I was a teenager. There's a joke that adulthood is just high school with money, but it's also high school without free time. Many of the friend issues you have in high school get confronted and resolved simply because you see everyone so often. Once you reach the grown-up world of work and family schedules, it's hard to block out the time to nurture a full-fledged friendship. Diane can accept this; I don't want to accept this. It's been especially challenging during the past few years, since most of our friends have kids and we don't. While I know it's stupid to feel this way, I sometimes worry I'm losing the competition for our favorite couples' time to a new group of interlopers, these neighborhood kid-and-carpool buddies.
When I'm feeling friendship-deprived, I take solace by looking through our bowling pictures. Early in our marriage, I decided to find the easiest, cheapest, and least-stressful way to get our closest couple friends together in one place. So we became the first adults ever to rent out the kids' party room at a local bowling alley, where we had pizza and beer and wine served in kiddie party cups. Then we bowled -- pretty badly -- and ended the night with a goofy group photo.
That was 17 years ago, and now these annual bowling photos are a slide show chronicling the sagas of our major couple friendships. There are two longtime friends who were on hiatus from my life when the parties began but are now back. While their first marriages didn't click with mine (okay, one wife had me thrown out of the wedding party) they show up pictured with their new spouses, with whom we'll all live happily ever after. But miraculously, our core group has been bowling and talking together once a year since "Love Shack" was blaring on the sound system. In fact, this year we all got so involved in conversation and catching up that, for the first time, we actually forgot to bowl. Several hours later we looked up, saw that our lanes had been given away and decided we didn't really care. We had spent the time doing something much more important.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2006.