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Friends First

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 1.46.46 PMA first date recently asked me if my take on dating had changed after driving around the country to go on a first date in every state. We were sitting at the lake, drinking coffee and eating bagels on a weekday morning. I stared at the coots ducking into the water like miniature dolphins before answering. It was a really smart question, and not one dates ever asked.

“You know, I don’t think so,” I finally said.

He was surprised by this news. But in thinking about it, I’m not surprised at all. While I believe there is a lot daters as a group could do better, I don’t think my take on dating is any different than it was. But I’m also not sure I’ve ever emphasized my take on dating.

Let me illustrate with a story:

Years ago, on my second date with K, we were slated to go to the beach so he could surf and I could lesson plan for a class I was teaching. It was a weekday, and he’d had to go into work that morning for a meeting. We got in his camel colored truck, put Cute is What We Aim For on the iPod, and basked in the privilege that is the second week of January in Northern California (there is always a warm spell, followed by actual winter).  Halfway to Stinson, K off-handedly mentioned he’d been laid off that morning.

I was stunned. He’d seemed, and continued to seem, fine. We talked about how he’d had to text his best friend the news because Saul had missed the meeting. We talked about his last day. The severance package. If he was going to take classes the coming quarter. And then as planned, he hit the ocean and I worked. I have a photo of us from that day, grinning, wind-whipped, and pink-cheeked from the sun.

We got back to his house and he invited me in for tea. All of a sudden, he started sobbing. Reality had socked him in the gut. He was out of a job. He didn’t have a degree. He’d been in his industry for 7 years and had no idea what was next. While he cried, I tried to hug him. He pulled away and said, “If this is too much, it’s okay if you go. You barely know me. I know this is weird. You don’t have to stay.”

“Look,” I replied. “I don’t know what will happen between you and me. But whatever it is, we’re going to have to be friends first. And there is no way in hell I would leave one of my friends in a moment like this.”

I stayed. He cried. We curled up very close together, sometimes talking, sometimes just with my hand on his arm. We dated for two years after that, and lived together for a year and half.

That was, and is, my take on dating. We need to give a shit about each other as people. As friends. So often we go into dating thinking about intimate relationships. We look at someone and think, “Could I fuck this person?” And sure, that’s an important question. But why don’t we look at someone and think “Could I give a fuck about this person?” That’s the big question. The one that is going to bind you two.

It occurs to me this is often why I struggle to let go of ex’s. I don’t walk into dating with the expectation that should our relationship will end, our friendship will too. I walk into dating with the expectation that we are going to see each other as human beings, we are going to respect each other as individuals, and we are going to bring something interesting to the table for one another.




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