As a teenager, I deeply admired my parent’s strong bond.
They hardly ever spent time apart outside of their jobs. They always went on vacation together and on the rare occasion that my dad had to travel for work, my mom missed him almost immediately. I observed that they rarely spent time with friends unless the other spouse was present and I thought it was amazing that my parents only appeared to need each other.
This was my primary example of how a relationship should be, until I got to college.
When I started dating my college boyfriend, now husband, I was surprised by the amount of time his parents spent apart.
While they went on vacations together and spent plenty of time together, they also had separate friends. And a lot of them. His dad would golf, grab beers and go on week long, annual vacations with his guy friends. His mom would shop, go out to dinner and went on a cruise with her girlfriends.
In the early years of getting to know them, I falsely mistook their behavior as a need to disconnect and create space because their bond was weak. I wondered why they needed so many other people in their lives outside of their spouse.
Then my mom got diagnosed with brain cancer.
From the beginning of her sickness until her last breath, only 13 months had passed. In that time, my father and I were her primary caregivers. My husband, Grammy and Aunt were present and super helpful, but otherwise, it was painfully lonely.
In her final months, it was clear that we were struggling, so I reached out to some of my mom’s co-workers and volunteers from the local community theatre that she co-founded for help. We were so fortunate to be met with genuine love and support in a crucial time of need. I know that my mom regarded all these kind people as friends, even if she didn’t spend a lot of time with them outside of work and theatre.
But after she died and the dust settled, life went on. And I had an important realization:
Couples need friends.
I suddenly understood and hugely respected the large community of friends that my husband’s parents had built around them over the years. When the unfortunate day comes that one of them falls sick or dies, they will not need to worry for a moment that they’ll be left unsupported. There will be 10 or more folks lined up outside their door at all times, just waiting to be of service.
It certainly helps that my in-laws have lived in essentially the same place their entire lives. Many of their friends stayed in the area and their families are huge. Most people do not have this situation. Couples relocate all the time and making new friends can be difficult. Keeping up with old friends that live far away can be even harder. I know the number one reason my parents didn’t see many of their close friends was simply an issue of proximity.
I didn’t notice until my mom died, but I was unconsciously following a similar path to my parents. My husband and I live in a town that we moved to after college, hours away from all of our close family and friends. When we bought our home we simply couldn’t afford to go out all that often and it was so easy to isolate. In our effort to assimilate, it was effortless to lose touch, even if we weren’t trying to do so.
Now, we make it a priority to see loved ones at least two weekends out of the month. We also remind each other to check in with friends we haven’t contacted in a while. We make actual plans with people (usually months in advance!) instead of just saying we should without getting around to it.
We know that if we want to stay close with the few friends that we’ve been fortunate enough to connect with on a soul level, we need to truly value and nurture those friendships every day, even if they live far away.
Most of my closest friends are men, but in the past few years I realized I tend to gravitate toward other women who also easily get along with men. These are the women I’ve connected with the most and now girl time is something I crave just as much as going away on a yoga retreat solo.
I can tell when my husband is itching for boy time. It’s as much a relief to me as it is to him when he gets a weekend away with the guys. I’ve found that spending time apart isn’t a sign of weakness at all but in fact the opposite—it strengthens our relationship! It’s nice to actually miss him. If we do everything together, it’s hard to keep learning from each other.
And of course, nothing nourishes the soul like a huge co-ed party at our home when people travel from near and far to celebrate life and lasting friendship. Those are priceless times; the times that make it tolerable to be an adult because we all get to act like kids again. Our dearest friends keep us young and wild.
Holding the ones we love a little tighter is one of the most important lessons I learned from losing my precious mother.
Now I know that when the sh*t hits the fan (and it inevitably will), I’m going to need my friends. Mom always loved my friends and in her honor I intend to adore and care for each and every one of them. And due to my parents sweet way of showing me that your absolute best friend can be your spouse, I will cherish my husband above all.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Megan Ridge Morris
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: Georgios Kaleadis/Flickr