It’s not unusual for someone to say of his lover, “He’s my best friend.” That’s a sweet thing. Of course, it’s also great to have a best friend who is not part of your relationship, especially at times when the relationship feels a little strained and we need some place to let off steam.
Friendship is necessary but not sufficient for a relationship. To have a lover is to have a relationship that goes beyond even a special friendship. Especially for men who are new to the relating business, it’s important to pay attention to the ways that intimate relationships differ from even the most important of friendships.
No one would want to be in a relationship with someone who wasn’t a good friend. Friendship provides stability to a couple: shared interests, taking pleasure in one another’s company. Friends spend time together, do things together, talk and laugh and share life with one another. Relationships involve a lot of hard work at times, and having fun together helps us endure the rough spots.
Romance is the key difference between friends and lovers. Think of it as the fuel that keeps the relationship engine running. Romance is much more than seduction and sexuality. It means caring for one another in special ways like building memories together, telling him “I love you” even when he already knows you do. Lovers develop special little habits and rituals when may seem silly to others. These little things bring a joy to lovers that are out of proportion with the pleasure of the acts themselves; they’re especially joyous because you are doing them with your beloved.
Beyond romance, there are other things that help build relationships into more than friendships. Sharing important family events together is one thing, whether that is doing things as a couple during the holidays or bringing your partner along to other family events. Straight couples do this automatically, and healthy families welcome the spouses of biological family members without thinking about it. When our partners are welcomed into our families of origin, the acknowledgement supports our relationships, and our partner’s place in our lives is affirmed.
Sharing spiritually intimate times is also important. For some that means going to church together. For others, it might mean going on a retreat or some other activity together or doing something else that enriches life.
Caring for one another in times of special need are important. A year into my relationship with my partner, I had to put my 22-year-old cat to sleep. It was a very painful time for me. Having someone there to love and support me not only made the experience bearable, but it drew me closer to him to know I could rely on him – especially when I was a slobbering mess.
Men value their independence. Many of us worry about losing ourselves in relationships and becoming too dependent or too vulnerable. What we sometimes miss is that relationships are different than friendships – even close friendships. It’s good to develop a bit of healthy and mutual dependence on one another. That’s one of the things that deepen intimacy with a partner.
John R. Ballew, M.S. an author and contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org.