There is no such thing as accidentally winning the relationship lottery, whether in marriage or in other friendships. Instead, a truly great relationship is built over time as two very imperfect people share experiences, conversations and a long track record of valuing, the other.
This is where you might think I’m going to start talking about my incredible husband. But that would be too predictable. Instead, I’d like to talk about my second-best friend Helen.1
Helen and I became “foxhole buddies” 32 years ago because we were both fairly new to our neighborhood and were striving to maintain some semblance of sanity in the midst of raising young children. She had a pool in her back yard (luxury of luxuries!) and I had an endless supply of Suisse Mocha instant coffee. We panted after wild children careening up and down the street on Big Wheels, coached peewee soccer together, and made elaborate plans for each other’s back yards. We faced late weekday afternoons together, gathering strength for that last stretch before the husbands came home to “take over.” I don’t know what I would have done without her during those years. That random relationship of mutual need and support became the basis of a lifelong friendship.
If there were such a thing as a “matching service” for friends, neither one of us would have been likely to single out the other as a potential candidate. We were (and remain to this day) two very different people in terms of personality and interests. I am ashamed to confess that in the years of early adulthood, I didn’t understand the value of my friendship with Helen. As our children grew older and the occasions for sharing those late afternoons began to dwindle, I got into a lazy pattern of counting on her to initiate our get-togethers. Somewhere along the line (thank goodness) I did start to get it, and became more intentional about cultivating the bond. I’m so grateful that I did.
One fine day in 2008 Helen said to me, “Hey! Let’s train for the 2009 L.A. Marathon!” At that point, my idea of daily exercise consisted of walking to the mailbox. On a whim, I printed out a year-long training schedule for walking a marathon, and thus began a new phase of our friendship. When you walk with someone twice a week for one to five hours, you get to know her on a whole new level. We learned more about each other’s fears and dreams than we’d managed to figure out in the previous 29 years. Unwittingly, we had created the same kind of “checking in” exercise that I prescribe for all the couples I counsel! After the Marathon – which we finished in a record-breaking 8 hours — we missed our walking/talking times so much that we just kept scheduling half-marathons (having figured out that walking 13.1 miles is much easier than walking 26.2). We are thus always up to speed with what is churning around in the other’s head.
Helen and I are not primarily fast friends because we are “perfect” for each other. The friendship we have is the result of a mutual commitment to make the relationship a safe place for each of us. Interestingly, although we have known each other for more than three decades, it has only been in the past few years that we have each deliberately invested time and effort toward the friendship. It’s almost like we just kind of bumped along for most of the distance, and then suddenly realized we had something that was increasingly precious.
In the marathon of life, Helen and I have walked through some hard things together, and as we press on toward our finish line – one we both hope is some distance away — we no doubt will have some hard things ahead of us. I’m reading a book right now about African culture, and this statement popped out at me while I was thinking about this blog:
Connections are essential so that there is someone to turn to in case of need in any of a multitude of problems that are bound to come up… When public institutions and services are weak, ineffectual, corrupt or nonexistent, and therefore impersonal means of meeting basic needs and services are unavailable, friends are the resources needed for achieving a decent life.2
Needless to say, this quote doesn’t just apply to Africa. Even where public institutions and services function well, friends are still “the resources needed for achieving a decent life.”
Helen is a treasure in my life. There are perhaps five people (apart from my immediate family) whom I could comfortably call during a 2 a.m. crisis, and Helen is at the top of the list. We started out as random neighbors, and we have become sisters.
I raise my glass to you, my friend. And I am looking forward to our 12th half marathon this Sunday in Paso Robles!
©Paul and Teri Reisser, 2011.
Teri Reisser is a marriage and family therapist and author of A Solitary Sorrow, which deals with the emotional fallout of abortion. Together Teri and her husband Paul have recently written Your Spouse Isn’t the Person You Married.
1. I am blessed to be married to my best friend. Sadly, I have found in my personal and professional life that this is more often the exception than the rule.
2. David Maranz, African Friends and Money Matters. (Dallas, SIL International, p. 69).