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Friends at First Sight: Laying a Foundation for Love

By Karen O'Connor
Guest Columnist - My husband gently stroked my hair as we cuddled one chilly morning. "Hmmmm," he murmured. "It's not blond and it doesn't spill over the pillow. For so many years I thought that's what I wanted."

I pinched his "love handles" in retaliation! "And you're not the tall, muscular hunk I've always dreamed about," I said.

"Aren't you glad?" he teased.

"I sure am," I responded, reflecting for a moment on the state we had been in when we met. We each had a 'picture' of what we were looking for in a prospective mate. And neither of us fit the other's picture. Yet the attraction was there. From the moment we met at a dinner party in Los Angeles, I knew I wanted to get to know this gentle man with the large blue eyes -- a man who listened and talked, and laughed. I felt safe with him. He seemed like a person I could trust -- a man who could be a friend. And he wanted to know more about me.

We didn't fall in love right away. We were friends first -- good companions. We shared music and books, spent time with our children, attended church together on Sundays, and learned each other's likes and dislikes.

We also disagreed and argued. We still do sometimes. I'm spontaneous. Charles is methodical. I see the glass half full and he sees it half empty! He likes to think things through. I look to feel my way into a decision. But through it all we've remained friends. And today, after nearly twenty years of marriage, it is friendship that holds us together still. One observer summed up our relationship in these words: "It's sturdy," she said, "like a well-built ship. It can withstand the wind and the rain."

As I reflect on the makeup of our friendship and our marriage, four characteristics come to mind -- characteristics that have helped us dig into our pain and talk it out, as well as sit together in silence, confident of our commitment to God and to one another. I don't know if these traits would be meaningful for everyone, but they have served us well over the years we've know each other. Perhaps they will spark a flame in your marriage relationship or help you consider what you want in a prospective mate.


We've learned to ask for it -- challenging as that may be sometimes -- especially after we've had a hard talk, or felt alone following the death of a parent, or find ourselves stuck in regret over a past mistake or a present choice. Sometimes just a touch or a word of encouragement can make a difference. Charles often comforts me with words. "I love our life together." "I'm so grateful for you." "I admire your courage." "You can do anything. I've never doubted you for a moment."

Comfort can also be expressed without words. Touch is one of the most powerful means of reaching another person. I like words. Charles prefers touch. By learning what each other needs, we've been able to comfort one another in a way that works.


We've learned about compassion the way we learned to play the piano -- by practicing it! And it takes practice. I don't always feel like hearing my husband's feelings. I'm not always in the mood to listen to his hurts and frustrations. And he must surely tire of my need to process every experience and emotion. But we're in this for the duration -- we took our vows before God and man -- so we continue to explore what it means to be compassionate. I am discovering what works: to be more sensitive than assertive, more spiritual than custodial, more nurturing than managing. And when I remember -- it's a blessing -- to Charles and to myself, as well.


We have made some deliberate choices in order to nurture our connection. We eat together regularly. It's a wonderful time of conversation, reading and commenting on the morning newspaper, dinner with candlelight sometimes, and always music in the background. We play together. We enjoy hiking, camping, exploring the outdoors, taking long walks -- whether in the Sierra Mountains or along the Bay near our home in San Diego. We also go to the theater and to movies and to museums.

We relate to our families together, as well. Charles is as much a grandfather to my grandchildren as he is to his own; and I am Grandma to his grandchildren as much as to my own. These new roles are among the great blessings of our marriage. And most important to us, we pray together each morning. Our faith, our family, and our friends, more than anything else, are the strong threads that connect us to one another and to God.


We're working on this! Being there for one another is very important to each of us. That means remaining committed to mutual respect -- even when we have hard things to talk about, living our spiritual values, not just talking about them, keeping our home in order, and playing together as a couple and as a family. The challenge is to be consistent without being controlling.

To us, consistency also includes being fully human--to let ourselves be known as someone the other can turn to with confidence. Even though we make mistakes, we want to be quick to make amends, as well.

If someone asked us how to approach a new relationship or how to maintain one that is already in place, we wouldn't have to think about it. From our experience, what really counts is becoming friends first.

Karen O'Connor is an award-winning author, retreat speaker, and writing instructor from San Diego, California. Visit Karen's web



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