This song popped up on the radio the other day, and it seemed to me that I had never really heard the lyrics before. Of course, I had heard them, a long time ago, but I didn't hear them in the same way that I do now. Like a lot of young, idealistic souls in love, I thought the song described the kind of relationship I had and would continue to have. Honest, respectful, harmonious. Not an unreasonable demand or an unworthy thought in sight.
If you haven't yet moved past the honeymoon phase, you might think it's easy. We aren't going to do all those terrible things to each other. Why would we? We're in love, and we'll always be in love, and everything is going to be wonderful.
If it were that easy, everyone would do it.
Now, with close to three decades of marriage on my resumé, I know how hard it can be to avoid falling into some of these traps. The unexpected happens, things go awry, sooner or later the once-perfect person to whom we pledged our life disappoints, hurts us, sometimes behaves in ways that make us wonder what we are doing here. And, hard as it is to believe, we ourselves are not always paragons of perfection. So we find ourselves analyzing and categorizing, denying, defying and rejecting, bitterly fighting with the person who is ‑‑ who was ‑‑ who should be ‑‑ our closest ally.
How do we prevent the pain? How do we fix it? How do we live that life of perfect love and harmony?
We don't. At least not all the time. Some things can't be fixed, or avoided, or made into something different. We are, after all, two separate human beings, well-intentioned but flawed, with different thoughts, different preferences, different ways of seeing and feeling and doing. We could spend a whole lifetime getting to know each other. That's the idea.
The challenge is not about proving who is right, making the other person conform, or giving up our individuality. The challenge is to go right on being two separate people, and to do it together.
We don't need to simplify, classify, define or confine each other. What we need to do is to stop for just a moment and take a good look at each other. Stand up straight and take a slow, deep breath, let it out even more slowly. Shake off some of the tension, smile, reach out and say, "Baby, what I want most is to be your friend."