Zoom Autism Magazine Issue 6 - Page 22

How to Be Friends, First and Always RETOUCH BY DAVID FINCH M y wife Kristen and I were standing in the kitchen the other day, playing Aluminum-Foil Paddle-Ball Game. If you think you’ve never heard of Aluminum-Foil Paddle-Ball Game, you’re right. You haven’t. Kristen and I made it up back when we first started dating—back when romance was transforming our friendship into a relationship. Aluminum-Foil Paddle-Ball Game is really quite simple to learn. It’s a lot like indoor baseball, and with the exception of most living Chicago Cubs, almost anyone can play it. The game requires, at a minimum, two players: a pitcher and a batter. You wad up a sheet of aluminum foil. The pitcher then lobs the aluminum-foil ball at the batter, who attempts to hit it with a sandal or flip-flop. There is no specified limit on the number of attempts the batter gets to hit the foil ball, nor is there a limit on the number of hits each batter is allowed. And we don’t really keep score, come to think of it, so it’s sort of like a home run derby, except there’s no prize, and it’s played in our pajamas. It’s maybe not the ending to Casablanca, but moments like these are important—vitally important—to keep the friendship with your partner, not just alive, but thriving. This became one of my goals a few years ago when our marriage was struggling – to earn back Kristen’s friendship after years of mis understanding and resentment as a married couple. At the time, I had no idea how to go about doing this, but with the luxury of hindsight, I’ve since distilled what I’ve learned from undertaking such a quest. At the risk of demonstrating 22 ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses my Asperger’s, here is how it went, in a convenient list format. (I’ll spare you the flow chart.) Step 1: Decide to be friends. Kristen and I were close friends who decided to get married. Nothing new here; married people just love to say that they married their best friend. But really, the veneer of marriage changes things, and most of us lose that friendly connection we once shared with our spouses. My first step was to decide that I wanted to be my wife’s friend as much as I wanted to be her husband. Step 2: Make time for your friendship. Time management isn’t just for Type-As and corporate weenies; daily schedules can do wonders for couples, too. We all set aside firm appointment times for important engagements, such as meetings, therapy visits, and the occasional teeth-whitening. Isn’t your relationship worth this sort of commitment? Because we have kids and jobs and workouts vying for our time, Kristen and I make a point of scheduling our time together on our weekly calendars: COFFEE DATE WITH KRISTEN or WATCH FOOTBALL WITH DAVE. If it’s not on your list, it’s not going to happen. Step 3: Give your bestie only the best. The time you do schedule together has to be quality time. Shockingly, it’s not enough to simply deem a person your friend. Most people need you to actually earn the relationship, which probably explains why Molly Ringwald hasn’t come to any of my birthday parties, despite my suggestion a few years ago that we should be pals. The same goes for your spouse: you have to continually earn the friendship. So, be present when you’re together, wherever you are. Dates can happen in the most mundane moments, but only if you’re engaged in them. Step 4: Let your partner be that person you fell in love with. There are countless ways in which a wife differs from a girlfriend or friend, per my woefully unrealistic parameters, which is something I didn’t know until after Kristen and I were married. If a friend were to decide to go back to school and get her master’s degree, I would be all for it. If, on the other hand, my wife decided to pursue a change in career, I would vociferously wonder why on earth she would willfully disrupt our perfectly cozy, long-established daily routine. If a friend wanted to buy one of those cubeshaped cars, I would encourage her to do so if it would make her happy, but should my wife express interest in such a vehicle, I would go to great lengths to talk her out of it because, as a rule, Finches do not drive weird-looking cars. If a friend engaged in playful interaction with a waiter, I thought it was funny. When my wife did it, I assumed it meant my marriage was over. I was constantly building new walls around Kristen, which left me anxious and exhausted and left her feeling trapped and resentful — and what woman doesn’t love feeling like that? Now, I try to remember to treat her like a friend—except in the case of cubic cars, which ... I mean, come on ... not in my garage. Step 5: Practice being a friend even when things aren’t going so well. It’s easy to feel like friends when your relationship is grooving as it should. But inevitably, there will be times when your marriage feels like the punchline to a Rodney Dangerfield joke, and that—perhaps more than ever— is when it pays to treat your spouse like a friend. That means being quick to empathize, quick to forgive and quick to put their needs and feelings in line with, or ahead of, yours. You’d do that for a friend, wouldn’t you? The moments that make a friendship are among the most precious in a person’s life. That is why I love playing Aluminum-Foil Paddle-Ball Game with Kristen. That, and because she pitches and hits really well. She might crush a foul ball into the living room, or I might take a screaming line drive to the stomach. What can I say? It’s not exactly a couples’ tennis league, but at a certain point, you just have to make time for fun and friendship, even when you’re broke. And so, there we were the other day, laughing hysterically, two old friends having the time of our lives. David Finch is a humorist, inspirational speaker and author of the acclaimed New York Times best-selling memoir, The Journal of Best Practices. David’s essays have been published in the New York Times, Huffington Post, and Slate, and he contributes to Psychology Today. To book David for your next event or to contact him in person, please visit his website. ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses 23