Monday, January 22, 2007

Partners of Friends (updated)

We are friends with our friends not merely because we are fond of them, but also because we get along with them, find them interesting, can have great conversations with them, can gel with them, can trust them, can open up to them, and so on. Most importantly, in most cases our wavelenghts match, even though we may have serious disagreements.

Now what happens when these friends have partners or get married. Do we get along with these partners or spouses too? I have had mixed experiences. Meeting with the partners of two good friends in December and having diametrically opposite experiences made me realize how different this can be.

Hari was going to India, and was to go via Germany, meeting his old colleagues and also showing his wife the country he had lived in for more than four years. I hadn't met him for years, and had never met his wife. I was to visit a place near Karlsruhe for work around that time, and so I decided to go earlier and meet them in Berlin.
Hari's marriage had been an arranged one. He had seen photographs and had been talking to her on telephone for quite a few months. He finished his PhD, went back to India, met her in person, went out with her, and then got married. When he'd told me about these plans on telephone, I was skeptical about his optimism. I wasn't saying that it wouldn't work, but what if he was disappointed when he met her, or worse, disliked her? The wedding arrangements had been made, and knowing him, it'd be unlikely that he'd make them call it off. What then? We had a bit of an argument. Later I emailed him to apologise for being so cynical and he said I had been articulating things had been on his mind, and that was the reason he got irritated as well.
He got married, and they both went to the US. I kinda lost touch with him.
But he was going to be Germany, and we decided to meet.
Madhuri is lovely. I mean particularly as a person, although I do find her pretty too, with the Mallu eyes that I find so attractive in women. She is extremely friendly (I felt I'd known her all my life), has good sense of humour, is intelligent, makes good conversation, is fun, caring, and seems to be "one of our crowd". There was no hesitation on her part, and we got along very well immediately. They obviously enjoy each other very much. And I hope this is one of greatest successes of the arranged marriage system. I must say I am both relieved and very happy for Hari. We hung out for two days, had dinner, visited the Pergamon museum, loitered around Berlin, christmas markets etc and had a thoroughly good time. Although Hari and I are very good friends, we do have issues and have one or more fights every time we meet. This was the first time we didn't, I think thanks to Madhuri.
*
About to weeks later (after Christmas), Chris and his Swedish girlfriend came to visit me. Chris is 4-5 years younger than me, and I am very fond of him. We had met in Tübingen where he worked as a summer student, and we got along extremely well. We exchanged visits after that and travelled around Germany as well. He have very wide interests and is extremely well-informed and we can have those endless conversations about almost everything under the sun. His girlfriend, Stina, on the other had was one of the most boring creatures I have ever met. She was grumpy and had a thoroughly bored expression most of the time. Offered no opinions. Try as I might, I couldn't involve her in conversation... all questions and leads were dealt with using the minimum possible words. After several trials I just left her alone and almost ignored her. The only thing she really wanted to do/see is the Natural History Museum, but unfortunately it was closed most of the time they were there. We went around the city centre on the New Year Eve, through the crowds, stopping at the concerts on the way. Again she had no enthusiasm, opinion or interest in anything. We watched the fireworks with small bottles of champagne from the forecourt of the Austrian Parliament... it is elevated and hence offers a good view of the fireworks, but is not crowded as there are no concerts, shops or stalls around. And soon afterwards walked back because she was tired.
I thoroughly enjoyed Chris' company like before, I trust he enjoyed himself too. But I absolutely couldn't figure her. De gustibus non est diputandum, goes a saying in Latin: there should be no argument about taste, and I agree with it completely. But to be honest (and nasty to a dear friend), I absolutely can't fathom what he sees in her.
*
These were two of the most recent experiences and they struck me because they were within a few weeks of each other and so opposite to each other. But now that I think of it, spouses/partners of friends have been a mixed bag.
I got along with Ana, Rajeeb's girlfriend very well indeed. On the other hand I knew HRJ's hubby, Jeetu, much before she knew him and in fact he had even been my roommate for a considerable period. But I never really gelled with him. Even now, on rare occasions when I talk to him on the phone, we don't have much to say to each other. I have a similar problem with Trupti's hubby too, although we are able to talk a bit more . Clovis was one of my first gay friends in Vienna, and I get along very well with his boyfriend Michael, in fact I haven't met Michael in the absence of Clovis, but it is possible that we get along even better. Ralf, is an old friend too, and although his girlfriend Helia isn't as interesting to talk to, we still get along quite well. I met Will's ex-girlfriend, Sonia, when she moved to Heidelberg long before he did. We became good friends, much better friends than I was with Will. I am still in touch with Sonia, but have lost contact with Will.
But I guess this is not surprising. People are all different, look for different things in people. Some click, others don't. I am really glad that I clicked with Madhuri... it would have been a real shame if I had not got along with Hari's wife.
Update: I had visited Chris and Stina in Munich in summer 07. And surprisingly enough, I enjoyed Stina's company quite a lot. She was more talkative and more participating in our discussions. She mentioned in passing in a completely different context, that Swedes become unfriendly in winter and change their characters completely in summer. Since they had visited me in Vienna in the middle of winter that might have been a reason for her unfriendliness. That and she was a bit unwell, and she was meeting me for the first time. I'm still not a big fan of her's but I get along better with her.
Another spouse of a friend I recently met for the first time is Sheetal, Crystal's wife (the same summer-- I had gone to Munich to get them to Vienna). Although we differ in many ways, I got along quite well with her... probably more than with Crystal himself.

9 comments:

Sil said...

And so, always remember that your friend's spouse is NOT your friend. I've always limited my friendship to only one person in a marriage. Never tried to or responded to their invitations to include the spouse. So far seems to have worked pretty well.

A.S. said...

I'm afraid I don't quite share this philosophy or policy. I am an optimist and I would try my best to make friends with my friends partners, especially spouses, given that they are an important part of the friends' life. If it doesn't work... well, I can't help it. But if it does, all the better.
Guilt has to be established for me to pronounce the sentence.

The Visitor said...

LOL.

sil said...

A couple in a relationship is unique. They love to love and hate and diss and praise the significant other to their friend(s) all the time. Or is it just the female partner? Atleast for me, it is difficult, or perhaps confusing, to be a part of that dynamic.

Besides, I've always felt my married friends are seeking their 'own time' when they are with me. Makes sense too.

But whether you are friends with one or both, so long as it works for you ...

A.S. said...

Perhaps these are different stages in people's relationships we are talking about. The main ones I mentioned are rather new, and these friends don't live in the same city as me, so these friends can't really use me as a regular sounding board about their partners/spouses.

I have had friends who've turned to me for support when they have had trouble with their partners. And only in one case did I know the other party well, but again he did not live in the same city, so I saw him less. They broke up, and as I have mentioned that did create tensions between me and the guy... he resented that I continued to be good friends with her.
I must say that other than friends newly falling in love, none of them talk about their partners all the time... probably I am lucky about that :-)

I do see what you mean. But at least in the first case I cited in the post, it is a very close friend, and it was important I get along with his wife. I am sure despite this fact, my friend can still look for support from me if he has problems with her.

Vidya said...

For me it depends on how close I am to a friend of mine. At manytimes, especially when you do not end up living in the same city, its a pity when you cannot get along with the spouses of your freinds.

As it is you end up getting too little time to spend when they or you visit each other. In that short time, if you are unable to vibe well with spouses, you end up losing what little you get. Things are a lot easier when my friends get along well with my husband. I have to have a harmonious surrounding and get the best from the time spent.

And in some rare cases fortunately or unfortunately, I end up having a better relationship with the significant other of my friend than with that I have with my friend.

But of late, I have been keeping too much to myself. Guess its a phase.

Madura said...

Honestly playing the role of a friends spouse:
1. I loved his friends praising our relationship. Any slightest compliment of our marriage was great and built a good base for me to hope good on this friend. I never knew this fundah and never imagined I wanted it, until I found friends who gave it to me unasked. It feels fantastic.
2. I definitely loved his friends, when they were good at the kitchen - helping me out, complimenting me for the recipe.
3. I loved his friends who talked well of my man.
(My heart totally broke, when somebody talks about 'how good were those good old days' in which I was not a part ... My heart broke when there was silence or discomfort regarding the kitchen role ... I definitely believed those friends who pull my man down even just for the fun of it, or making jokes about me behind my back) ...
And the most shameless truth ... I needed to be reassured repeatedly that I am a good host. When they are in my home, when they are leaving, after they reached their home. It definitely helps me not fear their next arrival.

So this is how I look at my friends spouse too. ;)

Meera said...

while people might be part of a couple, they are still individuals. so it is not surprising that you may or may not gel with them notwithstanding your relationship with their spouse.
apart from a few exceptions, i have never become firm friends with wives of male friends. in fact some of the wives seemed to be wary of any female friends of their husbands. on my part, i like my friends to like and befriend my husband and i like to be friendly to my husband's friends. in general, i think we are because we like the same sort of things in people.

meera

A.S. said...

@ vidya, madura, meera

Thanks for your interesting insights into this.