Single people are probably tired of getting dating advice from married people like me, because, well, we’re married, and what do married people know about dating in 2013? Unless we count “dating your wife,” a phrase that not only makes you sound like a pastor with hipster glasses and perfect stubble, but also feels a little bit like cheating. The good kind, though.
And admittedly, I’m not the best person to dish out dating advice. I can literally count the amount of dates I went on in high school and college on one hand. One of those included giving a girl a Hallmark card in which I had written those three magic words, “I love you.” The problem was we had only been on two less-than-magical dates. It’s by far my proudest “not my proudest” dating moment.
So when I tell you that you should retire from the dating strangers game and start dating your best friend, don’t take it from me. Take it from Zooey Deschanel. Recently my wife and I have started watching her sitcom New Girl. At the heart of the show is the tension between Jess (Deschanel) and her roommate and friend, Nick (Jake Johnson). They’re friends, they’re secretly in love, and they have no idea what to do with it. It’s not only adorable, but it captures the confusion that is dating in 2013 pretty well. When it comes to dating, New Girl has several things to teach us:
1. Dating Strangers Is Exhausting. If figuring out how to date your best friend is confusing, going on dates with people you barely know is exhausting. Why? Because you’re always trying to prove yourself instead of be yourself. Some of the best scenes in New Girl let us see the lengths to which Jess and Nick will go to not be themselves in order to impress a date or make a struggling relationship work. It’s exhausting to not be yourself.
2. Dating Friends Is Nice. But if you can figure out how to start dating your best friend, the idea seems really nice. Like sipping an Oregon Pinot Noir, by a fire pit, at the end of a cool autumn day, wearing a cardigan nice—although if you have Oregon Pinot and a fire pit, you probably don’t need dating advice from a guy who has several Wendy’s wrappers on the floorboards of his Honda Accord. Still, if our deepest desire to is to be fully known and truly loved, which is what makes marriage attractive, then it seems like we would naturally date the men and women who already know and love us. Dating is friendship with potential. That’s what Nick and Jess have. And it seems much nicer than faking it with strangers.3. Dating Friends Is Hard. My favorite episode of New Girl so far is “First Date” from season two. Not only does it include the best cover of George Michael’s “Father Figure” ever, but it also perfectly captures the awkwardness that is trying to move from friendship to dating. How do you ask a friend out on a date? It’s hard. And awkward. But it’s hard and awkward for all the right reasons: It requires vulnerability. It requires a friend saying to another friend, “I really like you, and I would love to see this relationship become more than friendship.” That takes a Liam-Neeson-in-Taken level of courage. Apparently his character’s set of special skills didn’t include being vulnerable though. Because vulnerability always opens you up to the risk of rejection. And rejection is why we all hated 7th grade.
4. Dating Friends is Worth It. The reality is you’re not ready to date well until you’re ready to take rejection well. Dating is not for the faint of heart. But if you can put on your big boy pants (something Big Boi does every day) and risk some rejection, you may just find not a soul mate, but something even better: a sole mate, someone willing to walk with you side by side through this vale of tears.
Don’t take it from Zooey Deschanel, though. Take it from CS Lewis:
When the two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass – may pass in the first half hour – into erotic love. Indeed, unless they are physically repulsive to each other or unless one or both already loves elsewhere, it is almost certain to do so sooner or later. And conversely, erotic love may lead to Friendship between the lovers. But this, so far from obliterating the distinction between the two loves, puts it in a clearer light. If one who was first, in the deep and full sense, your Friend, is then gradually or suddenly revealed as also your lover you will certainly not want to share the Beloved’s erotic love with any third. But you will have no jealousy at all about sharing the Friendship. Nothing so enriches an erotic love as the discovery that the Beloved can deeply, truly and spontaneously enter into Friendship with the Friends you already had.
So watch New Girl, and then marry your best friend.