“I want you to like me before you love me. And I don’t ever want you to hate me.”

Someone spoke those words to me once. The sentiment is clear. Be my friend before you’re my lover; and never my enemy.

That concept makes sense, doesn’t it? But relationships can get complicated. Expectations are set. Someone makes a mistake. Someone else is disappointed. And depending on each person’s level of respect for the other and ability to communicate fairly, feelings can turn to anger and hate as quickly as they once felt love. I realize that there’s no guaranteed recipe for a perfect relationship, but I’m struck by what is at the foundation of those words once spoken to me… Truly liking your partner.

I’ve met all types of couples in my life. Fun couples, boring couples, bitter couples, happy couples, seemingly mismatched couples, couples who have more of a business partnership than a loving relationship; and the list goes on. Fill in the blank, you’ve probably met them too. Often when we observe other couples, we gauge what we want or don’t want for ourselves. And every now and then, we observe something special. The kind of match that money can’t buy. The type of couple who inspires us to spend our days with our best friend and never settle for “just ok.”

I can’t remember the first time I met Karen and Ray. And why would I? I was their first born. I don’t recall anything about that day. But as the first few years of my life passed, it became clear that I would remember many things, for I was an observer. It was an innate part of my personality.

I was probably three or four years old when I first remember the smell of Chanel perfume and Lauder for Men cologne filtering throughout the inside of my childhood home. The bathroom attached to my parent’s bedroom was the starting point for those scents. And they lightly permeated down the staircase with the sound my parent’s busy voices echoing in the background. Karen and Ray were getting ready for a night out on the town, as they did most Friday nights. It was date night. Although they never termed it that way. But I knew that when I smelled perfume, it meant that my mom and dad were going places where children weren’t allowed. I didn’t mind because I knew that I had an evening of pizza and junk food in my future (there were no food rules at home when my mom and dad when out for the night). I didn’t understand it when I was younger, but as I matured, I realized that those Friday nights were my parents way of dating each other. And it obviously made them happy.

Along the way, my parents added two more children to our family clan. But they also added world travel to their marriage plans. For two weeks during the month of January, an adopted family (my dad’s office manager and her family) would move into our house to make sure that my brother, sister, and I were cared for. My parents would then jet off to The Caribbean, Italy, Spain, or wherever their passports would take them. My siblings and I loved the excitement of having another family live with us. And my parents loved exploring the world together. Over time, I understood the importance of those two weeks. It was my parent’s time to play, bond, and enjoy the company of their partner without any stressful distractions.

Karen and Ray were an active couple. They played tennis, bowling, bridge, racquetball, and golf together (my mom had a 12 handicap which is probably why my dad didn’t mind walking the greens with her). As decades passed, and years aged their bodies, the tennis games were replaced with bicycle rides. And planes rides around the world were replaced with road trips to visit grandchildren. But still, most of their time was spent together. Sure, my mom scheduled lunches with girlfriends. And my dad had his cigar nights with the guys. But if you asked them 41 years ago, or you ask them today, both will say that they’re best friends.

I never observed any major fights between them, just non-memorable quarrels. Ray is often scolded for making a mess with the watermelon rinds that he leaves in the kitchen sink. And Karen is mildly yelled at for throwing away important documents on occasion. But their disagreements pass quickly (and are almost comical at times). It’s been observed by many who know them that they love, respect, and admire each other. And it’s not unusual for one of my married friends to say, “I hope my marriage will be like your parents.” It’s a beautiful compliment for a beautiful couple.

Last summer I was at a baseball game with my younger brother. We started talking about what makes good relationships work (the home team must’ve been losing if the conversation led to love and marriage with my brother). I remember telling him that I wondered if a relationship like our parents still exists. He responded by saying, “That relationship works great for mom and dad. But you need to decide what works best for you and your life.” My brother was right. And I would say the same thing to anyone reading this blog. If you’re extremely independent, you may need to indulge in more alone time than a couple who likes to spend every moment together. If you’re a homebody, then traveling the world may not be on your itinerary. If you’re professionally driven, then you may not want to partner up with someone who won’t support that dream. But with all of that said, I have to go back to the words written at the very beginning of this blog. Like me before you love me, and don’t ever hate me.

I’m just a single girl from a Midwestern suburb. Some might say, what does she know about making a relationship last? Maybe I don’t know. But what I do know is that you can’t truly love someone if you don’t like them first.