Couples Therapy: What Happens When Your Besties Split Up
Our best friends are divorcing. How could they do that to us?
Illustration by Chris Reed
We met cute. It was 2006, at the orientation for our kids’ preschool, which was sponsored by an Albany church. Crowded into a small waiting room with a dozen other sets of parents, politely sampling bland cookies and watery coffee and making innocuous small talk, we began chatting with a couple who, like us, had an only child. They told us their son wanted a brother. I countered, in that special way I have, “If he said he wanted a pony would you get him that, too?” My wife rolled her eyes. “This is why we have no friends,” she thought to herself. But they laughed. Hard.
My wife gave me “the look,” so I tried to rein it in, but then they brought up, uh, well... the kind of thing you shouldn’t discuss over cookies at a church-based preschool. I could sense the other couples sliding farther away. But the four of us locked in. Lightning struck. I thought, maybe these two were The Ones. They thought so, too; weeks later, the husband said that, after the meeting, he told his wife, “We have to get to know these people better.”
Boy, did we ever get to know one another. We were instantly each other’s go-to friends. We spent Christian and Jewish and American holidays together (all our parents and siblings live elsewhere). We eased the pain of Big Number birthdays with platters of meat (for the men) or square dancing (not for the men, but what the hell). We dropped in on one another spontaneously, with wine and pizza — or, more often, just wine — and in the comfort of this chosen family we traded hidden stories about our wacky families of origin. We forgot our various advanced degrees and professional careers and talked dirty, really dirty, giggling like 12-year-olds in the middle school lunchroom. He and I bonded deeply over hockey and the blues, she and she bonded deeply over child-rearing and fresh vegetables. And we all bonded deeply over the movie The Aristocrats. Not the Disney one about cats. The Gilbert Gottfried one about... oh, never mind. You wouldn’t understand.
That’s the thing — understanding. A successful couple is, Lord knows, hard enough. Blending four is exponentially harder, and a couple-couple is thus a rare and beautiful thing. Couples come with pre-existing conditions that make perfect unions between them problematic. You have been friends with the husband since third grade, but his spouse, though perfectly fine, is stumped by the Monty Python references. Or your wife and the other wife are thick as thieves, but her chosen one is, well, a putz. In most foursomes, at best three — but more commonly two — of the parties get along famously; the others don’t get the jokes. But they did. We did. Over the years, you’d find us in all manner of fun and frolic: cooking and hiking and skating and Valley Cats games and, on one memorable night, a wife-wife skinny dip in the warm summer waters off Cape Cod, while husband-husband drained gin and tonics and name-checked obscure baseball players from the 1970s. Their son once told them, “I know when the Levines come over there will be lots of laughing.”
Now, after nearly a decade of couple-couple-hood, the laughing is over. It’s not a total surprise; as with all splits, there were signs over the years, but we hoped with all our might they would pull through. When they finally didn’t, we were devastated — not as much for them as for us. Is that wrong?
Probably. But still. Now we’re back “out there,” searching for our new couple-couple. But we’ve been spoiled. Our standards are now impossibly high. They must be equally comfortable putting on silly Plague masks at Passover and singing blue versions of Christmas carols. On Show Night, he must be a capable Borscht Belt tummler, she an accomplished singer and dancer, their child able to improvise incomprehensible skits with our child, preferably incorporating both stuffed animals and swordplay.
We assess the candidates. What about the coworkers? No way; he drinks Coors Light. The Newneighbors? It’ll never work; she loves Celine Dion. The Daughterfriendparents? Please — they’re vegans. They’re all very nice. But they’re not The Ones.
How about you? Will you be our new couple-couple? Have you seen The Aristocrats?