There are several characteristics that distinguish my relationship with the Queen from every other – including my former marriage. The most significant of these is an awareness to the role I play in it. What I mean is this, she and I have dated for almost five years and during that time I have worked hard at being intentional – about my attitude towards her, my reactions to her, and what I say around her; this only happens, however, by seeing myself through her eyes. In other words, being alert to what my behaviors say about who I am, the man I want to be, and the importance I place on her and our relationship. It’s something I was never interested in before, because I had no motivation for doing so.
Not long after she and I met, when we realized there was potential for something special, we began revealing our expectations about what we wanted from a relationship. Not as some blueprint for an anticipated future punctuated with words like ‘free’ and ‘milk’, instead it was our hopes for something we never had but still longed for. By sharing these desires we also drew boundaries, letting the other person know what would and wouldn’t be acceptable in a relationship. This wasn’t done as a demand or ultimatum. Instead, as most unconsciously do, it was framed in the context of our pasts, explaining why her previous relationships failed helped me from making the same mistakes.
To put all of this another way, she was explaining the job description for being her boyfriend.
The kind of boyfriend a man will be is directly linked to how he feels about the relationship – not the relationship’s status. Even if there is a notion of ‘commitment’, a man who sincerely believes she is ‘Ms. Maybe’ will act very differently than the man who believes she is “Ms. Right’. A man who sees his current relationship as ‘biding his time’ is a man whose commitment will be half hearted, motives indecisive, and priorities negotiable. He will not value the relationship as one of importance but regard it as one of convenience – expendable under the right circumstances.
I know all this from personal experience; I’ve been ‘that guy’. I’ve been the person who said all the right things but deep down was playing a shell game, faking it; waiting for the better opportunity then finding the right excuse that would get me off the hook while letting me keep the nice guy image. Because of this I’ve learned there are certain shared behaviors among men who are considered great boyfriends, guys who make great husbands, guys who believe that title of boyfriend is something more than a relationship placeholder. This man understands, and embraces, the job description of ‘boyfriend’.
They view ‘commitment’ as marriage-in-training– ‘boyfriend’ in the true sense should be considered husband ‘lite’, and the man who understands this will see the role as an interview for the promotion. When a man embraces this it will affect the way he views the relationship and the woman in it. He will treat both as something precious that is to be nurtured and maintained instead of something trivial to be squandered and thrown away.
‘We’ becomes the priority - a boyfriend sees the relationship as his number one priority, above everything else including his career, golf handicap, and friendships. He gives commitment the weight it deserves and believes a healthy romantic committed relationship can bring out the best in him, and because of that he will place the relationship above his own personal needs and desires.
Play as a team – the man who believes his girlfriend will one day become his wife understands that relationships will last only when they work as a team, supporting one another, edifying each other, and holding the other accountable. “Me” doesn’t disappear it just takes a back seat to “we”.
Ego gets put on a shelf - True love isn’t a threesome. There is no room in a healthy dating relationship or marriage for ego. The true boyfriend understands that where his aspirations go so goes his focus and attention, and whenever that lies outside the relationship a romance will sputter and the relationship will eventually die. He will never sacrifice his relationship or partner for the sake of personal achievement.
He is never too busy – a real boyfriend wants to be with woman in his life. She’s never an afterthought or plan “B”. She doesn’t take second chair to his hobbies, the office, or boys night out. He doesn’t cancel plans because ‘something better came up’.
Practice makes perfect – a boyfriend understands the importance and need for communication in a relationship and will use this ‘dating’ period to get good at it. He embraces her need to know him and be known by him through sharing his life with her. Instead of seeing this as a burden he will man up and work to put aside his awkwardness and give her what she needs for the sake of their relationship.
Perfect the art of pursuit – he’s seen too many buddies change after marriage and he’s heard the wives complain about it. He knows the reason this happened - his friends stopped pursuing their wives after ‘I do’. They bought into the idea that marriage means they can do away with those things that led her to say “I do” in the first place. He knows that emotionally, marriage changes nothing and he must continue pursuing her long after the honeymoon is over.
The desire to honor – since it’s his most important relationship, it makes the woman in it his best friend and the most important person in his life. Because of this he will be vigilant to never disgrace, embarrass, or cause her to question his commitment. He will look at his actions through the lens of her opinion. He will never flirt, criticize her in public, or take sides against her for his own narcissistic tendencies.
There are lots of resources that offer what it means to be a good husband, yet little that explain what makes a good boyfriend. I find that annoying and sad, especially when you consider one is a perquisite for the other – unless you live in India. But it shouldn’t come as a shock that the characteristics of a good boyfriend are almost identical to those of a good husband and proves that if we were more intentional about the one we might find ourselves more successful in the other.