Part 1: Befriending Many, Marrying One,

KO Note: I wrote the following on September 16 but then, distracted, decided not to post it. The sirens of my current, biblical research project pester, pester. It’s the middle of the night. I can’t sleep. Mentally blocking the sirens, the pleasant tones of JNC invite me.  Hmm. Some may find this post worth consideration. I’ll revise it and pass it on to you. Here goes:

I’m sure you’ve had this experience. Every once in a while, you read something that so resonates within you that you passionately exclaim, “Yes!”  This was my experience when I read an article from Christianity Today entitled, “I Didn’t Marry My Best Friend.”  Written by Kate Shellnutt (a millennial — yes, a “young lady” who could be my daughter),  her young experience echoes in her own way my older experience. Nothing is new under the sun, but everything is new to the individual at the point of encounter or awareness.

After deleting 200 words of conceptual context, I will jump in and largely agree with Kate’s claim and reasoning.* I agree that the “best friends” status is not essential when marrying, nor necessary to a good marriage. It may not even be in the marriage’s best interest. My agreement stems from my experience and biblical worldview. I would not be married to my excellent husband if I had expected him to be my “best friend.” He is not wired in such a way to qualify. Neither do I qualify for him.

Paul pursued me. As a young (24 year old) Christian school teacher, I met Paul at a singles’ Bible study in Mount Hermon, California.  A two year old babe in the Lord, Paul was learning the Christian ropes. Though sweet, friendly, generous, servant-hearted, and eye-stoppingly handsome, he did not appeal to me. (What was my problem?) His Christian inarticulateness and limited literary background told me he was “not my kind of guy.” Yes, he was finishing a five year degree in aeronautics at San Jose State University after eight years of college, paying his own way, demonstrating determination and dedication. I took note of many good qualities.

When my parents visited me for two weeks, my mother took note of the attention Paul was giving me.  “I think this boy likes you,” she commented. “No, he’s just one of the guys in my singles’ circle.”  Paul took my parents flying over the Bay, showing them San Francisco and the sights.  I remained dense.

After I casually dated Paul for a while, my mentor at Baymonte Christian High School, Martin Z., counseled me. I expressed that Paul was not the kind of guy I would marry.  He’s not the literary and reflective sort. Marty simply replied, “That’s what friends are for!” Then he added: You need to marry someone who will be good to you and love you and who will provide for you.  From Marty I became aware that a spouse not only cannot satisfy many of the relational longings of the other person, but indeed, does not need to. I became aware of marital limitations, recognizing freedoms as a consequence of the limitations.

His counsel changed my life. I simplified my views of what I needed to have and to give. I shortened the scope of my hopes and the length of my expectations.  I affirmed core realities: I loved the Lord and longed to serve Him; I desired a Christian marriage and a family; Paul, sweet and uncomplicated, loved the Lord and had a soft heart for people, like my dad (like me?); he was graduating from college and had some career goals; he desired Christian marriage and a family. We both were from small families with older parents. We had things in common and things not in common. I decided to be open to him.

At my father’s request and against my own desires, I applied for a teaching position at two schools in the mid west, closer to my roots. Paul unselfishly supported my decision, encouraging me to “give it your best shot.” With great reservations but at the Lord’s clear leading, I accepted a position teaching high school English in Columbus, Ohio. Assertively, Paul declared, “I don’t care where you go, I’m coming after you.”

In the summer of 1980 we each moved to Columbus, Ohio (not living together) and were married that autumn. I’ve often humorously sighed, “I didn’t know what to do with him, so I married him!” On October 17, we will celebrate 34 married years!

Like Kate, I did not marry my best friend. Paul and I also nurture other important friendships. These friendships add ballast to the ship of our marriage. Thus, Paul doesn’t need to be my mind’s most “kindred spirit,” nor I his. Our relationship has developed its own friendship niche. Kate Shellnutt says, “Of course married people find their most significant relationship in their husband or wife—but that doesn’t equate to being BFFs.” [Best Friends Forever]  Yes, but. . . .

My life’s trajectory is probably about 30 years ahead of Kate Shellnutt’s. Thematically,  her story arch parallels mine. While I agree that the “best friends” status is not essential when marrying, unnecessary in a good marriage, and may not be in a marriage’s best interest, I come to an ironic turn. Maybe it’s just a nuance, with which Kate may concur (read her article*). In my marriage, because of its exclusivity within a context — planted within a garden of other friendships, a unique best friendship has blossomed, a hearty hybrid with an eternal bloom (a BFF?). I predict that by God’s raining grace, Kate’s marital friendship, planted within their friend-spaced garden, will also produce such a bloom.

Kate completes her article stating, “I didn’t marry my best friend. Instead, I married my husband, with all my best friends beside me to celebrate. It was the happiest day of my life. I got—and still get—to have both.”

I smile. This makes me happy. I also believe that other days are coming in Kate’s life that  may rival her “happiest day.” And another day will come for all believers that will supersede our earthly best. Our Best Friend Forever becomes our Husband. Our Bridegroom and Lord.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, 

like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Revelation 19:6-8


* Access Kate’s article here:



Categories: Spiritual Growth | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Part 1: Befriending Many, Marrying One,

  1. Martin Zuidervaart

    Karen, this is your friend Marty, now 67, and your “mentor” (whom you referenced) during our two Baymonte years together when I was a young 30 year old. What a surprise to become engaged in this blog (having also read Kate’s article) and without notice seeing my name appear! I have no recollection of this conversation so long ago, yet it included “counsel . . . changed my life.” Have you ever brought this up during our visits over the years? If so, I don’t remember. Your reflection on making the decision to “be open” to Paul and let him “come after you” is especially meaningful to me because Paul has been so good to you, has loved you deeply, and has provided for you during these past 34 years (impressively so). In regards to the blog itself, I marvel at your insight to apply the realities of friendship and marriage to our soon-coming marriage day to our best friend Jesus–the day that will trump (“supersede”) all of our other “happiest days” here on earth (“our earthly best”)–“a hearty hybrid with an eternal bloom (BFF?).” Thank you, Karen, for yet another classic piece of journalism as well as for blessing me personally with a good memory from our rich history together.

    • kltolsen

      Thanks for this tender response. I suppose you wouldn’t remember your counsel to me. It was just part of a good conversation! I suppose we haven’t talked about it “during our visits over the years.” I hadn’t thought about it. We always have so much to talk about when we do talk! Life is rich. Much friendship talk blends into flavors, but certain statements stay as complete thoughts in the memory. These are those “aha” ideas that act as sign posts and coaches, redirecting us. Your simple and straight forward advise stuck in my heart and truly shaped my perspective. I should have thanked you years ago. I suppose you were more of a mentor to me than you realized. And that’s the way it should be. A very organic relationship – treasured and sweet. Thank you!

  2. Anonymous


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