I came to a conclusion last night. It's probably something that everyone else in the world has figured out, but I at thirty-something am just realizing: the people in your life have to stretch you. They have to make you more. They have to pull you out of your comfort zone, and you need to do the same for them.
Looking over the past, three friends who have gotten married in the past year, all of them are so different because of the people they married. The people they married challenged them, and trust me, they challenged the people they married. I can't get over the changes they've made in their lives, and that just one person did it.
Last night, I went to a swing dancing class with my best girl C and her dad. Her dad is recently divorced, and has met A Very Nice Lady who likes to swing dance. Before, when Dad was with Mom, and they pretended everything was peachy, Dad was very nearly clinically depressed. He was always shy, I'm told, but apparently marriage to Mom made him worse. He would shut himself in his study, or in a corner during parties. Last night at swingdance, I saw Dad in a whole new light. He was smiling. He danced with me, and we were terrible at it, but we laughed. Very Nice Lady smiled at him and encouraged him. There was a tiny, tiny baby being passed around (so tiny!), and it was just the most relaxed I've seen him.
I can't imagine how life would be different if Dad had met someone else. C was adopted, so it's possible she would still have ended up with him, but his personality, the relationship he now has with his children, would all have been different if he had married someone else.
It puts me in mind of Jane Austen's Emma, one of my favorite books. The Omniscient Narrator asserts that if Elton had married Harriet instead of Augusta, he would have been a better man because Harriet would have put him in different society than Augusta did. Not only that, but Harriet was humble, and believed she had room to grow. Augusta was convinced that she was at the peak of society, and that she had nowhere else to go, so Elton stagnated. His opinions became a parrot of his wife's and her acquaintance.
I can't help but wonder if I am stagnating. Sometimes, probably. But my friends...my friends challenge me. They make me do things like swingdancing and painting and other stuff that I happen to be bad at, which swingdancing pretty much encompasses.