Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman's life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we're considering the role of friendship in the lives of single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each other’s experience. The reflection from a single woman can be found here.
A few months after I got married, I met two of my best friends from high school for dinner.
One of them was visiting from L.A. She looked it—a minimalist tattoo, a blunt haircut. Probably also a jumpsuit I’d never have dared to wear. The year before she’d picked up and moved with no job and no leads, but here she was, thriving. The other was planning a four-month trip abroad. The lease was expiring on her nearby apartment, and she didn’t know where she would live when she returned, but she seemed unfazed.
I sat across from them in our little booth, feeling matronly in my Gap dress and wedding rings and stability.
I hadn’t, of course, expected that they’d move back home. I’ve lived in the same place all my life, including my four years in college, which means that I have an eclectic, rotating assortment of friends nearby—some from high school and college, some from work, some from childhood. The three of us had gone to three different universities, and while we always made a point to see each other when we were all in town, our friendships were approaching that stagnant, nostalgic place of treasuring our shared past but absent from each other’s presents.
It was a lovely evening. But as the first time I’d really felt the difference of my state in life, it was jarring.
Navigating the transition
I was the first of my friends to get married.
I was a year out of college when my husband Sam and I walked down the aisle, and my friends and I were all navigating our transitions to the real world. Some of us were in jobs we didn’t like, others in grad school. Still others were pursuing adventures like my high school friends’, traveling the world with only a backpack full of curiosity, or so it seemed. At the same time I’d committed the rest of my life to one person—and, in all likelihood, one place—their futures were wide open.
Envy doesn’t capture the feeling; I’d never been more sure of any decision than that to marry Sam. Maybe it was admiration for their burgeoning self-reliance. And even though I didn’t feel personally abandoned by any of the friends who left the area, I did feel sad that I couldn’t accompany them in their new lives.
My two closest friends, Claire and Molly, still lived nearby. We still saw each other a lot; in fact, I felt like I had an abundance of social time after I got married, since I no longer had to choose between Sam and my friends in my limited free time. Now that Sam was woven into the fabric of my daily life, I was happy to see my two best friends as often as they were free.
But I do think there was a perceptible shift in our friendships. Perhaps from watching all my single friends and their seeming independence, I developed the idea that I wasn’t supposed to need my friends anymore. After all, I had a built-in buddy in Sam. After their years of service, my friends shouldn’t need to worry about me anymore; I’d just be fun company.
There would be, however, plenty of times down the road to prove me wrong.
Where Sam sometimes had a hard time empathizing with emotions he hadn’t experienced, my friends could often relate. Like when several months into that first year of marriage a big, gray sadness hit me out of nowhere, and Molly, no stranger to depression herself, walked me through it.
Sometimes, a problem simply felt too big for Sam and me to carry ourselves. There was the time that I sat opposite Molly at a little wine bar on a weekday evening, barely keeping back tears as I told her how burned out, how hopeless, how just plain tired Sam and I were after taking on a large project outside our full-time jobs. He and I were so individually spent, drowning in the same muddy water, that we couldn’t reach out to help the other one up. I don’t remember what Molly said that night; there was certainly no solution to be found at the time. But I do remember leaving feeling encouraged and hopeful, as if the sheer fact of her support taught me how to tread water again.
But of course, there were also the practical needs that life often demands. There were the times that Claire babysat so Sam and I could go on much-needed dates and the time Molly babysat when I had surgery. The several moves Claire helped us with, packing up the same dishes on the same living room floor where she’d helped us unpack several years prior. Bringing home new babies brings its own share of needs; the night we brought our second home from the hospital, Claire was there—a bag full of things we needed from the grocery store in tow—to help Sam take care of our toddler, to keep me company as I sat nursing the baby, and to convince me it was okay to just take the damn Percocet.
And that’s to say nothing of the top-of-the-world good times—when we clinked glasses to new jobs or graduations or holidays. And the ordinary times: for the last three years at least and to this day, Claire comes over every week for dinner. Molly and I have a text thread that, if printed, could wallpaper my entire house.
Life, as it turns out, is bigger than all of us: bigger than my marriage, bigger than my friendships, and much, much bigger than our abilities to take care of ourselves on our own.
Learning to communicate
But it hasn’t been without its difficulties. As a married mother with two single best friends, I haven’t always found it easy to be on the same page.
When I got pregnant with my first baby, we were all excited. But as the difficulty of new motherhood very quickly adjusted my idealistic expectations, I had a hard time expressing how much I was struggling. The gap in their understanding of what I was experiencing manifested itself in small ways: when I’d tell them, “The baby is sick,” for example, I was looking for as much sympathy for me as I was for him. Or when they came over, it would be nice to be greeted before the baby. Or at least immediately after. (That said, how much they love my kids is one of my favorite things in the world. After my oldest was born, Molly and I joked that “the baby really brought us closer together.”) Mostly it came down to my failure to communicate, which is something I’m still working on.
Worse, I’m not even sure I know the ways I’ve failed to understand their current states of life. It’s one thing to look back on being single from nearly six years deep into marriage; it’s quite another to be experiencing it as a late twenty-something who isn’t currently dating.
But it’s been an attitude of openness that has really helped to bridge the gap. A few weeks after we brought our second baby home, Claire asked earnestly, “What’s it like to be the mother of two children?” It made me stop and think. But it wasn’t just a good conversation-starter; it was an acknowledgement that she didn’t know what it was like, and she wanted to hear about my experience.
I’m not the only one of my broader group of friends who is married now. I’ve sometimes sought the company of other married women, moms especially, and it’s a relief to talk teething, nap schedules (or lack thereof), and toddler tantrums with women who have been there before or are in the thick of it with me. Now that my oldest is in preschool, I’m excited (though admittedly daunted) by the community of parents at his school.
But at the end of the day, it’s still the company of those who have known me longest that I crave the most.
Looking toward the future
Right now, with a toddler and an infant, I feel like I’m taking more than I’m giving.
I wish we could make plans that didn’t revolve around how often the baby is nursing or what time my two-year-old goes to bed. I wish it were easier for me to show up for them—going to parties they host, meeting up for lunch near where they work. I wish my attention weren’t constantly divided, a piece of it always zoomed in on one of the little people in my care. As I write this, I’m hoping I asked them enough about how they’re doing the last time I saw them.
But it’s a good lesson for me: that friendship is greater than the sum of any particular season. It’s easy to feel comfortable when you’re doing your fair share, you’ve put your time in, you’ve earned your love. But when you can’t open your arms to your friends for the children in them, when you can’t answer the text that comes in during dinner time, when you have to say, “No, the kids are sick,” again, it’s trust that you need.
I suppose that’s what I’m leaning on right now. I’m trusting that, whatever comes, we’ll still do our best for each other—even when our best isn’t as good as we’d like it to be. I’m trusting that, even when communication breaks down, we’ll put it back together again. I’m trusting that, no matter our futures, we’ll figure out how to be part of one another’s lives.
So far, so good.
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