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 married woman can be found here.
Growing up, my imagination for adult life included marriage in my twenties, a couple kids by my thirties, a house in the suburbs, and a demanding carpool, room mom, after-school activities schedule. Today, I’m nearing my late thirties, single and childless, living in a one-bedroom apartment in a city, and working a demanding full-time job.
Nobody’s life goes as planned, I’ve come to understand. Yet, as I’ve navigated the disappointment of dreams not coming true (yet) and built a life that is deeply fulfilling, I’ve realized how woefully unprepared for my adult life I was. I always figured I’d have a built-in partner, my husband, helping me to navigate the newness of managing a budget, my professional life, and more.
But as I’ve (mostly on my own) navigated jobs, budgets, housing, romance, and everything else involved in adult life, there has been a unique support that I’ve felt from my friends—most of whom are my peers—that has given me clarity in cloudy times and joy and deep meaning in life, too. They have kept me grounded, helped me feel less alone, and expanded my vision for what is possible in life as dreams come together or not.
Friends who make me feel less alone
Sometime in my mid-twenties, a friend and I picked up a routine of calling each other at least one or two times a week. The calls can last anywhere from ten minutes while we’re commuting to an hour if we’re free for longer. If we miss each other, we don’t leave a message. It’s an unspoken rule the other will call when she’s able or text her next available window.
There’s a comfort to this rhythm. This friend and I rarely have to catch each other up on the happenings of our lives, because we know what’s been going on.
The longer calls often dive into deeper topics—our fears about our work, the crises our families are facing, romance, and more. But most days, the bulk of the content of the call is pretty mundane information—recounting what happened at work or reporting about a bill we got in the mail that stressed us out.
However, somewhere over the years, I realized what felt ordinary was actually extraordinary.
As a perfectionist, there have been many days when I’m worried I might be royally messing up my career, my finances, my 401k, or any other number of adult concerns. Having a friend who can affirm she’s also got similar questions and worries mitigates some of my perfectionist anxiety.
Now when a question like “what do I do with this tax statement?” comes up, I know I have someone I can call for wisdom—even if that wisdom is, “Call a CPA.”
We were both single when the calls started, but even since she’s gotten married and had a baby, the calls have continued. The consistency has allowed for a great deal of vulnerability on both sides of the relationship. Having someone to talk to regularly has helped me to feel less alone as I’ve grown into adult life.
But it hasn’t just been one constant friend who’s helped me feel less alone. My friends at work, in my social circle, and even casual acquaintances have all at times helped me to see I’m right on track.
I moved a lot in my twenties. I switched jobs more than a few times, too. For my well-intentioned family who lived in the same home my entire childhood, this frequent instability was concerning—how was I going to meet someone if I didn’t have roots and community? How was I going to advance in my career if I didn’t have longevity and commitment to show for on my résumé?
But as I talked with friends, I began to see that my path was not uncommon or unwise for my generation. The economy has changed and the professional world has changed. Seeing that others my age also moved and changed jobs often gave me context to take back to my family and, more importantly, soothed any doubts I was juggling as I navigated uncharted territory for me and my life.
Friends who remind us who we are and what we know to be true
Speaking of uncharted territory—like many in our parents’ generation, my mom and dad married in their early twenties. Dating later in life, especially in today’s technology-driven world, is akin to speaking a foreign language to them. So having friends who are also dating has also been irreplaceable when navigating my romantic life.
Long seasons of singleness and dating involve putting yourself “out there” to many people in search of that person you can vow your life to. It’s an exhilarating process that is also exhausting. You want to keep hope alive for each date you enter into. But even in the best of circumstances, a single woman at some time or another can’t help but wonder, “What is it about me that has made marriage so difficult to find?”
Sometimes, it takes a close friend to help us remember what we know to be true.
Take for example this experience I had on a winter night a few years ago. I’d recently gotten out of a bad relationship. The breakup was for the best, I was definitely sure of that, but my relief at the end of the relationship in some ways made the grieving process more complex. I found myself ignoring my feelings of loneliness, anger, and sadness during the weeks, distracting myself with work and friends.
Tired from a long week at the office, Fridays had become a quiet night for me to recharge, as opposed to the social night they’d once been. On this Friday, I aimlessly wandered into HomeGoods, unaware of the emotional trigger I was avoiding.
The quiet in the store provided space for my bottled up emotions to rise to the surface. On this Friday night, I was particularly on edge, using what little focus I had left to keep myself from letting the tears flow in the throw pillow aisle at HomeGoods.
I walked out of the store empty handed, and as I fumbled for my keys, I reflexively texted a friend, “What are you up to?” She must have had a feeling it wasn’t a typical evening for me, because she called me, and said, “I just made that tortilla soup I’ve served you before, and I’ll open a bottle of red. Come over.” The warmth in her voice allowed me to release my tears.
I couldn’t stop crying as I drove to her apartment.
The evening started with us trying to unwind the ball of emotions I’d been carrying that week, and ended with the two of laughing about horrendously failed dates or “what were we thinking?!” crushes we’ve both experienced in previous years.
My friend and I often say to each other, “I don’t know how I’d do this ‘dating in our thirties life’ without you.” It was one of those nights for me, when I needed a reminder that no matter what area of my life might be floundering—be it my career, my relationships, or the cleanliness of my apartment—it’s likely not for lack of trying on my part.
It’s been my experience that having a girlfriend you can call when you need a reminder of your worthiness makes all the difference. My friend was there for me that night as I navigated my broken heart. But I’ve been there for her, too.
Often, we don’t have to know much about the context to know that the next best thing to say is, “You are marriage material. This is not about you. It’s just so dang hard for us out there.” And once a few tears are shed (and maybe a few swear words spoken, too), we’re back to building our spirits up through things like brainstorming how to meet new men or what ways we want to have some fun for ourselves.
When a friend’s life changes—and yours doesn’t
It’s a gift to have a friend going through the same life experiences as you are at the same time. But many times that is not the reality of friendship. I have a large group of friends from college, and of the dozen or so women in the group, I’m one of two not married or a mother.
I’ve had the great privilege of learning a lot about marriage and parenting by watching my friends and hearing about their experiences. I can say unequivocally my expectations for marriage and family life aren’t jaded, but they’re definitely more realistic than they were at twenty-two.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it can be difficult to be at a gathering when the topic turns to husbands or children, and I’m the only one who doesn’t have something to contribute. I know my friends aren’t trying to leave me out; the truth is they probably don’t notice it like I do.
Similarly, it can feel like an uneven dynamic in the relationship at times when you remember that your married friends don’t need you in the same way you need them. For many married people, their husband is often a sounding board for those mundane questions like finances and those bigger life concerns about work and family. For me, a particular married friend might be the only person I can trust right now with a particular area of my life at the moment, but for her, it may be an area she looks to her husband to, first and foremost, or it might be something she’s no longer worried about (like dating).
Because friendship works best when there are equal levels of vulnerability and consistency, there can be an adjustment period for a friendship after a friend marries. I’ve found that with some friends I’ve had to find new areas to bond over. There have been benefits to this—like the friend who loved home decor like me, but we really didn’t discover it until she got married and our catch-ups no longer centered on dating and our shared work industry.
And some friendships have begun to fade in prominence in my life after marriage and children, as their new life realities become higher priorities. While this has been sad at times, it’s also been helpful to remember that all friendships can be categorized as for “a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”
It’s also not always marriage or parenthood that changes a friendship. I’ve had friends take on work projects that mean they’re less available for weeks or months at a time. Similarly, I’ve had seasons when my own job or life demanded I limit my social calendar. These seasons can be especially difficult and lonely when you don’t have a husband or kids that give you some social interaction without having to make plans.
But instead of dwelling on what I’m losing when a friend marries, for example, or a friendship changes, I often take note of what I’m gaining. There’s usually a great man, who becomes a friend and even a cheerleader for your dating life by telling you “the guys don’t know what they’re missing” or even setting you up with his friends. And then there are the kids that a friend’s marriage can bring.
Some of the most enjoyable, ordinary moments of my adult life have been casual pizza dinners at a friend’s house, in the warmth of a family home, with kids running around, or holding a new baby while chatting with her tired mama about how she’s adjusting to caring for and loving a new person in her life.
Similarly, I’ve expanded my social circle, adopted new hobbies, tried new workout routines, and more personally enriching activities when a friendship changes, thanks to the added time in my week.
I’ve often been comforted by the famous line from It’s a Wonderful Life, “No man is a failure who has friends.” But I’ve also come to see how more than just not being a failure, my quest for meaning and purpose in my adult life has been a success because of my friends.
Do you have an experience about friendship you'd like to share? Tell us here and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.