It had been a while since I had seen my friend Caroline, and I was looking forward to catching up. After months of our busy schedules constantly one-upping each other’s, we finally made plans. We met at a local coffee shop where I had been stationed for the day, working. Caroline walked in right on time, gave me a hug, and sat down across from me. It was a few months after my wedding, and I had been craving some quality girlfriend time.
“So. How’ve you been?” she asked.
“Great!” I said. I rambled off what I had been up to: working, repairs around the house, donating my old kitchenware and replacing it with items from my registry, trips to visit the in-laws…
I lost her at in-laws. She looked out the window, distracted as the cars passed by, and I quickly realized that my married to-do list hadn’t exactly been the thing that Caroline, my fabulously single pal, had been looking to hear about.
I changed the subject. “So. Are you dating anyone?”
Caroline came alive. I heard about the latest adventures of the ex who stayed within arm’s reach, a date with a mysterious man she was pretty sure built missiles of some sort for a living, and the guy who was perfect until she realized he had abnormally small hands.
Mid-sentence, Caroline turned her face to the window and began waving.
“Who are you waving at?” I asked, confused.
“That guy in the convertible. He’s so cute!” she squealed.
Ten minutes later, a strange man walked up to our table. He had seen Caroline’s flirty gesture through the café windows, did a few laps in his car, and then pulled over to make his move. He handed my friend his number, handwritten on a piece of paper. She “promised” to call, and then crumbled it up in her palm as he meandered off.
“He’s way too short,” Caroline said. The rest of our get-together was spent analyzing his height.
That was the moment I realized there may be some challenges involved with having single friends as a married woman.
Being married put me in a very different place of life than my nonmarried friends, but I did my best to hold onto those friendships. I’d make plans to grab drinks at a local wine bar, but they’d often leave me to “take a lap”—that is, to see if there was someone more handsome who could hold their attention for the evening. I felt like they were covert spies, hanging out with me yet simultaneously armed with ulterior motives. And I lost track of how many times I’d be with a group of gals, have the subject turn to the dating lives of the single women, and be quickly shunned from the conversation. “You’re married, Nicole. You don’t get it,” they’d say. “I would have liked to have tried!” I thought.
Did they think that just because I was married, my life was flawless? Marriage wasn’t always perfection. Some days, it was roses and champagne, while others involved stressful decisions about equity lines of credit and arguments over expenses. But whenever I tried to bring any of that up to these girlfriends, I’d see their eyes glaze over. It was like we were suddenly from different planets and our current ways of life had become completely foreign to one another.
That wasn’t the case when we hung out with other couples. My husband and I began double-dating and found that the conversation and laughs flowed more freely when we socialized with others in the same boat. We’d discuss the nuances of marriage and laugh over the fact that another romantically linked duo argued over the same things we did. And when I branched off and palled around one-on-one with married female friends, we just seemed to be in sync. It was like I had found my tribe. But I still missed my single girlfriends and continued to do my best to stay in touch with them.
My husband and I purchased our first home together several years ago. It was a very adult maneuver, one that we are very proud of. We spent years doing nothing but working morning to night, saying yes to every moneymaking opportunity that came our way, turning down social obligations, and making financial sacrifices, like having to RSVP no to friends’ fabulous destination weddings and cutting down on dining out, and I couldn’t even remember the last time I had bought anything even remotely for myself. I do remember pulling all-nighters to meet deadlines, the stress of having to scrape together the down payment, and the multitude of mortgage brokers we met with before being approved for a loan.
People seemed excited for us. “Have a housewarming party!” they’d say. Not to knock those gestures, but that really wasn’t for me. I felt terrible about having a get-together at my home for the sole purpose of showing it off, especially as a homeowner in a pricey city where some of our pals hadn’t yet hit that same milestone.
We did host a game night at our home. We cleaned and lit candles and got out the good servingware from our wedding registry. I was really excited to host people. I purposely didn’t make a big deal about our home. I didn’t offer a tour unless anyone asked. The focus of the evening was to hang out with good friends and play a board game.
Within five minutes of being inside, a friend made a snarky comment to one of our houseguests. I couldn’t quote him precisely, but it was something along the lines of “All the game nights need to be here from now on, because their living room is the size of my entire studio apartment.”
I found myself jumping in, making excuses, revealing that we sold a home that my husband owned in a previous life for our down payment, that we worked morning till night for years straight to make the loan happen, downplaying my achievements. That seemed to defuse our guest, but it really made me feel deflated. I was proud of my home and suddenly felt guilty about owning it.
When I’d go over to a neighbor’s house for a drink or when another couple would invite us over to have dinner at their pad, it just seemed to be easy. They would show us their great new living room furniture, and we’d get excited for them. And they’d applaud us for the smart decision we made about refinancing our mortgage. Those interactions made me feel proud about working so hard and achieving my dream of earning a home, as opposed to feeling the need to downplay my accomplishment.
But then I quickly thought back to when we were in the trenches of saving for the house. Once we decided we wanted to move, my husband and I couldn’t get out of our apartment fast enough. We were invited to have dinner at a friend’s new home and were thrilled for them. But I also felt a little knot of jealousy brew inside my stomach. I hate how that was the case, but I can’t deny that it happened.
The older I get, the more I realize that marriage is the catalyst for when all of this changes. Prior to those days, I lived in a carefree bubble, accountable only to myself, without a mortgage or a solid life plan. But when you tie the knot, it all seems to get real — your relationship bliss may alienate you from your girlfriends who are still dating, purchasing a house can inadvertently cause those still renting to resent you, and friends with babies don’t seem to understand the lives of those without kids. Case in point: One of my dearest friends in the world has completely disappeared from my life after popping out a little one, and no matter how hard I try to even swing by her home to hang out with her and her child, she seems to be too busy for me. When I tried to politely approach the subject with her the other day, I was met with a “You are not a mom yet. You don’t understand.” Ouch!
Next on the agenda for us is having babies. Many of our friends are already on their second and third kids. For various reasons, we’ve been forced to delay having our first and are hoping to be where they are any day now. And though I’m not quite yet in the phase of dinner party discussions revolving around the best local preschools or how to maximize your breast milk production, I am doing my best to be interested and to hold my own in those conversations.
The thing is, my single friends are right. I may have lost touch with what it means to be sans relationship. I got together with my husband before the app bonanza, so I don’t understand the turmoil of dating on Tinder. But I’d certainly like to be given the opportunity to try. I’ve been making an effort to listen to my gal pal’s dating disasters and am trying my best to offer a shoulder to cry on. And in return, I’d love for them to help me navigate marital challenges, because, after all, we don’t have to completely understand one another to be supportive.
One thing I’ve realized: As you get older, it’s important to have friends in the same phase of life. It’s great to have people who can fully relate to your everyday ordeals and vice versa, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave behind people who aren’t in your phase, especially the friends you’ve had so much amazing history with. What’s the saying? You can’t remake old friends? Nobody will share the same inside jokes that Caroline and I share. Who else would understand a texting conversation that revolves entirely around tiny hand emojis?