Monday, 18 January 2010

Friends and Loss

I will be going home to Canada in late March. In one way, I can hardly wait. I miss my family and my friends, particuarly my girlfriends. When I was Single, my family and friends were my greatest social and emotional support. Now that I am married and across the ocean, I really miss them. Thank goodness we live in the age of cheap telecommunications.

The problem is that I know that as soon as I leave Scotland, I will begin missing my husband. And here we have the central tragedy of the foreign spouse: a heart always divided between this country and that.

But if there is one thing that women, especially Single women, are trained in, it's loss. A Single woman's depression during or after a wedding is not necessarily caused because she wants to get married, too. It's sometimes because she has, in some ways, lost her friend. If the groom is her friend, a significant fence has gone up between them. If the bride is her friend, they are now living two different kinds of life. The bride has moved into the married sphere, and the Single woman has one (or two) fewer Single friends.

We begin our training in loss with the books we read as children. The Anne books, Little Women, Little House on the Prairie: there always came a moment when a girl got married and left her family and friends, and those family and friends felt the loss of her. Anne was cut to the quick when she came upon Fred proposing to Diana. Jo was revolted when she discovered that John Brooke was in love with Meg. (Carrie) Laura... Well, (Carrie) Laura** said good-bye to Mary when Mary went to blind school, and to her parents when she married her husband Alonzo.

Then there comes that moment when a best friend cancels her plans with you because her crush object has finally asked her out. It would be nice to think that in these grrlpower days, this no longer happens. But I can still remember that day in the Eighties when I got the phone call and said "Of course, we can cancel." I soon discovered that, in high school, a friend with a boyfriend was a friend one didn't see very often any more.

The most poignant part of Little Women for me, after Beth's death (which I still cry through), was Jo's loneliness. Meg had married, Amy had married Jo's boyfriend*, and Beth had died. This left Jo up in the attic, scribbling away, convinced she was on the shelf at the age of 25 or whatever it was. In the story, Jo is fetched out of the attic by a German professor. In real life, Louisa May Alcott stayed at home with her father, and was happy never to marry at all.

Jo (and Louisa May Alcott) faced her Single life with dignity, and if she sometimes felt lonely, she still had her sisters and parents to talk to, her niece and nephew to play with, and her friends to visit. She also had her work and pride in the money she earned for herself and her parents. She had her American Trancedentalist's faith in God. The more poignant Single figure in Little Women is actually Professor Bhaer, who has two nephews to take care of, but no close friends.

My advice about friends and Single Life is to maintain ties with best friends as well as you are able. Sometimes there are irreparable ruptures, but this shouldn't be because your friend has gotten married or even moved away. I remember saying to a friend "Don't ditch us once you are married." She replied, "Don't you ditch me once I am married!" I was touched that, in all her happiness and planning, my soon-to-be-married friend was already thinking about the role her friends would play in her married life.

Some women make the mistake of thinking friendships won't change at all when marriage happens; others make the mistake of thinking they will change drastically. I didn't realize what messages I had imbibed about friendship and marriage until I hit her ceiling in fright when my friend's husband came home from work. "In my culture" (not sure what culture this is, The Honeymooners?) a married women's friends are expected to be out of the house or off the phone by the time the Husband comes home. This Husband, formerly just the fun, smart, twenty-something guy dating my buddy, told me to relax and stay awhile, and I saw him as himself again. (As I tell this story, I can just see my grandmother's green china dogs and smell the stale cigarette smoke in her drapes.)

What I didn't expect to happen, when I assured my bride-friend that I wasn't going to ditch her because she was married, was that I would eventually get married myself and move across the ocean. A foreign student, she officially emigrated to Canada after getting married, and to our surprise I emigrated out. All the stuff I assumed, like we'd be having coffee every Friday and that I'd be Auntie Seraphic, babysitting her kids, turned out not to be true. But this is something belonging to the challenges of Married Life, not Single Life, so I'll leave it there. I'll just say that if you are missing your Married friend, she is probably missing you too. Email her right now.

*Oh, let's face it. He was.

**An anonymous poster has reminded me I meant Laura. Of course. Carrie was the baby sister, right?


aussie girl in australia said...

It has happened to me. One best friend still tries to keep in touch but it is not a priority. The other nastily cut me out of her life in favour of friends who were conveniently in couples too.
The three of us were best friends for 15 years. Now they are married and I am not. Don't even have a boyfriend. And I live in another city.

Seraphic said...

Oh dear, that is very sad. I forget how old you are, though.

I am only ever in occasional facebook touch with my high school friends; it is my university friends that I am more in contact with. Childhood and teenage friends are, I suspect, more likely to grow apart as our personalities only firm up in our twenties. I had a best friend cut me out of her life in high school because she was more interested in hanging out with other girls with boyfriends. Maybe she thought they were more mature. (Hmm... Considering me in high school, maybe they were!)

I hope you have replaced the mean friend and send an email to the nicer one soon. A woman can be happily Single without a boyfriend (don't say 'even' a boyfriend, because no boyfriend is better than a lousy boyfriend), but she usually needs female company and solidarity.

theobromophile said...

When I was in high school, I was friends with a lot of girls who were only there (either in time or emotionally) when not in relationships. Most of them grew up to be women who ditched their friends once married.

One of my best friends from college (who started dating his now-wife at age 14!) was always very good about making friend time. Now married, he's still good about making friend time.

Seraphic said...

Women who ditch their friends when they get married....

I have four thoughts:

1. Married women can't always do Single girl stuff anymore, and they may feel just as ditched as their Single friends feel ditched. If your married woman friend can't get out of the house to see you, call her up and ask when she'd like some girl time. Be willing to cross town with a cake or something for the baby.

2. Women who let all their other relationships slide as they wrap themselves in their husbands' lives are very shortsighted.

3. Some friendships come to a natural end, which is sad, and some friendships starve to death, which is tragic. But some friendships go into suspended animation and after several years apart, some friends come back together as if they last saw each other yesterday.

4. Most married women can no longer share in Single Girls' angst. As a group, they tend to laugh off Single Girls' fears and tell you to look on the bright side. Some might even see you as threats to their marriages. (Alas!) They get severely pissed off if you tell them how lucky they are and how easy their lives are compared to yours. To continue a friendship with a married woman your age, you may have to rein in your complaints about the Single Life and your dreams about Married Life. Older married women may be more sympathetic, if they are (like me) maternal types.

MargoB said...

I am crazy lucky (read "God is so good to me!") : Some of my married friends have said "Please call and invite yourself over for dinner some time. It's not that we don't want to see's just that we have enough going on that we forget to invite you! But we love having you over." So I have, and they have not only welcomed me in, but thanked me for taking them seriously on this.

I even called up some old college friends (married to each other) the day before New Year's, to say "Hey, friends in my neck of the woods are sparse; you're the sort of friends I feel comfortable inviting myself over to; can I join you for New Year's?" Turns out their plans had fallen through, so they were having a quieter party at home, and were very pleased that I'd called; both reiterated that they indeed hoped I'd always feel comfortable inviting myself over.

THAT is more than good fortune: that's God giving this single woman some great friends, and I'm thankful.

Another girlfriend (married over 12 years ago) and I have continued to stay close since college; she tells me that as much as she loves her husband and 4 children (and she does), she misses her girl-friendships, and is grateful that I keep up our friendship. (She is a great support to me, so it's not simply out of charity that I do so!) But what's even better is that her husband made it clear when they started dating that her dear friends would be his friends, too. So I now am blest to have not only the friendship continued with my friend from college, but I am privileged to be more than just an acquaintance with her husband, too.

I can't close without repeating that it is God who has given me these friendships, and I do thank Him for them all!

Anonymous said...

Often friendships forged during a married woman's single years were built around endless discussions of the Man Problem. If she wants to be a loyal wife, she cannot discuss her husband freely with her friends, something men hate. If her friends knew him before he married her, they may make her uncomfortable by reminding her of how much they know.

Moral: single women should be careful to ensure that their female friendships are built on more than talking about the Man Problem.


Seraphic said...

MargoB, you are blessed. Clio, amen to that!

theobromophile said...

I would be more sympathetic to the idea of Married women also feeling ditched, except for the fact that some of my Married girl friends manage beautifully and some... well, the only options ever available to me have been doing things like driving to another state (understandable when the friend is pregnant or a mom; otherwise, a bit strange).

I'm also eternally irked by Married friends who tell me to put up with male behaviour that they would never have accepted in their own husbands. It's like they think I should be desperate, rather than having actual standards (e.g. enough honesty to not lie about the existence of previous marriages).

As per above, many of my Married friends do not act this way, so it's hard to see it as a normal part of Married life. I'm sorry, but, Married or Single, you can still engage in give-and-take and treat your friends like actual human beings.

Seraphic said...

The idea that Married women can feel lonely and abandoned by their friends is just something I'm throwing out there for Singles, especially Searching Singles, to think about.

God knows how many women have found out too late that their husband is not all their family and friends rolled up into one. I think the number one mistake women make about men is to think they are like women. Usually, they aren't as good listeners. To turn a man into as a good a listener as a woman, you have to put him through a three-to-six year ministry program and ordain him.

In general, it is best not to talk to Married women about your Single woman woes, unless they are pastoral counsellors or shrinks. I'm not sure what bad male behaviour you are talking about but now I am dying to know!

theobromophile said...

Oh, the reminder is always good!

I think the number one mistake women make about men is to think they are like women. Usually, they aren't as good listeners. To turn a man into as a good a listener as a woman, you have to put him through a three-to-six year ministry program and ordain him.

(Laughing.) That's a good one.

On another note, from having been on the other side of it, it is extraordinarily difficult to try to be someone's family and friends rolled into one.

Seems like it would be much healthier for a relationship to have your guy/girl nights so that your significant other can have girl/guy/blissfully-alone nights.

some guy on the street said...

T.L. may well have thought he was J.M.'s beau, but it's also perfectly clear that she never led him on, nor meant to encourage him.

Amy said...

I love my friends' husbands and I love their kids even more, but I start to miss my friend if I only hang out with her in a family setting. My married friends and I have found that if there is any way to have one-on-one time with just us gals (no husband, no kids) that we are really energized and enriched. For nearby friends, that means dinner with the family and then us girls slipping off for coffee & chat when the kids go to bed. For faraway friends, a "Girls' Weekend" every few years is a great way to really catch up. I'm sure there are other ways to do incorporate girl time too - just so long as it happens.

Anonymous said...

Yes. You meant Laura, and her husband's name was "Almanzo", not "Alonzo".

According to Miss Wilder, an ancestor of her husband had his life saved during the Crusades by an Arab named El-Manzur, or something like that. To repay him, Almanzo's ancester decreed that forever after, one son of each generation of his family in the direct line would be named after the chivalrous El-Manzur. A great story, even it isn't true...


Alisha said...

"A Single woman's depression during or after a wedding is not necessarily caused because she wants to get married, too. It's sometimes because she has, in some ways, lost her friend. If the groom is her friend, a significant fence has gone up between them. If the bride is her friend, they are now living two different kinds of life."

Thanks for getting this.

Seraphic said...

Thanks, Clio! I never owned the Little House books; I just took them out of the library, so my memory is faulty. And I never watched the TV show.

Some Guy, I read a biography of Louisa May Alcott that suggested that L.M.A. forbade Jo Laurie (and vice versa) out of her own sense of self-denial. And how angry was I at this news, eh? As a child, I wrote an extra scene into "Little Women", making Jo accept Laurie. Too bad for Professor Bhaer. It wasn't until the Winona Ryder film that I realized Professor Bhaer could have been sexy--especially if played by Gabriel Byrne!

You're quite right. Jo never led Laurie on, and she even went away in an attempt to cure his love for her. Jo cannot be blamed for Laurie's sufferings.

One of the sadder scenes in "Little Women" is when Marmee asks lonely Jo if she would have eventually accepted Laurie, had he not married Amy, and she said she would have now, out of loneliness. It may have been LMA's warning to Single women not to allow themselves to get too lonely, or they will be in danger of settling.

B said...

My experience with married friends is that you have to give them about six months after the wedding to spend getting adjusted to each other and their new living situation (this mostly only applies to couples who weren't living together before the wedding). After that you start being able to see them again, at least until they get pregnant. That's when the big change occurs. I remember the first time I visited a married friend whom I hadn't seen in a long time, hoping to have at least one heart to heart with her (I was going to be there for a week, so I thought this was reasonable), only to find myself acting as the live-in babysitter the entire time I was there. While I don't mind babysitting on occasion, that wasn't what I'd had in mind when I said I'd come to visit! I don't tend to visit that particular friend much anymore.

Kate P said...

Hmm, I just borrowed a new bio of LMA from the library. . . too bad it's out in the car (and it's 10 p.m.), because I'm dying to see if anything is said about the "Little Women"/Laurie situation.

Sheila said...

Hear, hear, on the married women being lonely for single friends! My real friends are the ones from my single life, who were my friends not just because we were in the same state in life, but because we had and still have a ton in common.

Unfortunately, a lot of my friends dropped away after my wedding. In part, I think they assume I don't want to have as much to do with them any more. Part of it's the fact that I had to move, and a big part of it is my own fault: like someone said, the first six months, I was pretty absorbed with adjusting to my new state in life (and new city and new job). Now I'm pregnant ... which has brought some friends around with congratulations, and I think may be driving others away. They assume I'm different now -- but I sure feel like the same old me! And it might be a cure for any jealousy they have to hear me whining about how lousy I feel. ;)

The moral? Married women can be busy and stressed, and can sometimes not call as often as they'd like because they're tied up in their vocation (quite a demanding one), but it doesn't mean they don't want single friends. Some of us do. Promise. Maybe I can't stay out late like I used to, and I can't afford to go anywhere nice, but believe me, I would love to know I'm still welcome in single circles, with or without my husband.

Seraphic said...

Thank you, Sheila, for a married woman's eye view!

I was reminded of that scene in "Bridget Jones: Eclipse of Reason" when married Magda finally gets to have a night out with Bridget, Jude and Shazzer. At first Jude and Shazzer are annoyed that their Married friend has come along, but as she describes her pregnancy-and-birth experiences, they begin cheering up about their Single state!

theobromophile said...

Now I'm pregnant

Congratulations, Sheila! :)

but as she describes her pregnancy-and-birth experiences, they begin cheering up about their Single state!

When my Married friend did that a few months ago, my Single (although seriously dating a very nice young man) friend and I looked at each other and said, "Adoption."

Seraphic said...

Heh heh heh. But even then not all would be a garden of roses.

Nope, let's face it, the grass is only greener if you were called over to that grass by God, and even then there is going to be some serious suckitude. Guaranteed!