Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Long Distance Wedding Victims

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

My friend and I are angsting over a decision which we finally decided you would be well-equipped to answer. We have a feeling we know what you will say but we're wondering if you can give the reasons in a more eloquent and less embittered way than we are inclined to, given our situation.

Here is the deal. I have been invited to weddings of near and dear friends who have gotten married all over the US and overseas. With every wedding invitation comes the analysis of friendship vs. cost: deciding if I am close enough to this person to validate the expense. I haven't attended many weddings as a result.

However, my single friends and I have noticed a disturbing reality. Regardless of how close we were to friends before their wedding, regardless of how much we help assemble favors in the days leading up to the blessed event, regardless of how much time we spend cleaning up after the wedding while the newlyweds escape on their honeymoon, regardless of the fact that we sacrificed vacation time, money, etc... we really don't hear much from the friends after their weddings.

Newlywed friends cross over into that blissfully married-hanging-out-with-similiar-vocationed people and only communicate with us in attempts to set us up with other single friends or babysit their eventual children. They don't attend the weddings that occur after their own ([too busy with babies]). Their Facebook messages are restricted to wedding pictures, sonnogram pictures, over-sharing about Natural Family Planning strategies, and commenting that our lives seem so fun and easy, and they sure wish they could trade places with us and leave the diapers for a day (LOL)...

Never again do they ask us about our jobs, lives, etc. There have been one or two exceptions to this rule, but it's a reality that we've grown used to and have even embraced as an opportunity to find more friends and validate not attending some weddings that in our younger, naive state, we may have attended thinking it would make us closer friends.

Here's the question. A best friend--the kind of really good friend that we've known and traveled with and talked to about everything and have laughed with and cried with and swore that no matter what happens and who you date you'll stay friends--is now engaged. To complicate matters, she's moved to a very random town that is a day's drive away and very expensive to fly to, and this is where she's having the wedding. We're looking at a trip that will cost us around $800, and the bride has already started to demonstrate the "distancing" that has become all too familiar.

At what point do you say no? Obviously, a good friend should understand that some things are just not financially possible, but we all know that brides-to-be are not always in the most rational state of mind. And, obviously, as a single person you can work extra hours, go without luxuries, beg, borrow and steal and make it work, but frankly, we're starting to feel like hamsters on a social treadmill that ends with a humiliating bouquet toss. While it can be fun, it often leaves us exhausted, broke and behind on work.

There's nothing my single friends and I want more than to take the thousands of dollars we spend on weddings each year and just go on a cruise, but we fear that re-prioritizing would mean the end of our friendships. But then again, weddings have seemed to be the end of many friendships over the years anyway.

So we ask you, Auntie Seraphic, as the authority on being gracious yet realistic, What are nice Catholic girls to do? When do you say "enough is enough"? And is it a universal truth that friendships seem to be lost after weddings? We know we're both at fault, but after a while you grow so tired of trying...

Your wisdom would be much appreciated,

Long Distance Wedding Victims


Dear Long Distance Wedding Victims,

I feel your pain. And I would like you to know that instead of getting married in my husband's beautiful, exotic city across the Atlantic Ocean from my family and girlfriends, I got married at home in my dear old hometown. This is, in fact, the traditional thing to do, and I am all about tradition. There are reasons for tradition.

Sure, I invited friends who live in the USA, in Scotland and in Germany, but I didn't really think they'd be able to pony up the airfare. It would have been cool, but even a bride must be reasonable, and that fact that one of the Scots and the German (Der Gute, from the book)did come was a great treat.

What also would have been a treat would have been gifts from the friends who couldn't make it, not because I am a monster of greed, but because gifts work as representatives of absent friends. Der Gute, who came, also gave me a crystal cake plate, and every time I see it, I think of dear old Der Gute, away there in Germany.

My advice is that you not go to friends' expensive long-distance weddings but always send a wedding present. Send your regrets as soon as you get the invitation, and then send the present. The regrets will momentarily sadden the bride, but then she will mentally subtract $50-100 from the cost of the wedding dinner and feel better. And when your present arrives, she will be delighted with you.

Meanwhile, weddings are beautiful occasions in which to say good-bye to the past and to wish your friends all the best in their new lives, lives in which you will not hold as much importance, especially if you live far away.

It just occured to me that, although I've very often read Singles' complaints about the new priorities of their Married friends, I've never read a complaint about their friends who get ordained or go into religious life. No-one has written, "Ever since Susie went into the cloister, she never calls me. She never hangs out. She never even uses Facebook. In fact, she only writes twice a year: Christmas and Easter. What gives?!!!!"

Speaking as a Married woman, being Married is not like being Single with benefits. It looks like that from the outside (and in the bridal magazines), but it so isn't. I love my husband, so I won't say Flee! Flee! Let's just say that "blissful" is the wrong word to sum up married life, especially married life with children.

The fact is, Married people have a vocation to each other and our children (if they arrive), and very often this does not leave us much time to socialize.* And when we do socialize, we long for people who understand what it is like to be us. When a NCG marries, she has to get used to (A) sleeping with a man (B) living with a man (C) doing housework for/with a man (D) fighting with a man she can't just leave (E) being pregnant (F) having a small, screaming baby. This is an awful lot, and it often happens all at once. No wonder the frazzled newlywed turns to other newlyweds, and not to her Single college pals.

So far you have very wisely been filling in the new gaps in your social life with new Single friends. That is an excellent idea. I suggest you also maintain ties with your old, married friends by sending birthday cards, Christmas cards and perhaps even little presents. I send a Christmas parcel to my girlfriends back home and assign one of them to hand out the gifts. Oh dear. All of a sudden I felt a wave of missing-my-friends.

And that reminds me: just because your engaged and married friends seem distracted and distant doesn't mean they don't love and miss you. So please don't be bitter. Just accept that their vocations mean constant sacrifice (including of fun with you), and keep them in your prayers. Send the wedding presents, send the Christmas cards, and go on your cruise with your still-Single friends.

If Married friends write "Nice to be you" on your Facebook cruise announcement, don't get in a snit. Simply write "YES IT IS!!! :-D "

Grace and peace,
Seraphic

*I don't have any children yet and I work from home, so I have an unusual amount of freedom for a Married woman.

Update: My conscience says I have to say something about married people with babies not going to their friends' weddings. One of my best friends, whose husband was one of my two ushers, went into labour the day before my wedding. And therefore, quite obviously, neither friend nor usher could come. It was sad for both my friend and me, but c'est la vie. Another friend sent wedding photos via phone to her hospital bed.

When I think of how difficult life with babies is made for my friends-with-babies, I want to cry. Some people write "Adults Only" on wedding invitations. Some priests reprove parents for bringing babies to Mass. People on airplanes look at babies with undisguised horror.

The thing is, babies scream. They scream and scream, and it is one of the worst noises in the world. And parents know only too well what other people think about that. They, too, must do an analysis of friendship vs cost--not just cost in money and time, but cost in patience, energy and guilt for (A) upsetting Baby's schedule and (B) Baby's slightest scream upsetting other guests.

Update 2: Nobody should pay $800 to attend a social function. That is simply outrageous! It costs less than that to go to some high-society charity balls!

16 comments:

Sheila said...

I agree -- don't go unless you can afford it. A wedding invitation means, "I like you a lot, so I'd like you to have the chance to celebrate with me," not, "We'll never be friends again unless you show."

You're completely right to point out that married people don't have a lot of time to be keeping up with old friends. Take a look at this article, for example: http://www.themomcrowd.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/moms.jpg

I would love to hang out with old friends, but I can't stay out past eight because the baby has to go to bed. I'd love to call, but I'm afraid to try while the baby's awake for fear he'll start screaming and ruin the call -- or else get into trouble. And then once he's asleep, I think, "Yay! My chance to call friends!" and then I fall asleep on the couch while trying to think of who I should call first. And then there's the question of my husband, who probably should get SOME attention sometime before 2012.

I'm not saying this isn't a problem, but it isn't necessarily that your married friends don't like you -- it's much more of a time thing.

When I got married, it took me about six months to adjust to the point that I wanted to get back to socializing with my old friends. At that point, I really wanted to catch up -- only to find that my friends had just assumed we weren't good friends anymore because I hadn't called.

My advice to singles is to give married friends three to six months to adjust at least. Then, when they show signs of wanting to hang out or chat again, be generous enough to take the initiative and call them. Chances are, they've been thinking of you and will be glad you did.

Jennifer said...

Seraphic, I agree w/ you and Sheila. It's not necessary to attend if you cannot afford it (either cost-wise or time-wise). Say no, send a card and a gift, and go back to whatever it was you were doing. Angst not required.

Ditto newly married friends. I've never really thought it was that weird that my newly married friends didn't have much time for their single friends - they're moving into a new place in their lives, and the dynamics change. So do friendships. Some will evolve or change, some will fade. That's just life. It happens the same way with friends who go to grad school or who get their first 'career' job, but I think we sometimes notice that less.

Christine said...

I've just been thinking about the same idea. In a young adult Catholic group/organization that I frequent, there are a bunch of recently-married couples (married within the last 3 years). From the perspective of a single girl (one of many) in the group, it feels a bit hurtful when these couples (who are both involved in the organization) seem to disappear off the planet altogether. I was discussing with another girlfriend in the group how their newlywed disappearance (and non-reappearance) makes it feel like the group is just a waiting room for singles with uncertain futures. Just my humble opinion. I understand newlyweds are busy and readjusting, but complete disappearance from the group that fed them spiritually is something I can't understand. (I completely understand once pregnancy and babies are in the picture - a level of busyness beyond my comprehension)

There is one married couple that still plays a big part in the organization, and they plan to continue to come sometimes after their baby is born. I've told them how much I appreciate their still being involved as a testament to the importance of the organization to the spiritual lives of all involved.

I'll be someone will respond saying I'm not married, and hence, I can't understand yet. I respectfully disagree.

Christine said...

last paragraph typo - "I'll bet that someone will..."

Seraphic Spouse said...

Well, I'm afraid that "loyalty to the group" has to go the same way as "loyalty to friends" sometimes, Christine.

Consider this: just as priests have a few spiritual needs and commitments different from those of thelaity, and nuns and monks have some spiritual needs and commitments different from those of Catholics not in religious life, perhaps married people discover that they now have spiritual needs and commitments different from those they had as Single people.

I don't see why married people naturally moving out of the group lessens the value of your group or makes it seem like a waiting room for singles with uncertain futures. Meanwhile, the married couple who are in the group are certainly giving you the gift of themselves. Don't be too disappointed if their commitment to each other and any future children calls them to something different.

fifi said...

This is a heartbreaking letter. I feel so sad that this experience has happened over and over again to the writer. It's no wonder these friends are so burnt out! My vote is that no one should stress out about going to a wedding unless their relationship with the couple (or half of the couple), is so close and established that they are so thrilled to be invited that they wouldn't dream of missing it! Anything less, and send a gift, by all means!

One thing though: being invited is always a great honor, but it's one that many people take for granted, especially when a long-distance wedding might be a very good excuse for a bride to keep her wedding small enough to exclude all but her very closest friends. It doesn't mean one has to go, but it's a good way to remember that the invitation really is a way of saying "I'm so glad you've been part of my life up to this point" rather than another request for time and money. I'm sure most of us would be offended NOT to be invited to X's wedding, even if we don't actually end up going, or even wanting to go. Whenever I get a wedding invitation, I deliberately tell myself, as I open it "Oh, how thoughtful/kind/what an honor to think of me!" as a mantra to keep other, more negative feelings at bay.

I really liked what Seraphic had to say about a wedding being, sometimes, a nice way to say goodbye. Maybe in the future, when circumstances of your lives shift again, you will say "hello" again.

I haven't had the experience of being abandoned after marriage by my closest friends, (not-so-close, yeah) but I do notice our relationships change. We can't go to the nice restaurants anymore because they're not kid-friendly. We have to stay in parks and put the kids in a stroller. Phone conversations require a lot more patience, because of the constant interruptions. Part of the time has to be devoted to the kids and their needs and personalities, not just the friend alone.

Any relationship goes two ways, but when a friend has children, isn't it smart to make an investment in those children? Some of us singles aren't used to being around small children and babies, and I know that it can actually be painful to the childless single to see beaming mothers and adorable children. But it can also be a generous exercise to spend some time getting to know the kids, having conversations with the little ones, maybe even babysitting, or visiting and being a helping hand from time to time. I'm very grateful for the example of my aunt, who became a total fairy godmother to our family's kids. She really "got" how to interact with kids, even though she had none of her own, and her visits to us were anticipated with great delight. Auntie Seraphic, maybe a post about being a good auntie or godmother to your friends' families would be appropriate? I feel like it would soften the blow for "abandoned" single friends... maybe there's still a place for us in the family relationships after all?

Seraphic Spouse said...

Yes, that's a very good idea. I write about being an aunt in Seraphic Singles. At first the proofreader at the publisher didn't understand what those posts, er, articles were about. They didn't seem to match the rest--the dating talk, etc. But they were a way of showing that Single people still have FAMILIAL and childminding roles to play.

Domestic Diva said...

Perhaps because I'm more introverted and prefer to have a few intimate friends rather than many, my experience has been that my friends have more time for our friendship after marriage than while dating. Babies bring a new challenge, and for about the first three months Mom simply isn't free to socialize, but we've found new and creative ways to cultivate our friendship after that. Here are some things I've tried/learned with some success:

One of my in-town friends puts her kids to bed about 7 or 7:30, so she often invites me for dinner with the family, then I play with the kids and help put the kids to bed (read stories, say prayers, etc.) and then she and I either slip out for coffee or chat on the couch while her husband does his thing.

One of my out-of-town friends, whom I visit about once a year, spent a weekend at my house last year, bringing her youngest and leaving the older ones home with dad. That gave us some much-needed "girl time." (Btw, HUGE thanks to the hero-dads who are willing to take over child care for a bit so their wives and I can hang out.)

Meanwhile, I make sure that I'm not depending just on these people for friendship, so that I can give them the space they need to cultivate their marriages and family.

I like to be sure I'm giving them a helping hand when a need arises, too - free babysitting so they can have an occasional date, a meal when a new baby comes, groceries or errands when everyone gets the flu, etc.

I also cultivate my relationships with their husbands and - most especially - their children (who call me "aunt" even though we aren't blood-related). I do love these little ones, and I get a huge thrill out of their excitement when they see me, hug me, want my attention, etc. As much as I would love to have my own kids, these children of my friends are gifts to me -- not least because I get all the fun and "none" of the responsibility of parenting!

KimP said...

As a life long single (and not always seraphic about it), wedding invitations have filled me with dread and horror, especially once I passed the age of 30. Now that I am 46, I realized I should have just sent my regrets and the gift and been done with it, as Seraphic advises.

Ironically, now that I am 46, I have met a man with REAL potential - he is converting to Catholicism and getting his prior marriage annuled. We have what I would call "an understanding". (We can't get engaged until the annulment is granted.) As I contemplate marriage to this wonderful man, I hate the thought of my friends coming to my future wedding out of obligation or going to any expense. In short, I wouldn't want them to feel the way I used to about wedding invitations! I wouldn't want my invitation to be a burden. I would MUCH rather that they send their regrets and a lovely card instead.

Alisha said...

I second Christine's thoughts. While it will be natural for relationships to change shape (the way you meet, how often etc), so to speak, either there is true friendship or there isn't. (My definition is one where friendship means more than someone you hang out with, obviously)
True friendship means a commitment to the other person's destiny...especially when it comes to a group where faith has been shared. If I have it right, I presume it is not so much the absence from the group itself but missing a presence entirely that was previously there. In other words, it may be understandable that a couple moves on if the group no longer serves their spiritual needs. It hurts however, if the group was ONLY used to serve their spiritual needs and then they abandon everyone with whom they had formed bonds.
@Domestic Diva - that is so awesome to hear! Your friends and you are obviously open to working on friendship...that type of creativity is something everyone can learn from.
Something that I've realized is that there are different kinds of families. Some people have an open door policy with their homes, their kids, etc. Anyone can come in, the more the merrier, and moreover, those families can often be very outgoing - they share themselves whereever they go. Other families are more closed, by invitation only kind of people. This can be due to capacity, personality, demands etc. The best thing for singles to do is try to realize that some people have a very limited capacity for relationship in general, and also a small capacity for knowing how their limits affect people and working on them.
The best thing for couples to do before they get married is to try to have a vision for their family - they are not supposed to become an island, they are supposed to be the domestic church! That means that the primary locus of exercising our baptism is the beginning of doing what the church does - being a witness to Christ, light of the world, salt of the earth, and no one, singles, religious or married should be without this evangelical outlook, which should be reflected not solely in moral behaviour but in how we encounter others and choose to engage in their lives.

Seraphic said...

Alisha. Whereas I agree that a Christian family should not be an island, I still feel uncomfortable with your comment. I wonder what you mean by "true friendship"; I see just another burden on married women with children and usually jobs they'd rather not have to have as they struggle to prove to their single friends that they really care for them.

Meanwhile, some husbands would be absolutely horrified at the idea of "an open house." Home is where they retreat after the demands of the work world.

A true friend understands that just as cloistered nuns say good-bye to the world, married women say good-bye to their carefree single days. The nuns continue to pray for their friends in the world, and the married women do what they can, which sometimes is not a lot.

Everyone has to find a balance, if they can. A lot of stay-at-home married women find themselves isolated from other adults and very lonely. It is great when single friends (who have WAY more freedom) make the effort to keep the bonds strong. For example, as I haven't seen you since April, I think it's great that you comment on my blog!

KimP, I'll be praying for you! And I know exactly what you mean. This is why I beg Single people to be good sports at the weddings they do go to. I feel badly that people keep writing that the bouquet toss is humiliating because I HAD a bouquet toss, I've always loved the bouquet toss, and I couldn't understand why getting my sisters and friends into the driveway for the bouquet toss was like herding cats. Hmm... I feel a post coming on.

Bernadette said...

I have been one of the Singles lamenting the loss of her married friends. It's been a great sadness to see various friends disappear into the cloister of married life with babies. I have to admit that I am not very good at keeping in touch with people myself, and when they can't hang out with you, or only ever want to talk about potty training, relationships tend to get a bit distant. I remember making a huge effort, traveling several states to visit someone who had been a dear friend, hoping that sometime in the multiple days we would be staying together I could have a comfortable coze with her about some of the major life changes I was going through. Instead it turned out that what she was expecting from the visit was a free live-in babysitter for a few days. She got her wish. I didn't get mine. I didn't plan any more visits.

The lovely thing, however, is that now her children are a bit older, old enough to carry on conversations, have interests and hobbies, etc. Also, now that they are a bit more self-sufficient, their mother has a bit more attention to spare. I visited the family again recently, and discovered that now I not only have my friend back, but now she comes with several more interesting and amusing little people with whom now I can build additional friendships. I had a marvelous time, and am hoping to see them again soon.

I haven't had an opportunity to test this out further (most of my married friends' families are still at the all-absorbing very young stage), but it gives me hope for the future. Maybe my friends aren't gone forever, just on hiatus, and when they come back, they will bring even more friends with them.

Alisha said...

"I wonder what you mean by "true friendship"

This is always a question that continually comes up. Just what is friendship in Christ? The only answer I have found to this that has reflected what I believe to be true friendship has been my personal experience in my family, and also the understanding of friendship found in the community of Communion and Liberation. These friendships aren't out of an obligation but out of love and a commitment to the other...it is something you consciously choose to engage in not solely because of circumstances (ie. you happen to be in the same church group, and once you are not, you no longer pay attention to who was there)

"Meanwhile, some husbands would be absolutely horrified at the idea of "an open house.""

True. But this is not the case with all. I know a man who is very successful, hardworking, who, when he met his wife to be, told her that if they were to continue dating, he wanted her to know that the guest room would be furnished before their own room. Yes, they got married.

"A true friend understands that just as cloistered nuns say good-bye to the world, married women say good-bye to their carefree single days."

I do believe that there is a distinctive difference between religious and married people. Nuns are, in effect, choosing to forego marriage and "the world" to a certain degree, where married people are not. They may be saying goodbye to carefree single days, but that does not mean they say goodbye to their friends.

I completely agree that the efforts have to be made according to what is possible in someone's circumstances. For example, I can't see you, so that is why I do visit your blog (aside from the fact that it's enjoyable to read, of course) :)

Christine said...

@Alisha:
" In other words, it may be understandable that a couple moves on if the group no longer serves their spiritual needs. It hurts however, if the group was ONLY used to serve their spiritual needs and then they abandon everyone with whom they had formed bonds."

Exactly what I was thinking. It hurts when I look up to other women in the group as friends, sisters, and models in Christ-centered womanhood, and then they disappear. (again, I'm referring only to married couples without children [yet]).

Seraphic said...

The only thing I can suggest for Singles who feel abandoned by married friends (from the wistful "little sister" type to the drunk guy who complains "that bitch took my best buddy away from me") is to (A) ask God to take away the burden of these feelings of loss and (B) to send a (short, cheerful) note saying, in effect, that you miss your friend and hope to see her again soon.

As Sheila wrote, married people (like seminarians with the seminary, about whom I've written before) need time to settle into their married routines (even if we don't get pregnant immediately) and only then can we start getting in touch with old friends again.

There is a lot of wisdom in the old adage "If you love somebody, let them go." Some friendships last for life, but others belong to a shorter period of time. Whereas I agree that a lifelong friendship has more depth, this does not mean that friendships (like the one you had with your best friend in Grade 7 or 8) that do not last forever were shallow at the time. As circumstances change, friendships change. I was great friends with some women in my office 10 years ago, and I haven't seen them in 9. However, I remember them fondly.

Personally, I don't understand how the dynamics of a fellowship movement--or tertiary group in an order--work, or what kind of commitments are demanded of members, but I am relatively sure that in the case of married members, any legitimate Catholic group is going to stress that the primarily responsibilities of married people are towards each other and not the group.

Even when we start talking about the clergy, a man cannot become a deacon unless he has his wife's permission. If the wife believes that the demands of clerical life will hurt their marriage, she has instant veto power.

It is possible that these women have no idea that they were important role models for you and would be delighted to hear it. On the other hand, they might feel they didn't sign up for that. But I don't see anything stalkerish in a short email/note/text saying "You are missed, your presence added so much the group, you'll get a royal welcome the next time you come."

As with all sales pitches, the emphasis should be on "YOU" (i.e. her), not on "I" (i.e., in this case, you).

Finally, as a last resort, both men and women who become furious about friends marrying and drastically changing their social lives may want to run their feelings and thoughts past a trained counsellor or wise, approachable priest. People who were abandoned in one way or another by their parents might overreact to "abandonment" by subsitute parents.

Seraphic said...

The only thing I can suggest for Singles who feel abandoned by married friends (from the wistful "little sister" type to the drunk guy who complains "that bitch took my best buddy away from me") is to (A) ask God to take away the burden of these feelings of loss and (B) to send a (short, cheerful) note saying, in effect, that you miss your friend and hope to see her again soon.

As Sheila wrote, married people (like seminarians with the seminary, about whom I've written before) need time to settle into their married routines (even if we don't get pregnant immediately) and only then can we start getting in touch with old friends again.

There is a lot of wisdom in the old adage "If you love somebody, let them go." Some friendships last for life, but others belong to a shorter period of time. Whereas I agree that a lifelong friendship has more depth, this does not mean that friendships (like the one you had with your best friend in Grade 7 or 8) that do not last forever were shallow at the time. As circumstances change, friendships change. I was great friends with some women in my office 10 years ago, and I haven't seen them in 9. However, I remember them fondly.

Personally, I don't understand how the dynamics of a fellowship movement--or tertiary group in an order--work, or what kind of commitments are demanded of members, but I am relatively sure that in the case of married members, any legitimate Catholic group is going to stress that the primarily responsibilities of married people are towards each other and not the group.

Even when we start talking about the clergy, a man cannot become a deacon unless he has his wife's permission. If the wife believes that the demands of clerical life will hurt their marriage, she has instant veto power.

It is possible that these women have no idea that they were important role models for you and would be delighted to hear it. On the other hand, they might feel they didn't sign up for that. But I don't see anything stalkerish in a short email/note/text saying "You are missed, your presence added so much the group, you'll get a royal welcome the next time you come."

As with all sales pitches, the emphasis should be on "YOU" (i.e. her), not on "I" (i.e., in this case, you).

Finally, as a last resort, both men and women who become furious about friends marrying and drastically changing their social lives may want to run their feelings and thoughts past a trained counsellor or wise, approachable priest. People who were abandoned in one way or another by their parents might overreact to "abandonment" by subsitute parents.