Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Single Friends and Stability

I answered an email today that made me think about friendships. I have a number of friends who are Single and probably always will be Single. And this means they have a lot of time for their friends, and their friends--particularly the Single or childless ones--have a lot of time for them.

Singles often worry about not being a priority in other people's lives--although presumably they rank somewhere in the affections of their family members--but I can tell you that my Single friends are top priority with me. (Well, top after B.A.) This is probably because I don't have children, but even if I did have children, I would certainly want adult friends to talk to after a long day or week of shrieking and baby talk.

The North American reluctance to have friends much younger or much older than oneself strikes me as foolish and shortsighted. I did not realize now normative it was for me until I spent a summer in Germany and discovered that 20 year old boys were happy to hang out with 30-something me. I was happy but troubled enough to talk it over with a fellow foreign student, a priest, and he told me that's how Europeans are. And how awesome is that?

B.A. and I recently had two Canadian Trid girls to stay, and they were astonished that our set acted as if we were all the same age. That said, we were all of us over 23. It's not like there were any children around, or teenagers who should not have been downing the Tesco plonk we guzzle by the bottle or listening to our endless thoughts on the O'Brien scandal.

What gives the multi-generational set stability are the Elders, as we over-39s have been for convenience called. We Elders have deep, deep roots in the community, and although we go on holiday, we come back to our homes.  The younger members, especially the foreign students, leave Edinburgh on holiday or permanently, but they eventually come back, if only for a visit. Foreign students who return to their old haunts (e.g. Toronto) sometimes discover that everything has changed and their old friends have dispersed and moved on, or have no time for them. This isn't likely to happen with us Elders, for we are old and stable. Our sentimental young can fly free confident in the knowledge that as long as the Elders live, we will be up for a drink and a chat.

As a thirty-something Single, I found myself with a lot of twenty-something Single friends. I put this down to the fact that I was were twenty-something Singles are, i.e. grad school, and that we had the same lifestyle: Catholic, no kids, feverishly studying, longing to party, wondering where The One was. But, of course, I expected and hoped my twenty-something friends would get married because that's what they wanted to do. My surprise when I got engaged (age 37) before some of them did! And then I ran off to the UK. How very unstable and unreliable of me. Fortunately, I had a reputation for mad pranks and surprising behaviour. My friend Lily's summation of B.A. was, "I'm so thankful. I was worried he'd be too normal."

But now I am definitely old and stable and set in my ways, and even if I did have a baby, the walls of the Historical House are super-thick, so he or she could wail away comfortably in his or her room while the rest of us guzzled Tesco plonk in the dining-room.

What I am saying here is that if you are a twenty-five year old Single, of course most of your friends are going to get married and go. And therefore you must not put all your friendship eggs in the youth basket. You should go out of your way to be friendly to interesting and interested older married couples whose children have flown the nest, or to middle-aged couples who haven't had children, or to older Singles who love being Single but are also sociable. It is especially helpful, I think, to make friends with Catholic Singles who honestly enjoy their Catholic Single way of life and live it to the hilt.

You can also set down roots yourself as you grow older, and become a sort of bird house for younger Singles to visit occasionally as they flit about in their unstable, adventurous, youthful way. I adore the younger members of my set, but I am rooted in reality and realize that they have a lot of flitting to do before they settle down, and they are very likely to settle somewhere else. This is not as painful for me (age 39++) as it might be for you, not only because I have B.A. (a very big because), but because I know I have older friends who simply aren't going anywhere. Well, the grave, I suppose, but there's no need to worry about that quite yet.


Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

I love friendships with people older than myself.. (and younger to myself - I ADORE my friends' children). I didn't realize this was weird, but I also didn't really seek out hanging out with older people opportunities. I just usually found my parents' friends more interesting than my classmates. Sometimes my mom regrets not teaching us to be more formal with them (I never really called them Mr. or Mrs. - although none of them seemed to mind) - but I think she always felt more at home with adults and always told my friends to call her by her first name, etc. It was definitely nice to be an adult in Europe and have colleagues who became friends who were all ages.

MaryJane said...

Oh amen amen! Expanding my "friendship zone" has been such an awesome experience - I would add that as a single person (like any person, I guess!) interested in lots of different things, it is really nice to be able to chat with friends who are in different walks of life and who are interested in a wide variety of things. As I get older it also feels good to be able to impart some wisdom (e.g. "don't do the stupid things I did") to those younger than myself, so I feel like some good has come of my less-than-ideal choices at times in life. (Seraphic, I'm sure you can relate, having lacked a you when you were young.)

For anyone wondering how to go about making more varied friends, I highly suggest the "maybe we could get coffee sometime" method... albeit slightly challenging in North America if the person is not of the same gender, etc...

Urszula said...

This is a really important message to remember. I have a variety of friends of different ages and backgrounds and I've never thought of it as something weird, to the contrary, it's a great blessing. Staying within your own age group can be very restricting.

Another thing I've found is that it's worth having friends from different backgrounds. In fact, probably most of my friends come from outside of the "Catholic bubble". And while sometimes this can be difficult when certain topics are raised, it's been very refreshing for me as well. Especially since the single girls my age who are not particularly spiritual or religious are much, much less obsessed with the idea of meeting "The One" by a certain age. This may be because they don't have the restrictions on certain activities that we Catholics do, so they are not as worried about their biological clock and needs. Still - for me it's nice to hang out with them, talk about books, travels, cooking and in general enjoying life. Sometimes Catholic circles breed this intensely marriage-oriented perspective that is just unhealthy if there's no one around you want to marry.

InTerramDiligereEstPati said...

I never had a problem socializing with people of all ages-at around 14 years old I often felt more comfortable talking with 40-50 year-olds than some people my age. I'm still very young, and hope that I retain this ability as I mature.

Athanasius lover said...

I have to admit that I don't have that many friends outside of my age group. I am sort of friends with a colleague in her early 50s (I am in my mid-20s), but she has children and so we don't have much time together.

One of my best friends, however, is a priest in his early 40s. It is great to be friends with him because there is that stability. He understands some of the challenges of being single (although he chose it and I didn't, so the challenges are different). Seraphic, I know you frown on single women having priests as the closest men in their lives, but this priest is the man to whom I am closest, given that I only talk to my father two or three times a year and my younger brother doesn't share my values. It's great to be friends with him because he has so much wisdom accumulated due to his age and his years of giving counsel to the faithful, but he doesn't act like he feels superior to me. I have to admit, it is nice that he is a priest because, so long as he is faithful to his vows (and I have no reason to believe he will not be), I don't have to worry about him getting married and forgetting about me, as so many of my other friends have. He has definitely been a source of stability in my life.

Even as a teenager, I was more comfortable talking to adults than to people my own age, so I think if I had more opportunity to be friends with older people I would. There are challenges if they still have children at home, because they tend to be busy, but I am not intimidated by the thought of being friends with people outside of my age group. I'd just like to expand my opportunities to form friendships with them!

Seraphic said...

Well, it is good to have friends, and certainly priests need to have friends, so all I'll say is that I'm glad you remember that I think it a bad idea to have a priest as the Numero Uno man in your life. (And, yes, I DO see that there are no other contenders for the title!)