Friends Beyond Marriage, Part 2

Making the transition when one of you gets married can be tricky, but it's totally worth it.

Part 1: Friends Beyond Marriage »

On the day I got married there was a bittersweet reality. The beautiful woman that stood beside me, the one who had faithfully prayed for me during the past five years, the one who had taken my engagement pictures and labored with me late into the night to make centerpieces — my best friend — was still single.

Thus began the first part of this article series. I was speaking of my best friend Melissa, who was also the Maid of Honor in my wedding. We were sisters in singlehood — until Kevin arrived on the scene.

When I got married in September, I found myself struggling with a strange emotion that was akin to survivor's guilt. Why me and not all of the other amazing single women I know? I thought.

Though I rejoiced in what God had done, I couldn't explain why He had brought me a wonderful husband, while my best friend who had prayed with me through our singleness, and was equally deserving of a great guy, remained single. It didn't seem fair.

Through the years, I have observed friendships that end once one of the women gets married. I think I understand why it can be difficult for single and married women to maintain meaningful friendships. They are two very different life stages. When I was single, I sometimes felt misunderstood — and even occasionally offended — by married women. And now as a woman newly snatched from the world of singleness, I find myself struggling to know how to best relate to and encourage my single friends.

I've invited Melissa to join me as we discuss how married women can maintain friendships with their single friends and how women can cultivate mutually beneficial relationships at any stage of life.

* * *

Suzanne: When it comes to married women and single women being friends, I guess the first thing to ask is: "Is it worth it?" Obviously it's easier to be friends with people who are just like you, and there seems to be a particular emotional division — almost two different teams — when it comes to being single or married. What do you think, Melissa?

Melissa: It's definitely worth it! If I didn't remain friends with someone after she got married, I'd have to wonder what our friendship was based on. You and I became friends because we have similar personalities, enjoy each other's company and trust one another.

I find the division between married and single women strange. When I find a close friend, I hope to keep her for life. I wouldn't want my friends to ditch me because I got married, became ill, got a new job or took up a new hobby.

Suzanne: That's a great point. It seems other changes in life are more acceptable or easier to adapt to with friends. Marriage just feels like a bigger shift, because there's suddenly this other person involved.

Melissa: True. Sometimes it is easier to be friends with people who are like you. But I think you should base your friendships not on circumstances, like marital status, but on whether or not you connect on a deeper level.

Suzanne: As you point out, Melissa, the greatest benefit of my friendship with you is simply that you are a good friend. We hit it off and provide each other with accountability and encouragement. I would be stupid to not put effort forth to preserve that. As far as overall benefits to having friends who are both single and married, I think there are many. One big one is allowing yourself to have friends with different perspectives, which is a very biblical concept.

Before I was married, I met regularly with several married women my age. I always felt like I was getting a different perspective than my single friends offered — like a glimpse into the future. I would mentally take notes on what I hoped to do the same or differently in my own marriage, whenever that might come along.

Melissa: Exactly! I have friends from all ages and stages. Life is much richer, fuller and less lonely when you can hear others' stories — their struggles and triumphs.

Suzanne: One of the keys to any friendship is focusing on the things you have in common. A mistake a woman may make when she starts dating or gets married is to suddenly be incapable of talking about anything else but her significant other. To keep a friendship strong, you have to talk about things both people care about.

Melissa: Yes, talk about life, struggles, current events, hopes, dreams — anything. A close friend I've had since seventh grade drove four hours to spend a day with me over Christmas break. We talked about everything, including her husband and two children. It was great!

Sometimes my married friends only want to talk about finding me a guy, which is just one part of life. There are so many other things I'm passionate about and interested in. So, when I spend time with married friends, it's refreshing when the conversation isn't solely about their marriage and kids ... or who I'm dating or why I'm not yet married.

I think the key is empathy. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. As a married person, don't forget what it's like to be single. Don't forget how you felt when you were the one hoping, praying for and desiring marriage.

Suzanne: A friend recently told me, "I feel like so many women, after they get married, 'forget what it's like' to be single and frustrated and struggling. It's like their memory is erased at the altar, and they forget the times of hurt, disappointment, and pain."

Melissa: It's true that married people can be oblivious to what it's like to be single. I've heard all kinds of crazy things from my married friends.

Suzanne: Me, too!

Melissa: I've had people ask, "Why aren't you married yet? Are you too picky? What was wrong with that guy?" Or they say, "Maybe if you just wore more makeup ... or maybe if you just did X, you'd find the right guy."

It's one thing if a friend I trust lovingly comes to me to reveal a blind spot, but it's another thing when people who barely know me dispense useless or hurtful advice.

Sometimes their words cut deep: "You should just be content being single. You're better off. You have so much freedom. Maybe God just doesn't have it in His plans for you to be married. Singleness is a gift." I try to be gracious, because I'm sure they don't realize how they're coming across.

Suzanne: Yes, I've heard similar things. People tend to either overemphasize your singleness and need of a guy, or they try to explain it away. Either response can make you feel very misunderstood.

Melissa: I think of it this way: If a woman I knew wanted to have a child but couldn't get pregnant, there's no way I would ever say, "Well, you should just be content being childless. You're better off. You'll have so much more freedom. Just think of all of the money you'll be saving and all of the headaches. Just think of being childless as a gift."

It doesn't work that way. God placed the desire for companionship, friendship, family and marriage in most people's hearts. So it's pretty frustrating and hurtful to hear people say the same kinds of things about the desire to get married — especially when they are not currently enjoying "the gift of singleness."

Suzanne: The thing is, married women — and particularly those who have experienced extended singleness themselves — are in a special position to encourage their single friends. I understand the ache of being single. I pray every day for several of my single friends, that God would bless them in the way He has blessed me — that their stories would be even more amazing than my own.

Melissa: That's a great source of encouragement — when I know my friends believe I'm deserving of a great husband. I think all single women have moments of discouragement where they think, "Is there something wrong with me?" At those times, a well-spoken word can make all the difference. Someone saying, "I just don't understand why no one has snatched you up;" or "You're great. And I'm praying some terrific guy will notice that soon."

On the flipside, I think single women can encourage their married friends by standing by instead of ditching them just because they're out of the "single" club. Yes, things are going to be different. I have to understand that Suzanne has new responsibilities and her first priority is going to be Kevin. But hey, she's in love with him. I hope she talks about him!

Suzanne: I don't know what I would have done without Melissa during this transition. Not only did she help me plan my wedding and hold me accountable during Kevin's and my courtship, but she has been a faithful friend as I've embarked on this new journey of marriage.

I recently heard a young woman lament that her single friends had all fallen away the moment she got married. She said, "They tell me that it hurts their hearts to see my happiness." There is no excuse for that! That is called envy, plain and simple. Did it sting a little when my sister, nine years younger, got married while I had no guy in sight? Yes. Sometimes it hurts when you watch someone else get what you want. But God calls us to serve others above ourselves.

Melissa: Suzanne, one thing I have really appreciated about you is your encouraging words, true concern for me and your constancy. I can talk to you about anything and you'll understand — or at least seek to understand — and support me. Plus, knowing someone who understands is praying for me every day is so touching.

Suzanne: Women, married and single, need their female friends. And there's a tremendous benefit to having a friendship that weathers the changes of life. Melissa has the history with me that makes her a truly valuable friend as I navigate this new season of life.

Melissa: I recently heard one single woman say that she just expects to not see a friend for at least a year after the woman gets married. "It's only fair," she said. I totally disagree. God created us for community of all kinds. What's right about abandoning your friend at one of the most crucial times in her life?

Suzanne: Precisely. And that's what it's about. Community is at stake here. Married women can pray for, encourage, advise and aid their single friends in their journey toward marriage. And single women who commit to friendships with their married peers can gain insights, have opportunity to invest in a couple's relationship and support her friend during a critical life change. Not to mention, having a friend like Melissa is just awesome.

Copyright 2010 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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