Female friendship is complicated in and of itself, but when one woman gets a ring, how do the rules change? We asked each other the tough questions in hopes of improving our communication—and preserving valuable female friendships everywhere.
Married Women: Remember what it was like to be one of the single gal-pals? If your quick answer is, “No, thank God I’m married!”, then you need to check yourself before you wreck your friendships with your still-single friends. The key to keeping these women in your life is to relate to them on an equal level. Every woman’s feelings and emotions are equally complex and relevant, regardless of whether they involve the birth of a new baby or the heartbreak of a new fling. Let your single girlfriends know you are there to listen—not judge.
Married Woman: How interested should I be in your dating/sex life?
Single Lady: I totally get how this is hard. For instance: I have one adorable married friend who’s back home in Chicago, and I live in New York, so we talk maybe every nine months or so. Every time I see her, she says something like, “So are you still dating that writer?” It’s hilarious, because almost every guy I date is a writer, so I end up saying something that sounds kind-of awful like, “I don’t know which one you’re thinking of, but the answer is no.” Then we’re both a little sad for me, even though I’m totally fine, he’s probably a jackass, and she was just trying to show she cared about my life.
The upshot: You’re allowed to ask a general “What’s up on the man front?” question, but not so often that you seem like a nagging mom. Wait a month between inquiries, minimum. Meanwhile, if you notice me suddenly dropping one specific guy’s name a lot or outright mentioning that I’m dating someone, I’m trying to get you to ask about him. Just prepare for me to then regale you with the most inane details about him, because that means I’m currently in that annoying stage of infatuation. Then again, that’s what friends are for, right?
MW: Do encouraging anecdotes from my perspective come off as condescending?
SL: This one’s all in the frequency. If this is happening every day, I will soon want to punch you in the face. In some ways, at some times, it is nice to be reminded, simply, that wanting love is not crazy; it does happen. If you do it every time I have a dating dilemma, though, it’s going to start to sound more like a rich person telling a poor one, “Buck up! You can have money, too, if you work hard like me!” or like one of those actresses who tries to claim she was ugly once, too.
Choosing your anecdotes wisely helps as well. “Sucks that you can’t find love, but look, I did!” is obnoxious. But it’s wonderful to hear something that specifically relates to my current problem, like recalling how you and your husband went through numerous breakups and a long, bumpy courtship full of commitment issues and growing pains just like the bump I am currently experiencing. That’s inspiring; the other is just veiled bragging.
MW: Are you secretly annoyed when I complain about my relationship, which is decidedly (even legally) intact? Because married women need to be allowed to have boy problems too, you know.
SL: Actually, this is the flip side of the encouraging anecdotes: Would it sound awful if I said we singles get a secret thrill from your (minor, manageable) relationship troubles? At least I do. Not because I take joy in your suffering—and I’m devastated when anyone’s troubles reach divorce levels—but because it’s actually comforting to know we all have problems. And if nothing else, it gives me the chance to talk you through something for once. Like you said, you’re allowed to have boy problems, too; and furthermore, you’re entitled to the same support I get when I’m stressed. If I can make you spend an hour analyzing what some idiot’s text message meant or make you rehash the same relationship talk with the same guy that I’ve had about 106 times, you can certainly ask me to hear about your fight over who’s turn it is to make dinner—or whatever you married people fight about.
MW: Should I not invite you to events that will likely have mostly couples, even though I really want you there?
SL: Depends on the event and the crowd. If you really want me there, that’s sweet—and I will come. (Make sure you tell me it’s important then, though, and not in a passive-aggressive, “it’s no big deal” kind of way.) Use your judgment: If it’s a dinner party where everyone’s going to treat me like Bridget Jones, please don’t do that to me. On the other hand, this is something I think that I, as a grownup getting older, have to face: More and more of my friends are now couples, and I like a lot of them, and I like hanging out with them. It’s part of my job as a woman in her 30s to make the choice myself as to whether to come. I’d probably be more annoyed by you consistently leaving me out of things.
MW: Is it ever okay to set you up on a blind date?
SL: Yes! But please, please pick him at least as carefully as you’d pick a gift for me. As in: Do not make me open it and think, “What on earth about me made you think I’d wear this?” Single person + single person does not necessarily = instant happiness. That’s the big mistake marrieds make, assuming that mere availability is the main criterion. If that were true, I’d be married by now.
Don’t let our whining fool you: On some level, it’s a choice we’ve made. And I, for one, am proud of it. (What is the deal with that, anyway? Do married people really not remember what dating was like? Or are they just that desperate to recruit more members into the married club?)
MW: Can I ever ask: So, when are you two getting married already?
Single Ladies: Whether or not you want to walk down the aisle yourself one day, respect the exciting new life your now-married friend has. She made this decision—and it’s a big one, potentially till death—for her happiness. That said, chances are she misses you. Single and married girlfriends tend to drift apart when one gets hitched (understandably so), but don’t assume the Mrs. is the one doing all the dissing. When was the last time you invited her out on ladies’ night or called to tell her about your latest crush? Though her spouse is now her priority, chances are she still wants to be involved.
Single Lady: Should I inquire after the status of baby-making efforts? I don’t want to seem like I don’t care/don’t want to hear about it, but I also don’t want to hound you or bring up something that could be painful.
Married Woman: This is sort of like that, “when are you getting married?” question you avoid at just about every family gathering—and don’t even want us to ask. However, mom pressuring me to “give me a grandchild, already!” is quite different than one of my dear friends asking a logical, well-intentioned question. Just use your head when you do it. If you’ve heard me regularly talk about wanting a family or bring up thoughts about trying to get pregnant, the status inquiry is probably relevant. If I go on and on about turning the only extra bedroom into a yoga studio, chances are the Stork is not on my mind, so why bring it up?
This question can also be awkward/painful. As more and more of us wait till our 30s to get hitched—and a few years more to start baby-making—the scary fact is it’s harder to get knocked up. This isn’t always the case, of course, but you can’t assume the opposite is either. This is where listening comes in handy. If we’re talking your ear off about trying to get pregnant for a few months, then suddenly don’t bring it up, it’s probably best that you don’t either. A genuine, “How are you?” could be enough to get us to confide in you about this, but we may not want to—ever—and you need to be OK with that.
SL: Do you silently judge me when I tell you tales of, say, staying out on the town all night or falling into bed with a random hot guy I know I’m not going to see again? (Not that I, personally, do this, of course. Just some broad examples.)
MW: Speaking for all understanding married women who know what it’s like to date—which by definition means seeing many people—even if we haven’t had as much experience, I can easily say, No! We love you for you, and want you to be yourself around us, which means being honest about your life. We also want you to give yourself a fair shot at finding someone who makes you happy. If that means weeding through multiple dates, relationships and even just-for-the-fun-of-it flings, so be it!
SL: How much should I ask how things are going with your husband? People always ask that when people are dating, but I feel like it’s none of my business once you’re married. Am I wrong?
MW: Yes. Think of the man I married as the man I’m dating. It’s just that we’re doing it, like, forever. But the vows don’t mean we still don’t have relationship ups and downs that could use a friend’s perspective. We want to be able to complain about a stupid fight or a lame annoyance without feeling guilty for doing so just because it’s not a relationship-ender. We also want to share the sweet, romantic, awesome things that happen rather than stay mute because you assume we’re on Cloud 9 every day (Note: the honeymoon phase is a phase. Real life—hard, complicated and unpredictable—is forever.)
SL: And speaking of that, how much should I side with you when you’re clearly angry with him? What’s the right way to react to that?
MW: This is where it gets complicated. Every friend is best served when the other friend offers an unbiased, constructive point of view. That’s easier said than done, I know. When consulting a married friend, there’s a third friend in the mix: her husband. And he’s her BEST friend. Despite how big the fight is, she’s ultimately going to side with working on her marriage. Even if the outlook seems doomed, you can bet she’s going to try everything she can to not get divorced (no one wants to get divorced). So if you offer scathing commentary about her husband, she’s going to remember it. And it could even ruin your friendship.
The best approach is to listen to your friend when she’s reaching out, because she clearly needs you. Offer that unbiased perspective as best you can, but know that there are variables in a marriage that only the couple is privy to. Stop yourself before making accusations or statements you’ll later regret.
– Jennifer Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudulph