Monday, May 28, 2012

Married people have feelings too

There’s an idea in the single community that once a friend gets married, he or she falls off the face of the planet. I know this idea very well – I believed it for a long time.

When I was single, if a friend of mine got married, in my mind I said goodbye. What did she need me for now that she had a husband? After all, a husband was the ultimate goal – once you achieved it, how could you possibly be lacking anything? How could anything else deem to find its way into your life when a husband, the sought-after prize that every girl dreams of, is meant to fill your life so completely?

Then I got married. And don’t get the wrong idea – my husband is great and I love him – but boy was I thrown through a loop when I realized that marriage had not magically transformed me into a self-sufficient, self-contained wife to the exclusion of all my other identities – friend, daughter, sister, colleague. I was still the same me, with the same emotions and idiosyncrasies, the same me that wanted my friends to be part of my life. Because, contrary to my previous notions, husbands do not create vacuums that suck out all else; instead, a husband is a wonderful addition to the already existing universe of your life. But a husband can’t replace girl-talk-friends, shopping-friends, going-out-for-coffee-or-a-drink-friends. Who else would I invite for Shabbat meals if not friends?

Not to say that I don’t understand how it can happen – how someone can get married and simply disappear. The beginning can be very overwhelming. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, budgeting (all the fun things you didn’t have to do while you were dating) plus making time to talk and have real fun (the way you used to when you were dating) all take enormous amounts of time and energy. 

Then there’s your husband’s friends and family – your world has virtually doubled in size, rapidly. So I understand how you could be overwhelmed and accidentally neglect those friends who worked so hard to organize your engagement party, mitpachat or bachelorette party, Shabbat Kallah and Sheva Brachot.

Not to mention if you’re working full time, which I was. Not to mention if you get pregnant very soon after being married, which I did. All these things mean adjustment, and so, the first year I was married, I found myself checking my husband’s schedule before planning coffee or dinner with a friend. I waited till he was on the phone before I made my own “just saying hi” calls. I had a new best friend, and it was natural to want to spend as much time with him as possible.  

But even though I now had a new center around which to arrange my activities, I made a point of keeping in touch with my single friends. Not from a place of superiority, i.e., “I feel so bad that you’re not married that I must shine my lovingkindness upon you.” Not at all. If anything, I was grateful to my friends for still hanging out with me, since I was very familiar with the feeling of “You’re married, why should I bother investing in you?”

A few friends of mine espoused this ideology. At least, I assume that’s what was behind the sudden one-sidedness of our relationships. Or maybe they thought, “Why should I bother with her, she might give me a few minutes, but ultimately she’ll be focusing on her ‘couple friends.’” Well, my husband and I do have “couple friends,” but why should “couple friends” and single friends be mutually exclusive? Whatever the reasoning, it felt like I was constantly chasing these friends; initiating phone calls, text messages, Gchats, Whatsapps, you know, utilizing all technological means available. Sometimes they responded, sometimes they didn’t. Usually they didn’t have time. When I texted one friend asking if she wanted to meet for coffee, she wrote back, “Sorry, too busy.” No offer of a rain check, no smiley face. Offended at first, I learned to laugh things like this off. What else could I do? I mean, everyone’s busy, but the point of friends is that you make time for them! 

Luckily, most of my friends weren’t like that. I called them, made plans to meet up, and we all appreciated it. After calling a specific friend a few weeks in a row “just to say hi,” she said to me, “I’m so happy – you haven’t disappeared!” I was quite pleased with myself – this was exactly my goal!

But as time moved on, it became more difficult to stay on top of things. Pregnancy made me nervous, it made me fat, it made me want to stay at home in bed and sleep, read, relax and spend quiet evenings with my husband while I still could (as veteran parents felt compelled to smugly warn me when they saw my protruding belly). Still, there was Shabbat, and that meant cooking, which I enjoyed, and having friends over, which I enjoyed even more.

We invited different guests every time, but we had our “regulars.” You know, friends of ours who lived nearby, who always appreciated the invite and who we appreciated having, so why not invite them and make us all happy?

I also remembered what it was like to be single and to have to worry about Shabbat meals. How an invitation can bring such a wave of relief. No matter how popular you are or how many friends you have, everyone appreciates a Shabbat meal invitation.

Then I had a baby. And let me tell you, being an overwhelmed new mother on no sleep is not the best recipe for a super-social person. 

Still, my friends surprised me by making meals that lasted us for weeks – I was touched by all the love and food people were throwing my way. I was also validated – all my efforts at maintaining my friendships had really worked – my friends were still there for me!

A month after I gave birth, we were back to hosting Shabbat meals. Shabbat remained a bastion of the old normalcy in my new “abnormal” life, and it remained the best and only time to leave the craziness of the week and to sit down in nice, spit-up free clothes with good friends and good food.

The week was a different story; my phone calls lapsed, and my going out ceased completely, except for short excursions to meet my grandmother for coffee. So I tried keeping up with friends through texts and emails. This way, I could maintain some sort of connection even though I wasn’t feeling up to talking. It took a few months, but I slowly started coming back to myself, adjusting to my new “normal,” and my phone calls increased, as did my going out.

But who am I kidding? I’m not the friend I used to be. How can I be? Pregnant again, with an infant at home, I’m exhausted by the end of the day and go to sleep early (except on special occasions, like friends’ birthdays, engagement parties, housewarmings, etc.). And once you don’t go out on Thursday or Saturday nights, once you don’t go to the Chanukah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut parties, the Wine and Beer Festivals, the big Shabbat lunches with twenty people, you begin to fade from people’s radars.

Maybe not your good friends’ radars. But there are those other people, you know, the ones you really like but for some reason the friendship never took off from the superficial level, but you still really enjoyed seeing at Shabbat meals, parties, barbeques and who you really want to get to know better?  Well, those people disappeared. Because my table can only fit a certain number of people, and when I had a choice of who to invite for Shabbat, I chose my closer friends, not to mention that my husband also has friends – so I never really got a chance to invite these other people, even though I wanted to. And they certainly were not inviting me. Because once you’re married, you’re not really singles’ table material. And with a kid? Forget about it.

I didn’t really understand this until a few weeks ago. One of our “regulars” never made Shabbat meals. And so, I never expected to get a return invite, which is fine - most of our “regulars” don’t make meals and we’re happy just having them over. Except that recently, this person did make a meal, and invited pretty much all my friends, except me. I was quite hurt when I found out about it (and how would I not find out about it – all my friends were there!). Even though most of the invited guests were single, there was a couple as well. And despite my best efforts at giving without expecting returns – well, come on, I’m only human, and I couldn’t help but think: Why did they merit an invitation and not us? When I vented about this to a different friend of mine, she said to me, “It’s not personal. It’s because you have a baby.”

The more I think about it, the more logical it is. Who wants a couple with a baby at their meal cramping everyone’s style? What if the baby makes a mess, cries, spits up, or worst, poops? Moreover, why should my husband and I be invited when we have each other, and there are other people who don’t have anyone? I understand these thoughts.

But it doesn’t make it less hurtful.

So yes, it is possible for married people to disappear, to fall off the face of the planet, to write-off their single friends – but single friends can do the same to their married friends. It’s a two-way street. I believe the main onus lies on the married; it’s our job to make single friends know that they are loved, wanted and that their worth is not determined by whether they’re married or not. But still, for all my single ladies out there – this is just a reminder that married people have feelings too, and we hope you give us a chance at continuing our friendships!  

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