Are my women friends abandoning me?

I'm married, but I don't want to lose my cherished group of female companions!

Published July 14, 2005 9:39PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

A little over a year ago, I was single and had a bunch of single friends. We were (and still are) in our mid-30s, educated, well-traveled, good-looking women. (And a few guys, too ...) On New Year's Day 2004, I was the loudest one saying, "I'm never going to get married! I'm going to adopt a baby girl from China!" Considering how long it had been since I had even had a date, everyone pretty much believed that was my future. Especially me. I even picked out a name for the little girl and was saving up cash for the airline ticket. A couple of my girlfriends told me that they wanted to see how it turned out for me, and if it worked, they were going to do the same thing.

Then, I met Mr. Wonderful in late April, got engaged in July and married in September. I know that's fast, but we both just knew. Nine months later, we're still very happy. We are now saving up some cash for the next step: kids. We both share the same values, we can afford at least one child right now, and let's face it, I'm 37 and I ain't getting any younger. (And, yes, if we can't have one of our own for whatever reason, we're thinking about adopting. We just want to try the old-fashioned way first.)

What's bothering me is that now my friends seem to be pulling away, even more than they did after I got engaged. I mean, there was some sniping before the wedding but I took it more as jealousy that I got something they wanted. I know some of them have been planning a wedding since they were 5, and here's the chubby friend who hasn't had a serious boyfriend since the first Clinton administration picking out a wedding dress and booking the flight to Vegas. I thought time would mellow them out, but it seems to be getting worse.

Now, when there's some goofy thing they want to do, and I tell them that I want to save the cash for something else, there's an Arctic chill in the room that I never sensed back when I was single and said the exact same thing. When I took up a woodworking class and decided for my third project I was going to make a cradle (another friend of mine, not part of this group, is having her first child in December), the topic of conversation quickly changed.

It's weird, but I almost feel like I've got to apologize for abandoning them, or that I'm being a traitor to the cause. There was one other person in our little group (more of an acquaintance than a friend) who got married about two years ago and had her first baby one year ago who is sort of spoken about as if she is one of the dearly departed. I keep thinking that once I make the announcement that Junior is on the way, they'll start dropping me from their get-togethers, even if it is something that a pregnant woman could safely do like go to the movies. Is that my fate with this group? Should I look up the "outcast" and see if I have more in common with her now than when we were both single?

They've been a big part of my life for so long that I don't want to let them go. I'm not ready to say goodbye to them, but are they saying good riddance to me?

Left Behind?

Dear Left Behind,

The only thing I can suggest is that you talk honestly with your friends about the transition you are going through. You sound as though you may be angry with them, or a little put out, as though they were putting you in a tough spot. Those feelings may be covering over some other feelings, perhaps preventing you from approaching them with the love and forthrightness that this transition calls for. Focus, for instance, on the fact that you feel almost as if you have to apologize for abandoning them. That sounds rich with significance -- it suggests that you bear a great allegiance to them. It also indicates that you are conflicted about this allegiance, as if to say: Why should I feel that I have to apologize? I haven't done anything wrong! They should be happy for me!

Well, let's untangle it a little more. At the same time that you feel put out because you fear they may be shunning you, you may also feel a little guilty that you're pulling away. Perhaps a part of you wishes they'd try harder to haul you back. So there's this mix of emotions. Now, consider their situation. They may feel somewhat disappointed that you're married, but reluctant to express their ambivalence. Why? Well, they're supposed to be all happy that you're married, right? But why should they be happy you're married when it means you probably will be less a part of the group? So they are in a bind as well as to how to feel about this.

It could be said that your group of women friends is a sort of "Sex and the City" group, a beautiful model of secular life, perched on economic and cultural freedoms only recently available to women. And what is it that hovers at the edge of the flat-screen, hi-def picture, threatening always to pull Carrie or Samantha or somebody out of her sunny, fabulous downtown lunch and into some compromised and traditional role? Outside the bright light of modernity there is that dark weight of desire, that soulful, biological gravity pulling toward husband and child. There it is, that constant threat that at any moment one of the group may decide she wants to go get married and raise a kid.

You might say that balancing these various forces is the consuming cultural project of secular urban Western women today. I mean, you might say that if you were in grad school. Me, I'm not even sure where those words came from. But you know what I'm saying, right? I'm saying that having a group of single girlfriends is profound. It's important. It's nothing to just shrug off. You may never have the same freedom and independence again. You're going to miss them one day.

So maybe it would do you some good to make explicit what some of the undercurrents of anxiety in the group might be. (That, too, sounds a little academic; "anxiety" indeed. What is going on with me? Where is my voice?!!!)

Anyway, again, what I mean is: What would happen if all the women in the group got married? The group would more or less dissolve, would it not? So could it be that the other uncomfortable current running through the group is the knowledge that eventually, one by one, you women will peel off and attach yourselves to this or that enterprise -- not necessarily a traditional female enterprise such as motherhood, but some equally absorbing intimate attachment or grand project.

So what I'm suggesting, as a way of making this transition, is that you talk explicitly about the forces affecting your friendship with these women. Transitions are difficult and threatening. They need to be talked about.

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