Being a Good Single Friend

Post header image added mostly because 30 Rock.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time recently thinking about the dynamics of relationships, specifically between those who are single and those who are married (or dating for a long time) and the stuff that arises in that space. The obviousness of give and take and compromising is a given, but to stop the conversation there is too simplistic. Perhaps I first need to take a closer look at myself and ask, “How am I or how can I be a good single friend? How can I best be there from where I am?”

Living In Different Time Zones

jen barkley - do what I want because no kids

Even as someone who doesn’t go out all the time and parties the night away (just like how I also didn’t back in my slightly younger days), the impromptu nature of friendships and activities has changed. The ability to randomly text or call someone to just talk or to grab a drink is not the norm. Sometimes it’s nice to just unexpectedly go out for the night and see where the night goes. They can be the most memorable times. As I get older but still have that urge to just go somewhere, the bulk of my social circle doesn’t have that flexibility anymore. It always feels like we’re on the wrong schedule, just like when that friend 2 time zones away calls when you’re still at work or not quite awake and never remembers why you’re not free to chat for a few minutes. Someone is always an hour ahead or two behind.

As a strong “P” in the Meyers-Briggs personality profile tests, I heavily lean towards keeping a very open schedule in my personal life. Don’t tell my professional life that, because he usually lives by a calendar with more meetings than should be permitted for any one person. When the evening or weekend comes, I bask in the glory of an unfilled calendar and in the wonder of potential opportunity. It brings me actual joy and a sense of contentment. Call it a control issue, but I enjoy this freedom of the non-schedule. In the same moment, I am simultaneously frustrated when my relationally attached friends aren’t nearly as available. Grabbing that drink or movie an hour from now suddenly becomes an affair that often just doesn’t work out.

But if I want to spend time with people, I’ve been continually learning to set aside my personal preferences and give up a bit of spontaneity. It’s not always the easiest thing for me to do, but when I remember for married friends, especially those that are parents, making any time at all is a sacrifice, I need to give a little as well.

Who Drew the New Lines? Defining New Friendship Boundaries

Change in the depth of friendships after one friend gets married may be one of the hardest transitions to go through – for both sides. This is inexorably connected to the Different Time Zone, but also, new territory and country lines are drawn after marriage (dotted lines in the dating phase, full lines for marriage.) New relationship parameters and treaties must be written.

When my best friend got married a few years ago, we anticipated this transition coming. Having been so close for over 20 years, we weren’t blind to the fact that it couldn’t stay the way it was (and the friendship itself had evolved and gone through other changes in the college and post-college years). The late Wednesday night call to me to talk about something on his heart would be shifted to his wife. My expectation that he’s just available to talk anytime about anything was adjusted to give him space to be married and grow close with his wife. I needed to let that space for their relational intimacy to grow to be there and allow myself to step back for a time, if not step back a little bit permanently. And while he and I are still close, the friendship feels different. It continues to change each year and we’re making adjustments so that we don’t lose the strength of the connection we have as our friendship takes on a new shape.

friendship means a lot to me

What’s tough is that this level of effort is what’s required to keep people we hold dear to our hearts close. Too often have friendships faded to a place where they are barely recognizable because both parties failed to try to stay in touch or because they coast on whatever made them friends in the first place. Life happens and we need to figure out how to move along with it, ideally together.
Who are these shorties and where did they come from? (a.ka. Kids)

jen barkley - kids are gross

Image added for comedic effect only.

While I do not share this sentiment in the above image, we have to be very careful not to so quickly judge and dismiss the lives of others, no matter how much it doesn’t resonate with our own preferences.

Even if I’m not in a place where I’m ready to delve into parenthood, I do respect people who have. However, there’re a couple potential reactions single people have to friends who are parents:

  • “Why are my friends never available anymore?” (See above section)
  • “Why do my parental friends only talk about their kids?” To which the inner conversation goes to:
    • “I want to talk about actual adult things.”
  • “Internally, it’s tough to talk about your kids because I don’t have my own (and I’ve wanted them for a while.)”
  • “I don’t know how to interact with and engage with kids.”

This section may be the toughest and most complicated to even try and tackle. As a young lad right out of college, I was convinced that I’d be married and have a couple kids by my 30s. Naivety is precious, isn’t it?  While that’s not how life has played out, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be “Uncle Greg” to my friends’ children. Perhaps to my surprise, most kids and some babies don’t hate me and some even like being around me. Others point to that as a clear sign I would be a good father. Maybe they’re right. Maybe not. Maybe I just do really well when I have limited amounts of time

While all my points above ring true, I can only speculate on how parents must see the world. What do they long for? What do they deal with that I can’t empathize with? As friends transitioned into a non-single status, what do they not understand about a single person who isn’t also in their youth/early adulthood?

 

This is a murky area of life to explore as it forces me to look at myself deeply in the mirror and understand my own life choices and what I do or allow to happen in my life. It’s good to do this exercise and exploration. Life is complicated and requires time to process. This blog is only one way to do it.

Comments below and conversation in person, email, text, tweet, etc., are also welcome!

  • Stephanie

    Good reminders for those who are married/with kids to be intentional about making room at the table for singles. And making sure the table is friendly and hospitable to singles in a way they can appreciate.