One of my girlfriends came over for dinner this last weekend, something that hasn’t happened in a while. We’re both busy, schedules are crazy, I’m married… there’s a million bad excuses. But it finally happened, and soon after dinner my husband went back to sleep (the meds they gave him after the accident were still knocking him out.), so we got some time for girl talk.
She asked me if I believe you can go through a quarter life crisis. How had we never had this conversation before if we’re such good friends? That’s a really good question. But we started to vent. About law school. Mostly about the people at school. The bubble of high-school repeating itself that we will never miss, and the people we will. And then we got to the interesting part, the people who’ve already slipped away. This part, I’ve been thinking about all week.
Friends come and go. It’s just a fact of life for most people. And some friendships, usually the long lasting ones, ebb and flow. I can go months without talking to my best friend and then call and tell her everything, we just pick it up where we left off. We talked about how you can’t really have long lasting friendships if you need constant validation you’re still friends. It doesn’t work, life happens.
We also talked about what I know is one of her biggest annoyances, the girl that ditches her friends for a guy. To some extent, it always happens. I know I did it (she’d agree), and in retrospect, I wish I’d done it less. You get caught up in things, and there’s only so much time. When you’re free time was already strained being divided between x number of friends, x+1 is going to mean less time for everyone else. And even if you say you’re not going to, you do. But people do it to varying degrees. And even if you’ve done it yourself, when someone else is doing it, you want them to be better than that.
I realize now that I didn’t really know how to move in together or get married. None of my close friends had done it. I still struggle with trying to figure out what the right balance is and what that looks like when so many of my friends are single. And that’s only amplified by the fact that I already have no free time. And by the fact that I met my husband and got engaged so quickly after I moved here and started law school. I didn’t have roots here. I had this girlfriend, who I met when I started school, and a few friends in other parts of the cities that didn’t understand why law school was taking over my life. And then I met this guy… The norm I had found for about three months here was already disrupted.
I don’t really like thinking in terms of regrets, because if you changed how I got to this place in time, you’d change me. But there are things that I would do differently if I could do them over. And one of them is how I handle friendships. Sometimes it’s not even what happened, but what wasn’t said while it was happening. Maybe I could have tried harder to find more time. Maybe she could have too. Either way, I know we could have tried harder to have a straight up conversation about what was going on, what was taking up our time, how a guy was changing things, how new friends were changing things.
I almost wrote off our friendship at one point. But the thing is, I think we both had the same frustration to an opposite problem. I couldn’t not be in a relationship to make our friendship easier, just as she wasn’t going to magically be in one. And if she was only friends with me, it would be natural to still see me in the same setting she saw me alone in. But my husband was in that group of friends too. I’m sure it seemed like we were never apart at all. And when two of our other close friends coupled up… even worse. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the extra wheel either, but suddenly that meant that the same group that would have hung out all together a year before was uncomfortable now.
For our first year of law school, we were in sections. We had all of our classes together. We sat in the same seats. We studied together, and we took exams together. And then that ends, and you go your own ways and everyone is doing different things and are on different pages… Life is easier when you’re going through everything together. You have support. You have understanding. And you’re all facing up to the same craziness, so no one is left out. Sometimes I wish life happened in shifts like this. A whole group of friends met their husbands together, got married together, had kids together… navigating friendships would be so much easier.
I know you don’t have to be going through the same thing to be friends. But it does give you one more thing to base your friendship on. I have friends who I was so close to when we were at the same place in our lives, and now it’s a struggle to find things to talk about or do together, because our lives look so different. And then I have friends who’s lives have never been at the same place as mine, but we had different bases for our friendship: activities, or memories or values or something. But marriage doesn’t just change what you do when you’re not with friends, it changes how you do friends.
There was a time before I started dating my husband, where I talked to this friend a few times a day. She was my default person. I wanted to go see a movie, I usually asked her first. I felt like going out to grab dinner, I called her up. Before I knew her, there were other people who had that role at different stages of my life. And certain people who were defaults for different things. And that changes with marriage. Husbands naturally become your default person for most things. I think they have to… that’s the point. Plus they’re right there. If mine is sitting on the couch asking what’s for dinner, my first thought isn’t to wonder if someone else would want to grab a pizza. So even when you do put in effort, it doesn’t amount to the same thing it was before.
Is there a secret to doing the right? Something I didn’t discover and should have? Or is change just hard and part of this stage of our lives? Does it get easier as more of your friends end up with built-in default people too?