Marriage is a milestone that often alters a couple's relationship with each other, as well as with those around them. For the new bride, it can herald profound changes in her relationships with girlfriends. In a recent post on The Friendship Blog, I interviewed wedding expert Sharon Naylor about the challenges that planning "the big day" poses to the bride's friendships. In this follow-up, I asked Sharon about the impact of marriage on female friendships.
How does the transition from being single to being married affect a woman's relationships with single friends?
It changes the dynamics of the relationship a lot. Depending on how frustrated the single friend is with her dating life, and how envious she is of your good fortune in finding true love, it can be a very trying time for her...and thus for your friendship.
If you're the first friend of hers to get married, that can be traumatic because the issue of marriage is now Out There, bringing pressure to her life. And if many of your friends have gotten married, she may really be feeling pressured because you're another in a long list of her former single friends to 'win the prize' while she is still waiting for hers.
What can the new bride do to minimize tension?
The solution here is to nurture or create a dimension in this friendship that is not about dating or relationships at all. And this is a tough task, because some brides find that the only thing they had in common with some friends is the topic of dating, the drive to couple up.
It might be that these friends went out to clubs or had 99% of their conversations revolve around bad blind dates and online dating profiles, breakups and breakdowns. Some female friendships are bonded by the drama of dating life. And when you exit dating life, there's a big void in the friendship. Yes, you've been out of dating world for the entire time you've been with your fiancé, but this sad single friend hasn't heard the door slam closed until your engagement. Not that she was hoping you'd break up. It just wasn't completely official yet. And she may feel abandoned in her singleness.
What responses might you anticipate from the girlfriend(s) you leave behind? How might she be feeling?
"You're not going to want to go out anymore," worries the single friend, who also might be slapping on a big, fake smile when you talk about your fiancé's romantic birthday plans for you, or what you're doing on Valentine's Day. If this friend has been overly dependent on you, if you were the only egg in her basket, your marriage is bad, bad news for her.
Your friend is now alone in her quest, with no true allies, and may feel like she's slipped to the bottom of the totem pole. And you might find that you no longer enjoy her sad-sack company, her complaints, her refusal to raise the bar and pursue men who are better for her. You might not want to entertain her pity parties anymore. So the friendship...like any relationship that has no common bonds...can fade away.
How can you minimize the inherent risks to the friendship?
If you do wish to nurture the friendship, start by subtly creating new shared interests, such as asking your friend to sign up for an aromatherapy class, or get a museum membership so that you can go to exhibits and lectures, or sign on for dance classes at the gym you both go to. Exchange novels you've both loved and talk about them over coffee. Add new facets to the friendship so that it can survive your change in status. Such variety and shared interests are healthy for any relationship, especially female friendships.
With new dimensions, you might not mind your friend's occasional dating dramas so much...they could make you feel grateful for your new husband as well as give you a satisfying feeling of being a supportive friend. You've just transformed that into a smaller percentage of your relationship.
Can matchmaking efforts help keep a female friendship intact?
One mistake newlyweds make is wanting to set single friends up with all of their friends. Sure, the intentions are good, wanting your friend to be as happy as you are, but unless the friend is truly enthusiastic about your help, you might put too much pressure on her to endure the company of a guy friend who's not right for her, and you two as a couple could get embroiled in their relationship issues.
It's far better to invite your friend to events where she might meet someone. That's where your newlywed life could be of great benefit to her. You're not pushing, choosing, dodging news of a breakup, keeping secret the fact that the guy you introduced to her is also seeing three other girls, etc.
Why is it important to focus on friendships after your wedding day?
Having many healthy female friendships with positive women who inspire you and add many gifts to your life makes you a better spouse with a full life of your own. Your man is not the only egg in your basket, so to speak. You're not overly dependent on him. Your circle of friends is a strength in your life, and studies show that having a great sense of community is good for your health, keeps stress down, strengthens your heart, and has many other perks.
Any other comments you would like to make about female friendships after marriage, Sharon?
The sad reality is that sometimes they don't survive because you no longer have anything in common. Or, a bridesmaid acted so jealous and rude at your wedding that you never want to speak with her again. It was the last straw. Or you just drift from single friends, or some friends voluntarily get absorbed into their new husbands' worlds and abandon their own friends as the incarnation of their New Life.
Friendships have a life cycle, and they do depend on mutual commitment and shared evolution to survive as long as they're meant to---for as long as they're healthy for both parties. A wedding, being such a huge life transition, naturally tests all manner of female friendships, with some friendships getting stronger and some falling away.
When I got married in April, my closest friends from college were my bridesmaids. They all traveled from distant states to be there, and our friendships were strengthened partly because we stayed so close through phone and e-mail conversations for years...we saw each other perhaps once a year due to our busy lives, but the connections we've always had were strong.
Being together, walking through my neighborhood as cherry blossom petals came raining down on us, then sharing the wedding day and seeing our husbands bond like brothers has reignited our need to see each other more. We're all turning 40 this year, so we're meeting at a resort town halfway between our home states, staying in a haunted bed-and-breakfast, shopping, going to wineries, and having a fabulous couples' getaway to mark the big 4-0. Fortunately, my friends' tenure as bridesmaids, even from a distance, further solidified our bond, and now we're adding more dimension to our friendship by making it a priority to plan more face-time.
Sharon Naylor is the author of over 35 wedding books, including The Bride's Survival Guide, and has been featured on Good Morning America, Lifetime, ABC News, The Morning Show With Mike & Juliet, and in InStyle Weddings, Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides, Modern Bride, Southern Bride and many additional magazines. She is the iVillage Weddings expert and Planning in Peace blogger, as well as a top columnist for Bridal Guide.
Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and is working on a book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving the Myth, that will be published by Overlook Press in September, 2009 and recently co-authored Schizophrenia for Dummies (Wiley, 2008). She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog.
Follow Dr. Irene S. Levine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/IreneLevine