Let’s Ask: Friendships After Marriage

Lily and Heather, two 25-year-old UE writers who’ve known each other since 2007, sat down over Skype recently to discuss how their friendship has changed since Lily got married two years ago. With things like #myfriendsaremarried and the overwhelming number of ring photos on Facebook (and the terrible commercials that accompany them), we wanted to have some real talk about what marriage and friendship have been like for us.

Lily: Let’s start by talking about how we met.

Heather: Sounds good. We worked together as Resident Advisors in college, and met in the training class we had to take the year before we started the job. Remember what that was like?

Lily: Haha, yeah! I would whisper something in your ear and you would raise your hand and say ‘Lily has something to add!’ because I was too shy to speak up. I was mortified, but it was so helpful! How would you describe our early friendship?

Heather: So much of it was spent in dorm rooms, going on dining hall trips, venting about residents, taking trips to beach, going on long walks through the forest, hanging out making flyers and posters and getting super dizzy from the paint fumes. We spent a huge amount of time together—sort of attached at the hip—and our lives were similar enough that people would call us by each other’s names. When did things start changing?

Role Shifts

Lily and Heather in the event center at Stevenson College, UCSC, after a long day at work.
Lily and Heather in the event center at Stevenson College, UCSC, after a long day at work.

Lily: Things started to change after I graduated a year early from college in 2009. I was working semi-full time in a terrible job at a craft store and navigating post-college life. You were finishing your thesis, transitioning back to American life after a summer in Uganda. We started having different time constraints and different worries.

Heather: I was still more or less in the college mode. I had a job, but school was definitely my priority. We also weren’t living in the same place anymore. You were living with a bunch of people who liked to party; I was living by myself. I felt like we really drifted apart during that time. But we got closer after my graduation in 2010 because then we were both figuring out post-college life, and we were both in relationships. We had more in common again and we could talk about the changes happening in our lives. On the other hand, though, you had just gotten engaged and were now locked into this decision that this one person was good for you. You had made a choice about being with someone forever, and could feel confident about it, which was different from where I was in my relationship.

Lily: I definitely had more security, but I also really wanted to validate my decision. I started getting really sensitive about it, partly because I was one of the first of my friends to get engaged and always got questions about it. I was totally wrapped up in negotiating this new, private thing—being engaged—and didn’t want judgment on top of that. So I started shutting people out, because I didn’t know what would feel threatening to my relationship with Robert. My partnership became way more a reflection of my character than it ever had been before. Suddenly, if I was having a hard time with Robert, it was because I had made the worst decision of my life. It was definitely a lot to handle, so even though we had all this new common ground and you were supportive, I was distancing myself from friends in general.

Heather: Oof, yeah. And meanwhile, I was kind of on the outside of this, not knowing what had happened to change our close friendship.

Unexpected Distance

Lily’s beautiful wedding on the coast of Central California.
Lily’s beautiful wedding on the coast of Central California.

Lily: What was that like for you? Did you feel shut out?

Heather: Yeah, actually. It was interesting because I didn’t feel the distance during your engagement. I felt like I was able to support you. Since I was in your wedding party, we would talk regularly about wedding planning stuff, and then it felt natural to catch up on each other’s personal lives.  Part of what blindsided me was that you were so nervous at the wedding itself that you ended up being completely closed off. I had a hard time not taking that personally, even though I knew that your nerves had nothing to do with me. After the wedding, you drove off with your new husband and we really didn’t talk very much for months. I don’t remember exactly how long, but felt like a long time because it was so abrupt. I felt pretty rejected, but had no idea what to do about it—your life had just changed a lot, and I wanted to give you and Robert space to get settled. What was your experience, on the other end of being engaged and married?

Lily: Honestly, I feel selfish answering this because I was so wrapped up in everything going on with me. I had to figure out how my identity had changed: everything from sharing chores to how to deal with in-laws to my stupid signature because I changed my name. So much was shifting that I was totally self-absorbed. I knew on some level that I should do something for our friendship, but it was a challenge. I was figuring out how to protect and respect my partner in our conversations—like, is it okay for Heather to know this about Robert? On top of that, friends suddenly seemed to assume that I was an expert on relationships and love, just because I was married. It was so hard. I felt like a self-centered ball of emotions trying to untangle everything. This was pretty much all internal for me, whereas it seems like your experience felt out of your control.

Heather: Yeah, I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do about it, besides be patient and let you be the one to initiate a closer friendship if and when you wanted to. I thought maybe we just wouldn’t be close again, for whatever reason, and tried to accept that. But we slowly started talking more often, and it seemed like the more we talked, the more comfortable you got with this new phase of our friendship.

Dealing with New Boundaries

Lily: Totally, because the other aspect was this long process of finding boundaries with you, sometimes even explicitly, in conversations. I’ll say things like “Is it okay that I’m telling you this, Heather?” because I didn’t know where to draw the line with what’s TMI about my marriage. You’ve been really careful to make it clear that you can’t speak to my experience and want to be here for me, no judgment, and that you’ll never give ultimatums or resent my partner. It’s made me feel really safe to share my thoughts and feelings with you—we have our friendship, but Robert is neither ignored nor the sole focus. It’s been a crazy balance to hit: one that I can’t find with all other friends.

Heather: Trying to hit that balance has been pretty intentional on my part, but it just makes sense because I really don’t know what it’s like to be married. If I keep that in mind, then there’s no way I could make judgments. All I do know is that I want to support you, which means supporting Robert too, because you are deciding to be with him.

Lily: Is there anything I’ve done to make this process easier for you?

Heather: You were really open about the planning, stresses, and expectations you were facing with the wedding, which made a big difference. I got to be involved and supportive during that part of your transition into marriage, which felt good. And I actually feel more prepared for other close friends who are getting married, as far as being able to be a good friend to them. I am more aware of what could come up or what to expect. You also have been nothing but kind: there may have been distance between us at times, and talking felt a little rusty at first, but I always felt like you appreciated me. It was confusing, but did make things easier on my end.

Making This Work

Just a couple of friends, paddling through the waves of life.
Just a couple of friends, paddling through the waves of life.

Lily: You definitely support and respect the boundaries that I set up with regards to what I feel comfortable sharing and what is a little too intimate, because you have such a strong commitment to be friends.  D’aww!

Heather: I think it worked out between us because we were flexible: neither of us stayed stuck in the separate values we originally had about marriage. Otherwise, we would have been talking at each other the entire time and couldn’t have maintained a friendship. Even though we do come from pretty different ideological places about marriage, considering our history and parents and religion, we listened to each other carefully and with heart. We were able to let go of some of our assumptions, and we’re doing pretty well, two years out.

Lily: I’d have to agree. Love you, Heather.

Heather: Love you, Lily!

P.S. We’re not the first ones to write about this. Here’s a whole mess of friendship-and-marriage-themed posts, because, well, every friendship is different.

Heather Griffith is a grad student who loves writing about sustainability, justice, food, nature, and science. She is also a rabid reader, incessant cook, and barefoot enthusiast. Read more of her reflections at TO LIVE FOR LOVE.

Lily Henderson is a heart to heart professional. Mentor to college students. Loves language, personality theory, glitter, and any cocktail with champagne.

Photo by Sara Slattery / Additional Photos by Heather Griffith

Share on:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on StumbleUponShare on RedditEmail this to someone

1 Comment

  1. WOW! Loved this article! Somehow I stumbled upon it, and am so happy I did. Refreshing, honest, and relatable, I can barley get past it! =)

Leave a Reply