Friend Forward Staff
Sustaining Friendship with People in Relationships
Updated: Jan 27
Note: This essay is the first of many that we will share from real women like you. If you'd like to share your friendship story and reflections with our readers, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jess Madison
I think one of the worst parts of being a woman is that, for many of us, the fear of being behind in life hinders our ability to rejoice with our friends.
Getting stuck as “the last one” in a friend group sucks, let alone having it happen to you THREE TIMES. That is my story.
Three separate friend groups, a whirlwind of celebrations for relationships then marriages and now babies for some of them.
It is cold and really lonely out here in these streets, y’all.
And yet, I am fortunate enough to have friends that respect my need for boundaries in our relationship as their lives have changed. Some of that respect came through trial by fire, but by nurturing the friendships I have with my married friends, I have learned a lot.
That is why I’m writing this post. It is probably why you’re reading it, too.
You need some encouragement to sustain those friendships.
I won’t lie and say it is easy, and you already know it isn’t. But I am going to pass along my real world experience and encourage you to do what you can to keep friendships in different seasons alive.
You’ve got freedom—use it!
We need to accept the reality that as single women, we have all the freedom in the world. When I decided to book a spur of the moment vacation to Hawaii, I didn’t need to call up a partner and say, “Hey, are you cool if I leave for 10 days on a solo trip?”
I didn’t have to consider any shared expenses or debts I had with someone else. I was not forced to reconsider because of hurt feelings or jealousy from a partner. I just booked the tickets.
The lack of responsibility (relationally speaking) that you have as a single woman is one of your greatest assets. Not only can you use it as a luxury for yourself, you can use it to build new friendships and nurture the ones you have.
One of my best friends is married with a one-year old. We had a dinner on the calendar for weeks when she texted me the day of saying she didn’t have the energy to leave her house. She asked to reschedule, and of course I was sad, but I understood where she was coming from. I affirmed her need to reschedule, but I was already on her side of town, so I offered to get takeout and come to her house.
It was no big deal for me to put that offer out there for her, that is who I am by nature. Yet she and her husband both told me later how impactful that was. They mentioned that singles in their lives would often say they lacked community and would love to hang out, but never followed through on setting something up.
My heart broke for my friends, because I know that this is true for many married people, especially those that are parents, too.
People do not lose their individuality once they enter a relationship.
In my experience, that type of behavior happens when we lose sight of who our friends were before their relationship.
I will be the first to admit that I have looked at my friends through the label of their relationship before prioritizing their individuality in a conversation. Some of that is natural as we live in a culture of comparison. And comparison does not want you to forget what you don’t have—it wants to amplify your lack of it.
I find that the lens of labels is most obvious when I get together for coffee or dinner with old friends. Everything starts off great with the usual small talk. But as soon as someone starts talking about their significant other, my brain begins to scream, “WISH IT WAS ME SHARING THAT.”
Labels don’t do us any favors, and a conscious effort has to be made to fight them in the heat of the moment.
I know my friends well, both childhood friends and those I have made within the last three to five years. Using what I know as a starting point, I can ask intentional questions that bring the conversation back to them as an individual.
That means asking my entrepreneur-mom friends about their businesses. It means asking my married friend who is considering going back to school for an arts degree how that fulfills her and brings her joy.
This one isn’t something you do overnight. It is a habit you have to build, and I’ve apologized to several friends for my lack of effort in this area.
BUT. The labels go both ways.
Married friends—your single friends probably want to stab something when you ask if they have met anyone or are in the market. We know you mean well, but remember how you feel when you are tired of being asked about being a wife or a mom.
That is how we feel with the relationship questions. Leave them, or use them sparingly, preferably after you ask if your friend is okay with answering one. Same goes for talking about your relationship. We know you want to talk about it, but we may not always have the guts to shut you down without fear of hurting your feelings (and I’m speaking from experience).
The friendships won’t last without mutual respect.
It might seem like you are coddling your friend by asking for her permission to talk about her relationship status, but it is a powerful and humble display of respect.
I remember being at the gym with a friend who was in the middle of planning a wedding. We were talking about some minor details that had fallen through, and then she stopped mid sentence and asked, “Is it okay if we continue talking about this? I also want to mention something I’d like your advice on relationally, but don’t want to cross any boundaries.”
I was stunned. No one had ever intentionally asked if they could bring up something about their relationship with me. That’s not to say other friends hadn’t apologized for talking about it a lot or said, “Oh I’m talking about this too much, let’s talk about you!” (which makes me feel like leftovers but I digress).
But to stop ahead of herself and before we were up to our eyeballs in the relationship stuff, my friend showed me the kindness and respect of asking if her continuing the conversation would cross my boundaries.
Mutual respect is vital to the health of any relationship. As women, I feel like we forget this or haven’t had enough conversations about its importance.
If we preach that communication in dating and marriage relationships is vital, why should we assume friendships are any different? Because if there is one way to destroy a friendship, it is lack of respect.
There are times where you only realize after a situation that it was a lack of respect for the other person and their lack of respect for you that sent something up in flames.
But those failures form your ability to respond more appropriately as friendships change.
Sometimes we find our single-selves overwhelmed by the amount of people we know in relationships. This is especially true if those friendships are older and maybe already grown apart (whether either party has acknowledged it or not). To foster the mutual respect that can prevent the chaos of my experience, a few things need to happen.
The woman in a relationship must do her best to understand where her single friend is coming from in regards to shifting her energy. Maybe they need to take a break from something that is the bare minimum of upkeep in a relationship, or take a break from coming to dinner hangouts or group FaceTimes. That might really hurt the friend who is in a relationship, because she sacrifices a lot to do these things.
But taking a break from something does not have to indicate a friendship break up is coming.
Showing your single friend's respect means you may not always have a clear picture of what is happening in their lives, but you choose to trust that your friend is true in her intentions.
Likewise, the single friend needs to respect the dating/married friend by staying in communication with them. Find a way to build consistency in communication, even if that is just a “Hey, thinking about you today!” text here and there. There also has to be an understanding that something related to the relationship will be discussed. Decide how you want to talk about it or ask to shift the conversation! Remember, your good-willed friends are not trying to make you feel crappy because of your label.
Supporting our friends in relationships is vital, even if you are not always in their presence.
Practical takeaways for all friends.
For those in relationships:
Ask your single friend if it is okay that you discuss something about your relationship with them.
Talk about some of your individual goals and ask your friend about hers.
If your friend has withdrawn and you feel hurt, ask yourself how you would be feeling if the roles were reversed.
Ask your friend if she has someone else in her sphere of influence that is single who is also supporting her.
For the single friend:
Ask your friend in a relationship if she is feeling supported by her significant other.
Ask how she has grown since dating and what her best advice is to someone who is single that she wishes she knew beforehand.
Don’t withdraw for the sake of a boundary and not pursue friendship with other single women. If you are going to shift your position in an existing relationship, have a goal to meet new people.
If you feel the need to withdraw from the friendship, are there ways you can create boundaries for yourself that protect the relationship without necessarily telling the other person?
If you can’t set a boundary without letting the person know it is going up, how can you make time to speak with them on the phone or face to face so that they are able to understand your tone and choice?
For both parties:
There is inevitably going to be misunderstanding as boundaries shift within the relationship. Ask yourselves (both individually and together) how you can support each other without having to fully understand the situation.
Be intentional about time together. Plan a lunch date or coffee catch up that has a start and end point so neither party feels like they have to carry on beyond what is comfortable unless you both feel up to it.
Remember that even as you change, you began this friendship because you felt connected to the other person—that connection did not disappear but it is up to you to adjust it as your seasons change. And you will probably still be envious of each other’s life (the single woman’s freedom and the dating woman’s companionship).
So laugh off what you can, forgive much, and build the friendship forward.
Jess Madison is a copywriter, travel enthusiast, and co-host of the podcast Final Boarding Call. Learn more about her work here or follow her on Instagram.
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