“People try to say I act a little funny, But that's just a figure of speech to me.”
-TLC, “What About Your Friends,” 1992
-TLC, “What About Your Friends,” 1992
I wish being single wasn’t a negative. A thing that I have to end in order to feel accepted and complete and less like the potluck dish no one’s touching. I wish I was no longer perceived as lacking something. I also wish that we spoke more broadly about being single, because right now I feel like a lot of what’s fed to me is content and ideas and products around dating — and only dating. My singleness seems to suggest to the world that dating is what I want to focus on, when really I’m the happiest in my single life when I focus on anything but.
For me, one of those “anything but” topics is friendship. As an advocate for single women, I see us all, myself included, seeking out more friendship, and often finding it hard to do. I love seeing the single community seek out more connection that goes beyond the romantic or sexual pairings, because I think — and certainly feel — that friendships hold just as much value. But it also makes me a little sad sometimes, because when we discuss female friendship, it seems to come from a place of thinking that we don’t currently have enough.
What’s enough? Do any of us have enough friends? What’s the quota on readily available company for everything from travel to watching Bravo? Then it hit me: Single women are a friend cohort that’s got a hole in the bucket. We “lose” our single girlfriends all the time, because at a certain point a single woman isn’t single anymore. And while they’re still our friends of course, I’d be lying to the internet if I said that when my single girlfriends partner it didn’t feel like they had, at least in some capacity, moved on from me.
We get mad at her. We think she’s ignoring us. We’re upset that she spends so much time with her new partner.
There’s a textbook response to our single girlfriends partnering, and I hate it. We get mad at her. We think she’s ignoring us. We’re upset that she spends so much time with her new partner. We feel like we’ve been left behind while she goes off and lives the life we’ve been chasing down and that sucks. I hate this response because I can’t stand the idea of women (or men, hi Conor) feeling this way about me. I don’t ever want to be resented for something that brings me joy.
Of course she’s spending an abundance of her time with her new partner, and of course I therefore see her less. She has a new partner! They’ve decided to share their lives with each other. They’re having a great time, they’re connecting on increasingly deeper levels, and presumably they’re having quite a bit of sex. Why would I shit on that? It’s beautiful. There will always be some component of me that feels bad for the single friend who just lost another bandmate, but I want to discuss changing this attitude because resenting our friends for finding the thing we’re also looking for smells funny. You’ve done this. I’ve done this. Let’s stop doing this.
Would I even want a friend to put me first in this scenario? Definitely not. I’ve discussed that not feeling like the most important person to someone is one of the most difficult parts of being single, and I stand by that. But there has to be a level of understanding and love for our friends such that when they partner, we see past our own feelings of rejection and through to the joy we’re capable of feeling for others.
I have experienced “losing” a friend to couplehood, many times. I also have a huge portion of my friendship pie that’s married and partnered currently. Actual children have come from some of these relationships. And I’ve learned that if I want to keep these people in my life (and I do), I need to understand a few things, and put a few best practices in place.
First, being busy is not annoying. Everyone is allowed to be exactly the kind of busy that they are. It is not for me to judge the way anyone spends their time in any instance, much less as it relates to how much time they spend with me. We are all our own unique kind of busy, and the friends you’ll have forever will make it known they’re worth investing time in because they’ll be just as willing to spend time with you. If I’m the one annoyed with a friend for not paying me enough attention, I need to address what’s going on with me that feels annoyed by her in the first place. I am the one responsible for making me happy, not other people.
Second, set a good pace. Yep, you’re gonna see her less. And that’s okay. I’ve felt the pain of coming to this understanding and I came out okay on the other side — you will, too. That’s basically what’s supposed to happen. Call me old fashioned (or actually old, I don’t care), but your friend is building her family here. This activity is important, it takes time and focus, and it’s something to be respected. Recognize that the pace at which you hang out is going to change, and help set it. Don’t be resentful when you “finally” hear from her after three months. Make the plans, see her, and start to figure out together how you’ll adjust the way you fit into each other's lives now. It might feel a little uncomfortable, but I believe friendship is worth it.
Third, maybe stop. If you’re the friend who’s always reaching out, always suggesting dinner, always feeling like a nag, maybe just stop. You don’t have to be that person. You can pause the effort and wait (while engaging in the fourth activity below), and the friends that really want to be in your life will show up, I promise you. If they don’t, that’s okay too. I’ve been rejected by friends, I’ve rejected friends, I’ve felt every ounce of icky that comes along with friendship weirdness. It can feel really bad, and that’s not how I want to spend my time, so I’ve worked very hard on learning to get over it and move forward. It’s okay to say no to friendships that aren’t making you feel good anymore. You are no less capable of being a good friend to others, and no less worthy of others being good friends to you.
Fourth, fill the gap. You might not want to hear this, but replace her. I said it. Not the literal space she occupies in your heart, the space she occupies across the brunch table will do just fine for now. We have to make new friends. As a species, I feel like after grad school age, we’re pretty shit at this. “Making new friends is hard” could be the late-era millennial tagline at this point. But we have to try, and we have to put in effort. And we know how to exert effort, single women are nothing if not hard workers. Think about it: If I’d spent the sum total of my swiping time joining and interacting with Facebook groups, classes, and clubs instead, I’d have enough friends to start my own suburb.
If we can feel empathy when others are in pain, we can feel it when they’re in love, too.
The secret to living and loving single life to the fullest might be making new friends. There is a strong possibility that I’ve cracked this. However, while we’re collecting these human treasures, we have to re-evaluate the way we feel when we “lose” one. I’ve lived through feeling jealousy and resentment toward others and those feelings are no longer welcome in my life. I believe we’re all in charge of the emotions we keep, and the emotions we evict, and a lot of it has to do with putting ourselves in the shoes of others. If we can feel empathy when others are in pain, we can feel it when they’re in love, too.
I know the unique ways being single hurts. The pain and rejection we’re capable of feeling as a result of friendships is sometimes worse than anything Tinder can muster. But I think alleviating the feelings that come with friends forming couples is as simple as reframing the issue, and focusing inward instead. I believe it's possible to cheer on ourselves and our friends at the same time, regardless of what our lives look like. I also believe any ounce of effort exerted in the name of friendship, old or new, is worth it. Friends do shitty things sometimes. But partnering up isn’t one of them.