The marriage gap

Why is it that some people dream of getting married but others are happy never getting married? Is it fear of commitment? Wanting to live in the present? Or do some people think about marriage so much that it becomes unhealthy?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. I’m someone who’s never really seen himself getting married. It’s not that I’m afraid of marriage; if I met the right person, I think I’d be able to make a commitment. Rather it’s that I don’t want to concern myself with something that’s outside of my control. I’ve never felt like I define myself by who I’m with, so if I meet someone, that’s great, but I’m happy being by myself as well.

A lot of people, though, see marriage as this focus that gives their lives meaning and it’s that kind of obsession that turns me off marriage. They plan it out years in advance and everything has to be perfect… I have a hard time swallowing that. Marriage needs work; nothing is ever just perfect because you love someone, but many people expect it to be. When I look at the divorce rate I can’t help but think that this idea of marriage plays a large part in it, people giving up because when everything isn’t perfect they think that the relationship wasn’t “meant to be”.

I guess I’ve been thinking about this because an old school friend contacted me a few months ago. I hadn’t heard from her for about six years and it was great catching up again, but one of the things she told me was that she’s engaged. I almost choked! Not in a bad way; I’m really happy for her. It’s just that in my mind I still see her as the fourteen year old girl I used to know and it feels strange to imagine her about to get married. She’s a few months younger than I am as well, so she was only 21 or 22 when she got engaged. But I guess when you know it’s right, it just is.

She’s actually the second school friend who’s been engaged now; another got married two years ago and seems very happy. I haven’t spoken to either of them much since, though… I’d like to but it feels strange. Part of it is the difference between how I remember them and who they are now, but there’s also a different dynamic when someone becomes engaged or married and it can be hard to overcome. That’s part of the problem here.

Some call it the marriage gap and it describes the way a friendship can change once someone is married or part of a long-term relationship. Friends who used to meet for drinks every week feel put out when their married friend starts to cancel; someone who used to think nothing of taking off for a weekend away suddenly has other commitments to think about first. The married friend feels hurt that his/her single friends don’t show more interest in their partner and becomes annoyed by the money they spend frivolously. Over time it brings added pressure to the friendship and it either changes or falls apart.

I didn’t use to believe in the marriage gap but recently I’ve changed my mind. There was a couple I met at my writing group who seemed to speak their own language and it felt like everything they were talking about went over my head. Other people felt the same way and we just weren’t on the same wavelength; it was the first time I’d really understood why it can drive people nuts. It was a little like what it felt like talking to my friends again; not that we didn’t have anything in common, but so much had changed… we were coming from different directions and just because we were compatible once didn’t mean we were now.

In the end I think that’s why once people get married they start to form their own circles, and why singles go out in their own groups. It’s natural; the common ground has shifted and it’s easier to share how you feel with others who understand… even if they’re not the same friends you’ve had for most of your life. In a way that’s sad because if you care about someone enough, you should be able to get past any differences. And many friends do. But for whatever reason the marriage gap is still quite common.

I know part of it for singles is that they often feel like they’re being pressured into getting married themselves. A few members of my extended family seem sorry for me when I say I’m not seeing someone… or seem worried. Thankfully they haven’t tried to set me up with someone (yet!) but they don’t seem to get that I’m happy by myself. Is it so strange to think that I’d enjoy my own company, that I’d rather be alone than with someone who doesn’t value me for who I am? And likewise married people feel hurt that their old friends don’t show more interest in their new lives, which is something I can understand as well. Marriage is the ultimate commitment; they’ve made a huge change in their lives and to not even try to understand that and expect them to be the same isn’t being much of a friend.

To be honest, though, I think the marriage gap is overrated. What it really represents is a breakdown in communication; neither friend expresses how they feel properly, and so they keep growing apart. But it also shows that we’re not aware of how relationships evolve over time. No friendship remains the same; it changes as our interests change, as we move into different periods of our lives. We shouldn’t expect it to remain the same, but a lot of people do. And that’s the problem. We think our friendships should be perfect (like our marriages) and last a lifetime, but you maintain any relationship by redefining it, by taking an interest in the person… if you don’t do that, the friendship won’t survive. And sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes it’s better to let go of a friendship than to ruin all of the memories you shared.

For the most part I try to do that. Before meeting that couple at the group, I hadn’t noticed the marriage gap all that much and I get on well with most of the family friends I know who are married. And I like taking an interest in people as well, so finding common ground isn’t too difficult… that’s why I think that generally the marriage gap isn’t something that can’t be overcome, just something you have to work at. If I had a chance to talk to my friends again, I’d love to. I’d love to know how they’re getting on and see if there was a chance to get to know them again. I’m not expecting it, but who knows? I didn’t expect to hear from them the first time, so I’ll never say never. 😉

Anyway, it’s just been on my mind lately. I wonder what you think? Is there a marriage gap? Have you ever felt out of place in a social group? Is one group more responsible than the other? I’d be interested to know what you think.

14 thoughts on “The marriage gap

  1. That’s very interesting! I’ve actually noticed the same, although to be quite frank: I notice it less when I’m in Europe. I’m not sure why that is. Now, in my opinion, the biggest gap happens when a baby comes in the picture. That’s when you can just go ahead and kiss them goodbye for good! Which I suppose is a normal thing, as people’s priorities take a massive shift then, and I wouldn’t expect them not to. But yeah, it’s kind of sad to lose touch with people once they start cutting themselves off from their good old circle of friends. It has happened to me a few times, and I still don’t quite understand it. Especially as I’ve never been that way when I’m in a relationship. People just have their different priorities I guess.

    CJ: Hi Air-Girl, thanks for the comment. That’s interesting that you’ve noticed it less in Europe. I was too young to remember much from when I lived in England, but my impression was that it was similar… perhaps the attitude has changed over the last few years.

    And I definitely agree about the baby… the baby gap is a huge difference, for both sides. I think the key is understanding that their priorities have to change, particularly with a baby; if we expect them to be the same, then we’re not being much of a friend. But it works the other way too; it’s not much of a friendship if it becomes all about them. I think some find it hard to maintain the balance and that’s why they cut themselves off.

    In the end I’m not sure there’s much people can do except to try and make the friendship work. If they feel the same way, the relationship will evolve; if not then perhaps it’s best letting them go… thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  2. i think married people are fine on their own. it’s when some are with their spouses you feel like you don’t know them anymore because they’re showing a side you’ve never seen before! and i get the same feeling when i hear childhood friends getting married. i’d be like, i’m only 22 and i feel far from ready to tie the knot and these people are; i don’t know them anymore!

    and sometimes married people do make single people feel inadequate, especially when they ask, like, when is your turn, or even more condescendingly try to set you up with their single friends or something! haha, i’ve been reading and watching bridget jones’s diary far too many times. 😛

    CJ: That’s true, it is more noticeable when they’re together; and it’s worse when you’re the only single person in a group of couples! I have found it with some married people on their own as well, though. Particularly in how they feel their friends aren’t paying much attention to their new lives, and how they have more commitments, which their friends see as not making time for them… I guess it comes back to communication again.

    Ah, you just haven’t met the right person yet, sulz! 22 isn’t really that young to get married, is it? If you know it feels right, why wait? You should know after a few months if you’re going to kill each other! 😉

    The thing I wonder is, do single people ever make married people feel inadequate? Is that why some of them keep asking when we’re getting married, because they feel like they’ve lost what we have? Hm, now I sound paranoid. The Bridget Jones-thing must be catching. 🙂

  3. I agree with Air Girl. The biggest possibility of a gap comes when your friends have kids. Even then, the friendship goes stale only when they are obsessive parents who need Dr Phil’s guidance.

    The most awkward moment is when 2 of your friends get married or go steady, then split. If they expect you to take a stance as well & dump 1 of them – that can be awful.

    CJ: The baby gap can be a huge problem, but is it always obsessive parents? I’ve met a couple of single mothers who don’t get on well with married couples; they feel like they’re being judged and find it hard to form relationships. And there’s still a big divide between people staying home with their kids and people choosing to work…

    I actually meant to touch on the baby gap, but I left it out so it didn’t feel like I was cramming too much into the post. I might have to do a follow-up; it takes the gap to a whole other level. Even Dr. Phil would find it hard to help some of them. 😉

    And you’re right, that is very awkward. I’ve been lucky as that hasn’t happened to me yet but one of my friends was dating someone for a couple of years and broke up recently. They had a lot of common friends and it divided them down the middle… I can only imagine what that must be like.

  4. I am thirty four and have been married for eleven and 1/2 years. My husband and I were together this year as long as we were apart.

    I was the first friend to get married. For a few years there was probably a gap in some of my friendships because like you said things changed. I still loved my friends and knew they loved me but we were at different roads. Eventually our paths met again (after they got married) and we began having similiarites we could share once more. Then I was the first friend to have children and the children gap came. It was hard to explain why I didn’t want to be seen out every Friday night even if my husband said it was okay(I was now a mother). But now, once again that circle came around and my friends have children and now we are back to the place of relating.

    So, my theory is , a friend is a friend, sometimes for a short time, a long time and sometimes a lifetime. The lifetime friends undoubtedly lose touch a few times along the way but some how always end up picking up where they left off.

    It’s okay if your friends are in a different place right now, it’s not where you are meant to be, at least at this moment anyway. 🙂

    CJ: Wow, 11 1/2 years. Congrats! My parents will have been married for 25 years this year, but it seems like fewer marriages last as long as they used to, so it’s great to hear the success stories as well.

    I think the thing with the marriage gap, or any kind of lifestyle change, is that how much the relationship changes depends on the strength of the friendship and the interests you share. For a lot of people the gap isn’t a problem; I’d rarely noticed it until recently, and if you’ve always had an open relationship there’s a good chance that things won’t change that much. But some friendships don’t have that kind of connection; it doesn’t mean they’re any less of a friend, but as you said, you just kind of lose touch. It’s sad, but it just seems like that’s the way it goes.

    We might regain some of those friends later, or not, once they’ve experienced it too… I just feel that ideally we shouldn’t have to experience the same thing to be able to understand. Friendship should be about what we have in common; a true friend should understand that because you’re a mother you have other priorities, just as you’d understand that you don’t want to ignore your friend either… that there is a gap still says something about the way we communicate to me…

    But I know what you mean… some friends last a lifetime, some don’t. All relationships have their bumps along the way, but it’s our true friends who are there when we need them, which is what matters… maybe my friends are in different places right now and one day I might get there too. I’ll need to meet the right person first, though! If only it were like the movies, it’d be so much easier. 🙂

  5. I agree — the marriage gap is overrated. I’ve been married (right before my 21st birthday), a single mom and widow, single and on my own, and now married with grandkids. I’ve had both married and single friends throughout.

    Married friends often have less time and fewer resources to invest in activities with their single buddies, but so do those singles who go back to school, join a religious order, or get immersed in a hobby. Marrieds may have a private communication system, but so do single friends who are twins or longtime friends I’ve just gotten to know. And marrieds may envy singles’ freedom at times, but when crisis or a challenging opportunity strikes, singles may envy marrieds’ committed support. It’s all just part of the ebb and flow of friendships.

    I love your observation: “you maintain any relationship by redefining it, by taking an interest in the person.”

    This is so true, for friendships and for marriage.

    I disagree with you and so many others in calling this “work” when applied to marriage. There are so many sources for marriage education now that it’s crazy to work at being married (or decide it wasn’t “meant to be”) when you can learn how to maintain the relationship and enjoy yourself as you do it.

    CJ: Hi Patty, thanks for stopping by. I definitely agree that it’s a matter of perception; married people often have different priorities which to some can come across as ignoring others, but that just shows they don’t understand the changes that come with married life. And it’s true for singles as well, we have our own priorities and our own way of getting on, particularly with someone we’ve known for a long time… I think in the end it’s a matter of how open you are to change that determines how big the gap is.

    When I said that marriage needs work, I didn’t mean that in a derogatory sense. To me marriage is a union and a part of keeping any union strong is showing an interest in the other person, and sometimes deciding what to compromise on. From watching my parents and other married couples, I’ve yet to see any lasting marriage that doesn’t require work. And every marriage is different as well; for some people it might require more of an effort, particularly in a marriage which is based around children, and sometimes after years it can be hard to keep things fresh… I think anything worthwhile needs to be worked at, so I don’t see why a marriage should be any different. But I haven’t been married, so maybe it’s something I can’t know. Thanks for the comment and sharing your thoughts. 🙂

  6. Dude, wait until you’re 30 years old. You’re thinking of settling down and then you realize, there’s barely a woman around your age who isn’t already committed in some way. Kids, divorce, career. After 30 the whole thing changes, believe me.


    CJ: That’s probably true, the longer you wait, the more people are already committed… but then people are waiting longer to get married now as well, and experience is never a bad thing in my books… I guess we’ll just have to see. Thanks for stopping by. 😉

  7. I will be turning 34 very soon and I have never been married and have never had children. Just about all of my friends are married and have had children. After thirty yes things do change. I just told one of my friends since I have known since high school that I feel like we are drifting apart. She is married , just went through a difficult point in her marriage has a step son and a 6 year old of her own. The problem is at this point is meeting people whom familys are similiar. My father once told me to meet someone who is eaither very close to there family or have parents that are still married. That in today’s day in age is a very hard task to do. My grandparents have been married for over 60 years, parents 34 and so on and so forth. The set of values are different then those from broken homes, at least in my experience. Times have changed and finding good people that havn’t been hit with the crazy stick well is hard to do

    CJ: Hi Pamela, thanks for the comment. I’m sorry to hear that about your friend but that does seem to be what happens… as time goes by we drift apart, particularly as we go through different stages in our lives. And you’re dead right, the problem is meeting people who are similar and share our values… how you do that, though, particularly in this day and age, I’m just as clueless about.

    Times have changed so much in the last forty years and I think that has a big part in it as well. It was more common then that the friends we’d make would be friends for life, particularly as a lot of people kept to their own circles. But now, with people more empowered and with more opportunities to meet people through work, etc, our friendships aren’t fixed… it’s like we don’t expect them to last beyond a certain stage in our lives, which I find sad. The value we place on our friendships is different, so it’s no wonder the gap exists.

    It’s true for meeting partners too. I know a lot of people who are married say they can’t imagine dating now as it’s such a minefield… the rules have changed so much in the last decade. I guess it’s a matter of keeping an open mind so you don’t miss the right person when they come along. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  8. I was just talking with a single friend about a similar issue the other day. I am married but my husband works 2 or 3 evenings a week, which leaves me alone for dinner those nights. One night I wanted to go out for pizza but couldn’t come up with a friend – single or married – who would be able to go out on short notice. My single friend has a serious boyfriend and guards her time with him fiercely. My married friends have husbands and kids and guard their time fiercely. Maybe it all comes down to where our priorities are.

    I do agree, however, that friendships change over time, and maintaining long-term friendships takes time and effort from both parties, single or married.

    CJ: Hi Claudia, thanks for commenting. That’s interesting, that it works the other way too. I think you’re right, it is a matter of priorities. In the end it’s natural that we’d want to be with the person we love, but at the same time you’d think we all need a bit of space as well, time to get away and be with friends… like anything there should be a balance, but I guess that’s easier said than done for some people.

    I think any kind of relationship takes effort to maintain; it’s not just about showing interest but knowing the person, and you can’t do that if both parties can’t communicate or it’s only a one-sided relationship. Friendships (and marriages) change, but it’s natural that they change… it’s whether we can adjust to the changes that defines whether the relationship survives. Thanks for stopping by. 😉

  9. Well, you’ve certainly got a hot topic here. I know my view is far from the norm, but there are some things about mainstream life I find odd. One of them is marriage. Another is having children. I’ve seen friends turn into completely different people after having babies, as some of your commenters have said. It becomes all about the kids. This is not a bad thing. Raising children is among the most important jobs on earth, and for those who wish to do so, it’s splendid that they take it seriously. It just…..doesn’t interest me.

    There is an ICanHasCheezburger photo up which shows a kitty looking at a newborn and saying “…but what does it do?” I wouldn’t go quite that far. There are children in my life I’m very fond of. I enjoy them and respect them without the responsibility of taking care of them. The idea of dedicating my life to another humanoid for 19 or 25 or 40 years does not appeal to a self-centered creature such as myself. Having said that, though, while I’ve found that marriage does change friendships even without the children, it doesn’t always have to be that way. We all understand that the spouse is the most important person to our friend. That’s as it should be. Most of my friends though, understand that pre-existing friendships are to be honored too, and don’t feel the need to bring the spouse on every outing. It’s wonderful if the spouse and the friend get along, and this often happens. It just changes the dynamic of an existing friendship, and many friends do allow some “us” time with the other friends.

    I don’t find marriage per se to be a necessary component of a person’s well being, and like you, I can be happy and sufficient on my own. I remember when I was about 19 an aunt asked if I was ever going to “get married and have a family.” (ughh.) I replied that while I might get married, I didn’t intend to have children and “I already have a family, I have all of you!”. They thought I’d change my mind about the children.

    I appreciate your point about people who plan out their married life or their weddings in advance, before they even have someone in mind. There are many who just cannot imagine life without marriage. While I acknowledge it’s what most people do, I can’t imagine deciding that first, then going out to look for the person that will fill the role. I don’t know about where you are, but in the US there is a huge market in dating services—online and off—and people say right up front that they’re looking for a spouse. I do certainly understand desiring a sexual partner, and how some people’s belief systems would not permit that without marriage, but that is a different need in my view.

    Couples tend to form friendships with other couples, which is fine until something happens to end a relationship. A good friend of mine lost her husband at a young age to cancer. Not only did she feel cheated out of many years with him, but it was devastating to gradually lose many of the “couples friends” the two had had. For a while, she told me, she couldn’t stand it when these friends would use the word “we” all the time. “We went shopping; we’re going on a trip”; that sort of thing. I understand that. Couples tend to form a life-unit, and they could be a bit more sensitive to friends who are recently single. Oh, man, cj, I could go on all night about this. I’d better stop. Really good, provocative post!

    CJ: Thanks, Muse. I thought it was an interesting topic but it looks like the post’s taken on a life of it’s own now. That’s great; it’s this kind of discussion that makes me love blogging. 😉

    That’s interesting what you said about children. I guess because I haven’t given much thought to getting married, I haven’t really thought too much about having children either, but a few people have told me they think I would be a good father. I’m not so sure. I just can’t quite picture myself in that position… but then a part of me likes children, so maybe it’s not such a stretch. If I was to have a family, I wouldn’t want to let that child gap happen. I think you’d have to put your children first (as it should be), but I don’t see why that should change everything in your life… they become the priority but there’s a big difference between being selfless and protective and I’m not sure how well the latter prepares children for life later on.

    And I agree as well, marriage doesn’t have to change a friendship, it’s just something that seems to be happening more frequently… I still think it comes back to communication; friends on equal terms are more likely to adjust to any changes, whereas others may not be as compatible. Increasingly we seem to be losing our communications skills; perhaps it’s our work hours, or technology, but a lot of people struggle to express themselves these days. I think that has a huge role in the gap as well.

    What happened to your friend would be an example. I’m sure they didn’t mean to seem insensitive but you’d think it would be natural around someone whose spouse has just died to try not to remind them of the loss. But often that’s not what happens; things slip out or people aren’t aware of what they’re saying… there’s a breakdown and that stretches the gap. In the end, people just drift apart and sometimes that’s better, if the relationship just brings you pain…

    There’s definitely a big market for dating services in Aus. Many of them are the same as the US ones – franchises, I guess -, and some of them seem reasonably good, but all are up front about the details; whether you’re seeking long term, short term, etc. Even that’s still like we’re planning everything in advance, though. If you meet someone spontaneously, you rarely know where it might lead; you might see the person once, or several times, or begin a relationship. But if you go into a service saying this is what you’re looking for, you’re cutting yourself off from all of the other possibilities. I don’t think that’s as natural an environment to find a partner as opening yourself up to all the possibilities.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Muse; I really appreciate your thoughts and words, as always. I’ve had this and a few other ideas in my head for a while now, so I’m hoping to write a few similar posts over the next week… hopefully they’ll be as interesting! 🙂

  10. There will be so much things to say about this topic…I believe that friendships don’t have to be ”forever” in a way that it is kind of ”normal” that people change along the way…You can get along for a while and then all of the sudden ones takes a different direction and often it is better to let go then to fight over differences…It happened to me with a couple of friends who I let go as we weren’t on the same wave-lengths no more…As far as I am concerned it is more a question of ”wavelengths” then marriages…I have married friends with who I get along very well more than my own sister who is married and we do have much in common and so forth and so on..

    Sorry, CJ, if I am not visiting ur blog as often as I am very busy..


    CJ: That sounds like what I think too, CV… we have this idea that our relationships are supposed to last forever, but it’s not a natural expectation. I think it comes from a lot of movies and shows; they always seem to depict this ideal friendship, but it’s not what it’s like in real life. It’s natural that we’d change as we grow in our lives, but perhaps some people are happier holding on to what they had.

    Wavelengths is a good way of looking at it. Really any friendship is about what we have in common, being in tune, but as we grow apart, we lose that connection… I’ve felt that with some of my family also. I’m close to my immediate family, but others almost feel like strangers. But then you can choose your friends but not your family, so perhaps it’s not that strange we don’t have a lot in common.

    I’m just happy whenever anyone can stop by, CV, so don’t worry if you’ve been busy. I’ve been offline for a bit as well, so I’ve got some catching up to do too. Love your new avatar, btw. 🙂

  11. Hi CJ!

    Long time since my last comment. Sorry! Nothing wrong with being single. My concern is: being alone, having that special someone to share happy and sad moments. My son is a loner and I worry about him. He states he is perfectly happy with the way he is. He said “I am not here to make friends, how am I doing so far?”

    CJ: Hi Lynn! Yeah, I’m sorry too; I’ve been checking up on your blog but haven’t left a comment in a while… will fix that later! 🙂

    And I know what you mean about being single. Usually I’m quite happy being by myself but sometimes it does get to me a bit… I think in the end we all want companionship, someone to share ourselves with. But then I’d rather be by myself than be with someone just to say I’m in a relationship as well, so I guess it works both ways.

    About your son’s attitude, I was a bit like that when I was younger too. A lot of young men become more socially comfortable later on, so I guess it’s not that unusual… I know I outgrew it, so maybe he’ll do the same.

  12. Hey CJ,
    Yes, I think there is a marriage gap. Though it doesn’t need to be a problem for people. I think it only becomes one when you let it. I have lots of married friends and yes, I noticed a real change with a few of them once they got married. The dynamics of our relationship changed and while it can be sad in a way – it’s a natural progression. Just as if one succeeds greatly in a career, their friends who have ‘just jobs’ may feel discomfort or jealousy or whatever emotion it stirs in them.

    I think you have to have a mind toward the future all the time and realize that it is always changing whether you like it or not. And too, some friends aren’t meant to be there lifelong, some are just there for a while and maybe entering marriage into the equation simply serves to point that out.

    As to the couple with their own language, I find that often happens with people newly married and in that case it settles down after a bit or with people who really aren’t social by nature and tend to be co-dependent. Just my take.


    CJ: It is quite like what happens over a job, isn’t it? It always amazes me the things that get in the way of relationships, but that just seems to be what’s important to some people… I think you’re right though, WC, it’s only a problem if we let it become one. Any relationship takes work and if people don’t make the effort to redefine the friendship, they’ll only grow apart.

    I’ve never had a lot of friends but most of my friends from ten or fifteen years ago, I’m still in touch with now. It’s funny how it’s worked out that way; the friendships are different but we still have a good dynamic, and it’s different than with my other friends now… not better or worse, just different. I think some people are scared by that, by change, but like you said, that’s just a part of the future. I think if you just enjoy the journey and value the friendships you make on the way, you’ll get the most out of them.

    That’s interesting about the couple, WC. I’m not sure how long they’d been together; I got the feeling it had been for a few years or more, but they did seem very co-dependent; they kept coming back to the same ideas and sitting near each other, so maybe that was it. It was quite sweet in a way, just uncomfortable. But that’s love, eh? What use is it if you can’t make people uncomfortable? 🙂

  13. I was working on a project when I stumbled upon your blog during my research. I really like this topic! No one talks about it enough. I feel exactly the same way. 🙂

    In answer to your question, “Have you ever felt out of place in a social group?” I have a friend who sometimes invites another friend when we hang out together and it is always awkward because the other person doesn’t know me and I don’t know them either. It ties in comparison with the marriage gap. Married couples who invite their single friends who don’t have much common anymore because of their new partner in life. It’s kind of sad that you grow apart because of the changes or decisions you make in life that make you who you are. It’s like the point you brought up about how we’re not aware of how relationships evolve over time. I think that’s a fact. 🙂 And we don’t notice until something happens; like getting married.

    Really liked this topic!

Leave a Reply