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.