I haven’t written anything in months. My Facebook profile, never the most active, has all but died out entirely save for the odd article about inequity in the housing market or tropical fish. After all I’ve written, all I’ve tried to speak about and observe and document, I can’t help but ask myself: have I become the old cliche of the married person who disappears?
The answer is a lot more complicated than I’d once thought. Having seen many friends get married before I did, the pattern was almost always the same. When they’d meet someone special, the details would be dissected and analysed with the whole group. Together, we’d chart the highs and lows, sharing screenshots and mugshots and soppy midnight text messages. When things turned serious, we’d get together and plan the parties and the dresses and make tasteless jokes about their entry into the mysterious realm of physical intimacy.
But once the parties were done, the money stuffed into envelopes and the honeymoon pictures circulated, things were never quite the same. Messages became few and far between, the details of their new life scarce and vague at best. Outings had to be planned weeks in advance, often slotted in around their partner’s absence. ‘Let’s meet up on Friday night, my husband will be out at a class.’ They often seemed to want to consolidate their formerly individual friendships out of convenience, which meant it was difficult to ever spend time with them one-on-one.
I used to get annoyed at these people. I’d wonder what it was they were doing that was so significant and time-consuming. When I got married, I thought I’d finally figure out their secret, only to find out that the big secret was something so glaringly obvious: there’s simply less time to go around.
The reasons for this are simple. You have a new housemate, partner and friend all rolled into one, and for the relationship to have any chance of success, there needs to be at least some investment in the way of quality time. Assuming at least one party works or studies full-time, this leaves only nights and weekends. Depending on the couple, you might want to have at least a couple of nights a week or free slots on the weekend allocated to spending time together. This already cuts into your time, but you then also have the additional responsibility of scheduling in family time.
As a single person, you often live with at least some members of your family, which means you get to see them incidentally as you all go about your daily business. But when you move away from your family, the incidental contact disappears. You suddenly go from seeing your parents every day to seeing them once, maybe twice a week at best. That means at least one night out of every seven will be spent visiting your family. But wait, there’s more! Now that you have a second family to factor in, you’re down another night in the week, and if either you or your spouse have large extended families, your time is squeezed even further. (If both of you have huge extended families, it’s pretty much game over.)
What this means is not that married people stop caring about anything outside of their partner, but simply that things get pushed down the priority list. If it’s a choice between spending time with friends or family, family will usually have to take precedence. If it’s a choice between a gathering with close friends or a party with a bunch of acquaintances, close friends will of course take priority. There are only so many hours in the day, and naturally some things will fall by the wayside. Some people may be more efficient than others, but for most people, it seems that something will need to take a hit when they first get hitched, whether it be volunteer work or attending as many social events.
Of course, everything mentioned above is subject to some caveats. I’m certainly not suggesting that single people don’t have obligations and responsibilities of their own, or that it’s somehow justifiable for people to simply dump their friends once they have a partner. Many of us have felt the sting of a married friend who seems to have viewed friendship as a dispensable commodity. Some of these married friends have even been guilty of dishing out the same tedious relationship advice they would have abhorred only months before. (‘When you know, you’ll just know’.)
But singletons have also been guilty of doing a preemptive dumping of their married friends, assuming they are less available before they even get a chance to say otherwise. Married people may feel they are no longer as relevant or sought after by their friends. There can also be the assumption that your partner will take care of each and every one of your emotional needs, when in reality a married person may need their friends more than ever. Very few people take it upon themselves to really ask someone how their marriage is going, leaving the onus on the married person to reach out if they’re floundering.
As people get married later and later in life, they will come to the marriage with a more established set of social relationships, which may mean their friendships will hold up better post-marriage. Even those who ‘disappear’ may not necessarily do so because they’re Halal-drunk on newlywed bliss; they may also be struggling to adjust and cope with their new lot of challenges. The same, and a whole lot more, goes for friends who have children. While these friendships can seem like hard work because parents are limited in their availability, it’s important to reach out and check in to see how they’re doing, even if just with a quick message.
Some people make juggling different priorities look easy. But if you’re anything like me, this feels less like juggling and more like dropping two balls for every one picked up. It’s extremely difficult to give each and every commitment its due right, and in every single relationship there is the potential for one party to feel like they’re getting less than they’re giving. If this is perennially the case, it may be worth confronting the person, but if you can see that they’re just going through a particularly busy period, try to cut them some slack and wait for them to reappear when they’re ready. Or even better, try to coax them out of their Halal high (or low, or tedious median) into a well-overdue reappearance.