Does Marriage Spell an End for the Friendships of Our Youth?


Does Marriage Spell an End for the Friendships of Our Youth?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Did my grandmother have a girl gang like I did? Did they promise to be friends forever, like I did with my friends? These were the kind of questions I would ask her when I was younger. She would tell me about the time her friend Shalu and she used a sack of vegetables as a trampoline — jumping on it until the vegetables were reduced to unusable pulp. Then there was the time they played truant and escaped to the woods near their school, only to be caught by Shalu’s mother. 

But by the time my grandmother was telling me those stories, she had lost touch with all her childhood friends. “It’s difficult to remain in touch with your friends after marriage,” she would say. Patriarchy at work again, I thought. My friends and I will be friends forever! But after my wedding, my grandmother’s words proved prophetic, as close friends faded away from my life even as my husband entered it.

It didn’t help that I got pregnant very soon after getting married. Before my friends could get used to the idea of me as a wife, they had to get used to me as a mother. When the baby was born, I suddenly had no time to even text Neha, a one-time best friend. I did not invite her to my baby’s naming ceremony. She in turn never visited my baby, and that for me was the last diaper that broke the diaper-caddy. 

We were the sort of friends who would always be together at school and still run home afterward to get on the phone with each other. Our weekends and vacations were spent at each other’s homes. We always stood first and second in class, but jealousy never reared its head. We grew up together, navigated the murky waters of our teens together, and even when we were approaching our 30s, we were the supporting pillars of each other’s life. 

Looking back, it is weird that she who knew everything about me from my first crush to my period schedule doesn’t know what my baby’s first word was. When I spoke to a few other mommy friends, they said they had lost friends too. When I got engaged, maybe Neha lost her partner-in-crime, maybe she lost her wing-woman. Our conversations changed to wedding planning and marriage. I was out of the dating pool and all set for the wedding jig. While my friend was swiping left and right on Tinder, I was talking promises and commitments. 

The newly married lovebirds that we were, we began building our love-nest and all we did for the next couple of months was attend furniture expos and antique stores!

An article in The Atlantic titled “How Friendships Change in Adulthood” begins by stating that in the hierarchy of relationships, friendships are at the bottom — that is, “the voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life’s whims in a way more formal relationships aren’t. In adulthood, as people grow up and go away, friendships are the relationships most likely to take a hit.” The piece also quotes Professor of Interpersonal Communications at Ohio University, William Rawlins, who gives voice to the fears I’ve had rattling in my head. “The largest drop-off in friends in the life course occurs when people get married,” Rawlins says. “And that’s kind of ironic, because at the [wedding], people invite both of their sets of friends, so it’s kind of this last wonderful and dramatic gathering of both people’s friends, but then it drops off.”

And indeed when I got married, I had lots more on my plate. I inherited a bunch of my husband’s friends and relatives, and between them and work commitments, I had much less time for Neha. The newly married lovebirds that we were, we began building our love-nest and all we did for the next couple of months was attend furniture expos and antique stores! Club-hopping was replaced by quiet romantic dinners and I could barely find the time to visit the town Neha lived in.

Sometimes the dissimilarity between the lives of two friends gets too overwhelming and they are left with nothing in common. Friends need to have a shared language, their own inside jokes and their own lingo. For instance, when a common friend began batting her eyelashes at the bartender, (something she did often), my BFF and I would share an eye roll. That sort of connect, where you know what the other is thinking comes from shared life experiences. As you grow up, your common bank of experiences depletes and if you have nothing new in common, the connection becomes more and more tenuous. This is also why we outgrow childhood friendships and get close to our co-workers. We have the same annoying boss to complain about, you see.

Now, three years into my marriage, I’m afraid my grandmother was right. Luckily for me, there has been one friend, Suvarna who has stuck around like superglue, disproving grandma’s depressing prophecy. She was the one I called when mothering got too overwhelming and in spite of the time difference she always answered. 

As cliche as it sounds, there are oceans (and visa issues) keeping us apart; we cannot even FaceTime each other without my baby butting into the conversation, and yet our bond stays strong. There are times when we go weeks without a proper conversation and then out of the blue, I get a very detailed mail about what she’s been up to. Our friendship has weathered one marriage, one major emigration, multiple job switches and a few heartbreaks, and I feel pretty darn confident that it has stood the test of time!

Difficult as it is to stay friends through adulthood, parenthood and more, sometimes, once in a while you do hit the jackpot! And sometimes, once is enough.