Earlier this week I returned from a holiday seventh-wheeling. Seventh-wheeling, is that even a thing? Probably not, but imagine going away for five days with three married couples in a three bedroom apartment. Yep, I know what you’re all thinking, ‘Woah, that would be weird.’
This morning this article came through on Relevant Magazine’s weekly newsletter: “Being the third wheel is underrated.” It made me reflect on why I so often find myself in the company of married friends without a second thought.
Hanging out with friends does not have framed by their/your relationship status.
Although each couple ended up in a bedroom each, and I joined one of them, we tossed around the idea of an all girl room and an all guy room. (If I remember correctly one of the guys objected because another snores too loudly). Further, on car trips and activities, the group was flexible. Car trips were a random mix or sometimes gender-segregated – an opportunity for the women happily blasted Beyonce and talk unashamedly about Taylor Swift. ‘Married’ does not equal joint at the hip and in hanging out with couples you realise they are more than happy to leave their spouse behind.
My married friends are conscious of the struggle singleness can be.
Being a close to 24-year old single, Christian woman, I’m a regular ‘third-, fifth-, seventh-, ninth-wheeler.’ Christians get married young. I did not. Hence, I find myself on holidays, in movies and hanging out on a Friday night surrounded by married couples. I’m thankful my married friends remember that sometimes singleness is hard. Sometimes I do feel lonely. Most of the time I’m too occupied/spontaneous to think/care about the fact I do not have a significant other. While away a friend made an effort to ask me away from the group how I felt about the sleeping arrangements. While I genuinely didn’t care, I appreciated my friend’s thoughtfulness in asking me. I also do not forget their regular dinner invitations, their invitation to join them on holidays or their request for my thoughts on any given issue.
Hanging out with married friends gives you a look into the joy, patience and frustration of marriage.
Spending four nights in a small townhouse with one living/dining space gave me a fairly good insight into married life. Likewise, when they invite me round for dinner, I experience their generosity, support and wisdom. There are arguments. There are early morning wrestle fights. There are tender moments. There are moments of self-sacrifice. There are moments of finance hardship. I have learnt so much from hanging out with married couples. I see my friends love and support their partner in tiredness and stress. I see their patience in resolving disagreements in public. I see their love in painstakingly picking glass out from their spouse’s foot after they’ve dropped a case of beer. Marriage is deeper than the smiles you see on their wedding day and the not-so-secret sex lives Christians so often pretend is not the reason Christian couples marry young.
Remember marriage is not elevated above singleness.
It is easy to think the grass is greener on the other side. Instant company, physical/emotional intimacy, two incomes of save money for a deposit, a non-awkward photo buddy (I still find posing for a photo alone is weird. What do I do with my hands?!). The struggles of marriage are widely written and so are the advantages of singleness. When feeling less valued, confused or lonely, I remember the time, freedom and flexibility on my side. Yes, I will stay out late with a friend for spontaneous drinks. Yes, I will buy this $300 handbag without guilt or asking permission from my partner. Yes, I will consider making plans for working overseas in the future. Yes, I will spend an entire afternoon planning a bible study and/or church service leading. Yes, I will toss and turn and shove the doona to the side, because hey – I didn’t have to share my bed with someone in 30-degree heat! I also remember in those odd moments I find myself driving home or walking alone that it’s okay. It’s okay not to be in the company of another at all times – partner, spouse, friend or otherwise. Solitude is okay. (I find myself having to assure myself of the last point just for the reality of my 100% extroversion!)
My married friends support my hope to eventually marry and have a family without matchmaking at every turn.
The apartment we were staying on holidays had previously facilitated another couple in our friendship group’s relationship. The location has history so on the fourth day away when a single guy who moved away a few years ago but remained friends with all of us came down to join us I expected some jokes. I expected the subtle (read: never subtle) car shuffling to force the two single people together. I expected the forced coupling up on a walk somewhere. I expected the sly comment. In actual fact, I didn’t expect it. While my married friends might appreciate the joy of marriage, they don’t force my hand. (Although I also appreciate it would take a lot to force me to do anything!). On the contrary, they ask about recent potential suitors and encourage saying yes to the coffee request. They are considerate while also having a crack – but only once. Hanging out with married friends isn’t weird when the situation isn’t forced to be weird.
I totally get that I am potentially in the minority. I have an amazing group of friends for whom I am very thankful for. But I have also pulled them up in situations where their words, actions and prayers have made me feel uncomfortable. And they too have pulled me up with unrealistic expectations of what things should or should not be like. Relationships of any kind take work to get right. The single/married divide is way too prevalent for my liking. Don’t just wallow in the weirdness, take steps to make it not weird.
If you’re married, I encourage you to ask your single friend if they feel uncomfortable hanging out with married couples. If they say yes, listen to them and learn from the above.
If you’re single, I encourage you to reframe the way you think about your married friends and the time you spend with them. Sometimes there weirdness is all in our heads. I also encourage you to bring up some of the areas in a helpful and considered way. Sometimes it takes naming the consistent joke isn’t funny to make it stop.