Across the Aisle

How married and unmarried women can experience true friendship
Across the Aisle
Image: NSHUBIN / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

You almost missed this moment, I sensed God speak to my heart as I watched my friend's two little boys, Ben and Zach, dashing excitedly through my sprinkler one lazy summer day. Amidst their squeals of delight, I was overcome with emotion as I grasped God's implication about the power of my choices.

I'm blessed to have close friendships with several families. That might not seem unusual, except that I'm a never-married 50-year-old with no kids. My lifestyle differs greatly from my married friends', so relationships across the marital aisle don't come naturally.

While this social divide is understandable, it certainly isn't biblical. In the early church, believers didn't distinguish between marrieds and singles; they simply lived in community and "gave to anyone as he had need" (Acts 2:45). God intends his church to unite despite the many cultural differences separating it: There "should be no division in the body, but … its parts should have equal concern for each other" (1 Corinthians 12:25).

To follow this biblical pattern, my married friends and I had to push through obstacles that would have robbed us of treasured relationships. While I wanted to draw close to these dear souls, at the same time I wanted to withdraw from them to avoid facing what I didn't have: a husband, children, and a seemingly endless social circle. I wrestled with an internal tug-of-war between opposing inclinations: I want to be with you—I can't bear to be with you. I loved the friends, but hated the painful reminders. So I had to make intentional choices not to run away from married friends.

And they had to figure out how to fit me into their ever-changing social structure. Significant life transitions, such as marrying, having a first baby, and then having multiple children, challenged our relational dynamic. With each transition, my friends' social circles and extended family widened, leaving us fewer opportunities to spend time together.

Had I decided to give up on these relationships because of their challenges, I'd have missed out on priceless joys. Joys as common as sitting around the family table, or as extraordinary as witnessing the birth of a friend's child.

I didn't have a road map for how to maintain lasting friendships between singles and couples. I had to pioneer the way. Here's what I've learned about how to reach a hand of friendship across the marital aisle.

Look for commonalities. I don't write off a potential friend simply because she's married and I'm not. Instead, I focus on the fact we both love Jesus, gardening, and old movies. I love the outdoors and have gone on camping and skiing weekends with whole families. I play tennis with my girlfriends, married or not. Any relationship has its differences, so why should a difference in marital status have more weight than others? I strive to embrace our differences, and enjoy our unique similarities.

Check your attitude. When I see my friend Sue and her husband, Pat, snuggled on the couch, either I can lament about sitting in a chair by myself, or I can rejoice in their marriage's strength. When my friend Lorie's two-year-old comes rushing into my arms, either I can bemoan the toddler isn't mine, or I can cherish that joyful moment.

Work out compromises. My friends Debbie and Betsy are stay-at-home moms. Because their evenings involve cooking dinner, helping with homework, and supervising bedtime routines, daytime is their best chance to interact with me. But I work days and want to talk at night. On weekends, these moms want to cocoon with their families, whereas I need to reach out and connect with others. To respect each other's legitimate needs, we looked for solutions and made compromises. Now some days, I call my friends over my lunch break. And some weekends, they invite me over for a movie night. Periodically, we book a "girls night out" so I can talk uninterrupted by their kids and they can get a break from motherhood demands.

Maintain open communication. I've found a much higher need for clear communication in friendships across the marital divide. My single friends, who have many experiences in common with me, naturally understand why I become melancholy over a lack of phone calls. My married friends, however, would give their right arm for a quieter phone or house! So we often have to explain our differing perspectives.

Being open with each other has led to some joyous surprises. Betsy couldn't believe I actually wanted to spend time with her kids. So if I took her kids on an outing to give her a break, she thought I was "just being nice." When she understood I genuinely enjoyed her kids, she could stop feeling guilty and savor this win-win situation. And whenever Debbie said, "Mike's tied up Tuesday night, so you and I can get together," I felt I was worthy of only her "leftover" time. But when she explained she was choosing to spend one of her rare "free" nights with me, I suddenly realized I wasn't getting a "leftover"; I was getting a valuable gift.

Consider sensitive issues. My friends know my strong desire for marriage and motherhood. So they wrestled with telling me about their pregnancies, or sharing joy over their children's milestones. And my girlfriends had to learn that telling me to be glad I wasn't in a bad marriage wouldn't suddenly make me happy I was single.

Likewise, I had to be careful not to glorify my friends' marriages beyond reality. These women needed to know I didn't think they lived a fairytale life of wedded bliss. They also needed to hear I didn't expect them to eliminate my loneliness, and I supported their family boundaries.

I cringe at the thought of my life without these friendships. Had I continued to avoid the painful reminders married friends can bring, I'd have missed out on the richness diversity can bring. Because my married friends chose to persevere in our friendship, their children gained an "aunt" and mentor, and these mothers gained a close girlfriend and supporter of their marriage.

Thanks to my relationships with these families, I'm more connected to the married segment of the church. I understand a couple's world in a way that goes much deeper than theory. Additionally, they comprehend a single person's world in a way that cuts through clichés and misunderstandings. These relationships illustrate God's wisdom expressed in Psalm 68:6, "God sets the solitary in families" (NKJV).

We're each richer for sharing our differences. We're like a beautiful symphony instead of a few guitars strumming the same beat. And God surely smiles at the "music" we offer up to him, to each other, and to the world around us.

Virginia McInerney is the author of Single Not Separate: How to Make the Church a Family (Charisma House). Visit her website: www.VirginiaMcInerney.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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