Last week we had a mini-reunion of few college friends (When does “hanging out” get transformed into “reunions” I wonder?). One of my friends had come down from Australia so we had an impromptu girl’s-meeting (the blokes were invited as well, but didn’t turn up because a) we have tragically lost two of them to marriage b) one of them is in UK and c) one is a @#*&@#@ ditcher.)
I suspect it wasn’t quite a girl’s night out the way all of us would have liked – the Australian friend was accompanied by her husband (G) and S had her husband (D) and Junior S.
It was probably the first time we went out for a dinner with 2 out of the 4 spouses along (The fifth friend N is not hitched) and thus, the meeting had its share of slightly surreal moments.
Surreal because suddenly people you know and are used to viewing in a particular way get transposed into an unknown context or role. A person behaves in a certain way as a friend and might be a completely different personality as a spouse. In a dinner such as this, you have two roles warring and visible at the same time which is rather disconcerting for the viewer-recipient – in this case the friend (and the spouse perhaps?). (Just to cite a weird example of which I am not very proud – when I met S for the very first time after the baby, I found myself having difficultly even looking at her directly – the whole context was so utterly alien that I had trouble adjusting. She told me later that her parents had also demonstrated a similar disoriented reaction – which made me feel slightly better!)
Also, all said and done, the presence of a spouse disrupts the whole existing equilibrium which has been built up over a period of time. This has got nothing to do with the individual in question (Both G and D are fantastic guys). The analogy that comes to mind is of cooking – it’s like adding a new ingredient (however relevant and tasty) to an existing recipe – it might make the resultant mix significantly better – but it cannot hope to be the earlier dish.
I also wonder whether it’s really possible to be actually as emotionally close to a friend’s spouse as it is to a friend. The natural progression one would say as one grows older and transitions lifestages- from two singles spending time together to a single spending time with a couple to two couples hanging out together to eventually becoming that old overused term of “family friends”.
I like my friend’s spouses very much – but I suspect they will always remain that – friends spouses. If I had met them as individuals perhaps they would have become friends in their own right. But the minute one is introduced to them as a friend’s significant other – there is so much pressure (on both sides) to, well, LIKE them that the relationship becomes unnatural. And it is burdened with the baggage of expectations – not in the conventional sense perhaps, but expectations nonetheless (e.g. if a friend is getting married to someone, isn’t there always a) sense that the spouse needs to behave in a particular ‘right’ manner to a friend? But if you actually think about it, what right does one have to expect that from any person? b) Also a sense of altered /diminishing importance –leading to a tug-of-war in some form or the other ( internal-external), which one needs to get used to)
In other words an entire “full-grown” (for lack of a better word) relationship (of friends-in-law) comes into being – without it having gone through the normal growing pains and hiccups. The same problem faced in a possibly more aggravated avatar by the family-in-laws.
Perhaps it is easier if the friendship comes into existence AFTER the commitment – because then the spouse is an integral part of the person life anyways.
The only time I think that friends-in-law can be genuine friends in their own right is when the relationship has been built in a situation not constrained by an intermediary individual – viz. if three friends spend time together and two of them get into a relationship. In which case the third person has individual relationships with both parties. But in a situation where there is a bridge person there will always remain conflicting loyalties.
It’s an interesting corollary that the conflict seems to be higher and more difficult to surmount when the friend is of a different gender and the friend-in-law of the same gender. (Maybe the similar problem faced by Ma-in-law/daughter-in-law and Pa-in-law/son-in-law?)
If you take the natural progression I was speaking about the two singles becoming two couples - that might be easier than the threesome set-up ( because there will be two people in dichotomous roles as opposed to only one) but will still be a lopsided for a while. I have always wondered about these so called “couples-friendship” – but that is a subject for another post.
And just to clarify – when I am talking about friendship in this post, I mean friendship in the sense of emotional-dependency – not the more casual, lets-go-for-a-dinner variety.