Wednesday 18 September 2019

Ask Allison: 'I'm not married, I don't have children, I rent... I feel my married friends pity me'

Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships

Photo posed
Photo posed

Allison Keating

Q I have a great circle of friends but recently I have been feeling at a remove from them. It's mainly because my life circumstances and theirs are now so different. I'm not married, I don't have children, I rent. In the main, I'm okay with this because I think I lead a fairly fulfilled life, but increasingly I am getting the sense that my friends feel sorry for me and it's making me question myself. We don't seem to have much common ground anymore and while I am genuinely interested in what's happening in their lives, I feel that what I do seems trivial in comparison; when they're talking about their children, or their mortgages, for example. I don't like feeling like this, so what do you suggest I can do?

AYou sound like a good friend. You are interested and engaged in what is going on in your friends' lives and yet, you are feeling the twinge of judgement upon your life. This is an uncomfortable feeling and we need to separate how you feel from what you think, and they think, about your life, as they are separate. Friends can lead separate and different lives. The feeling you talk of is one of disconnection.

Your friends have sparked you to question how you are living your life. On the whole, you are content and it is so important to recognise and gauge that internally. If more people assessed themselves from this solid place first, it would bring a calm and stability that so many are looking for. As Theodore Roosevelt said, 'Comparison is the thief of joy' and it has never been more true or common in modern life. Of course you are influenced externally by comments, or a tone or a look, especially one of pity, but be very mindful that these are their feelings. Keep separating them.

Draw up a list of who you are, what you like in your life, what you would like to change and what you want to keep. It is always good to be curious about yourself and to keep a flexible and open mind. Ask and answer:

• What type of friend am I?

• What are my friendship 'rules' or belief systems?

• What are my expectations and hopes from a friendship?

So many adults think that we 'should' have this friendship thing down by now, but it is such a complex relationship that has none of the ties of duty that every other relationship has. You don't 'have to' be friends. It is so much better when you 'want to' be friends, but in terms of time and freedom at the exact stage of life where marriage and kids and mortgage hit, friendship can get hit first and the fastest.

Which is such a pity as you need your friends so much at this time in your life. You probably played a big part as they made major life decisions on marriage, houses or kids. The judgment you feel may be a projection of their own possible isolation and loneliness. Many parents struggle with their identity and with finding meaning and purpose. When you ask what can you do, one option is to find out what can bring meaning back to the friendship. Sometimes what is needed is new experiences together and novel experiences work best to reconnect. That could be a hillside walk or something neither of you have done before.

However, be fully aware that friends who are now married and or have kids lack two major things required in adult friendships and that is time and energy. Friendships provide so much in terms of health and happiness and yet, as adults, it is often the one that can slip the easiest. Friendship is the only relationship of real choice. You 'have to' pay the mortgage and you 'have to' feed the kids and prioritise partner, parents, work etc.

It has the extra positive duality of being one of the few relationships to being open to having periods where you are not meeting up or seeing each other as much. The caveat is to express that to each other: 'I am sorry we haven't seen each other, I really miss you, and our friendship, let's stick a date in the diary.'

There are many possibilities about what is going on for them in their minds - the only way you will ever know is by asking. You may be surprised by their answers.

Many parents or married couples may feel inferior to you, and that they don't have anything of interest or value to add to the conversation, as they feel they are still talking about how tired they are or struggling with their own transition.

There is no doubt that becoming a parent changes you and your priorities. It is about making the deliberate action to maintain friendships. The effort has to be put in, where you spend quality time connecting in real life, where quality counts over quantity.

If it is possible to keep this group of friends and possibly add some more, that may work well. If you get to have a good chat where you feel safe to share how you have been feeling it will either connect you more or it will become clear, quite quickly, if you are right. It is looking for the intention to be friends; this may not always be equal in what they can give, but it is naming what you feel in terms of the judgment that will make your position clear.

There is room for so much in friendship - flexibility and understanding work beautifully together. Pity, not so much.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at allisonk@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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