By Camerin Courtney
I'd been in Chicago for my first job out of college only one year when my dearest new friend in the area, Christa, got engaged. As the only twentysomething single women in our office, she and I had been like sisters practically from day one. We'd shared a love of romantic comedies, Edy's Grand Light French Silk ice cream, Jesus Christ, and fall-colored clothing (though not necessarily in that order!).
While her relationship with her then-boyfriend, Mark, was obviously a serious one, it hadn't affected our friendship much since this military man lived halfway across the country. During that year, I'd loved chatting with Christa about her faraway love, hearing about his latest military assignments and sighing over portions of his love letters to her. In fact, I felt as though I knew this guy, even though I'd only met him once briefly when he was in town.
Which is why it was especially painful when he didn't recognize me at their wedding. Sure, I knew he had other more important things on his mind that day, but there was part of me that wanted to whine, "I know a zillion details about you and your relationship with Christa. You're ripping one of my dearest friends away from me, and you don't even recognize me?!" Christa was off to a new life of love and adventure too many states away, and I was left back at square one in my friend quest in this relatively new geographic location.
There's nothing more bittersweet to hear from a friend than, "I'm getting married." Well, if she's marrying a schmuck, it's just bitter-but if our friend has found a great person to do life with, we're so happy for her and yet so sad for the changes that will take place in our friendship. We know allegiances will shift from us to our friend's spouse-in fact, they've been shifting already during their dating season. We know Guys' or Girls' Night Out will become trickier and less frequent. We know one of our common sources of celebration and commiseration-singleness-will slowly fade and that our friend will eventually forget what it's like to be single (and in the worst of cases, start to offer platitudes instead of a listening ear). And we know that when kids enter the scene, all lunches out will come with new little giggly and wiggly companions and that phone conversations will be sprinkled with side comments-such as "don't put that in your mouth!"-to her little darlings.
These are all inevitable, necessary, and healthy changes for her, and a hands-on lesson in patience and selflessness for us. One of the main side effects of singleness is selfishness-since we typically don't have anyone else's needs to attend to on a daily basis. Having a friend get married and eventually become a mom or dad is a great model and antidote for this self-centeredness.
But what's challenging and unfortunate is that it seems we're always forced to be the understanding party, the one left behind. While our friend gets a lifetime companion and a slew of cool grown-up gifts, we're left with a gaping hole. We're the ones who graciously lessen the grasp on the friendship so our friend can become one with his or her new spouse and eventually bond with their kids. And we're the ones who plan a shower, wear a not-so-flattering dress or ill-fitting tux in front of a churchful of people, and listen to every detail from the flowers to the frock-all the while smiling and happy even though we may desperately wish it was our turn.
But eventually life resettles into positive new patterns, as it did for Christa and me. Once Christa settled into married life, I started visiting her on occasion-first in North Carolina, a part of the country I'd never seen before, and then in Germany, where her Air Force officer husband got stationed a year and a half into their marriage.
Sure, there were awkward adjustments, such as the time they made me sit through their church's young marrieds class where we watched a one-hour video on being a godly spouse. And there were definitely moments I spilled out singlehood bitterness or a relationships-stink attitude, which, in hindsight probably weren't so healthy and helpful for a couple just launching into the first years of their lifelong love.
But there have also been wonderful moments. Christa's shared valuable married-girl insights and has developed a new appreciation for our common love of romantic dramas-the kind her husband, who's favorite movie is The Right Stuff, can barely stay awake for. Visiting them in Germany-all three times so far-has been a huge surprise blessing of our friendship. I get free lodging, knowledgeable tour guides, and all the conveniences of a nearby American military base (read: bottled Frappuccinos at the ready in case of emergency). I've been Christa's traveling companion when Mark's out on assignment, and I've been able to explore-and fall in love with-Europe solely because these friends live there.
With each visit, I've gotten to know Mark more. And this time in person instead of through Christa's lovestruck descriptions and stories. I have fond memories of this lone brother to three sisters trying to show me how to play flight-simulator video games on their Play Station, and exhibiting extreme patience when I stunk so bad I couldn't stop laughing at myself. This fellow coffee lover has taught me the finer points of beans and brews that get lost on his tea-drinking wife. During European excursions with this fun couple, I've found Mark to be funny, ornery, well-read, a neat Christian guy, a loving husband, a caring dad-and now my friend.
When I look back, I don't see a friend being ripped away from me by her marriage, but God extending Christa's stay in the Chicago area long enough so I'd have a much-needed friend then and a much-loved traveling companion now. And when all is said and done, I didn't really lose a friend when she got married, I gained one.