When Friends Are Like Family, What Happens When You Marry?

For me, it’s fitting that as friendship month is coming to an end, we’re closing with Jen’s piece on Friends as Family. I haven’t had best friends in years (it’s possible that blew up for me with the world’s most spectacular friend breakup in high school). But I do view my community as family. They can be royal pains in my ass, we sometimes have huge fights, they might not get my every quirk—but they’re loyal to death/bailing me out of jail, and they’ve got my back whenever I need help. Jen says, “I’ve noticed that the first few rows at wedding ceremonies are often sparsely populated or even empty, the result of guests giving deference to family but leaving far more space than the family can fill.” I read it, and literally grabbed at my heart. In my life, that space has been filled with friends who have supported us through awkward teen years, college, weddings, and the birth of our kid. They’ve done it imperfectly, but for that, they have my undying gratitude, and near militant loyalty.


by Jen McCreary

For many years, my college friends were my urban tribe, the family of friends who stood in for a more traditional family structure of partner and children—the people I lived with, spent holidays with, shared my daily life with. When I finally found my life partner, it made sense that my dynamic with my tribe would shift. But I have struggled to accept the inevitability of this change gracefully, to embrace it as a natural part of life. I like to hold on, usually as tightly as I can, in the face of change. Because it is scary, not knowing what is coming next, and I never want to lose anyone I love.

My college friends are the tight-knit group of like-minded co-conspirators I fervently wished for throughout my youth. We were so frequently together in college that some upperclassmen dubbed us “The Breakfast Club” for our habit of eating all our meals at the same time in the same dining hall, as a big group. There were eight of us in college, three men and five women (who as a group corresponded closely enough in appearance to The Spice Girls that we went to a formal dressed as them—even though it was not a costume party), and after school, we absorbed another half dozen college peers into our circle as we expanded into the cities of the northeastern U.S.

I have been fiercely protective of my relationships with these friends, individually and as a whole. These are the people who held the space for me to transform from adolescent to adult, to discover my true self. They’re the people I started every new year watching one action and one comedy movie with, who did cancer walks with me when my dad got sick, and with whom I had standing weekend brunch plans.

But nothing stays the same, even when it’s really good. Everyone is always growing and changing, and we don’t—we really can’t—stay as we were in our late-teens and our twenties. I first felt the truth of this change at our friend Beth’s wedding a year ago. Seven of us flew to Oregon to be with and support her, but over the course of the weekend, I realized we were not actually spending any time with her. Of course, she was the bride and was busy, but as someone who had just gotten engaged, I thought about how left out I would feel in her place. I’d miss brunch and going to Powell’s Bookstore and walking across the Burnside Bridge. And I couldn’t imagine not being with everyone.

So of course, I tried to control this situation with my own wedding. I encouraged my friends to arrive on Thursday, so we could hang out before the big event, and while a lot of them did fly out early, they didn’t spend those days before the wedding with me. Abby, my Lady of Honor, my roommate for years, my bestie, had to remind me that I had other responsibilities: my family, my fiancé Stephen’s family, other guests—not to mention the actual wedding to prepare for. I couldn’t spend the days before the event going to taco stands and the beach with everyone, and I shouldn’t be offended at our friends accepting this reality more readily than I did.

But the reason it was so important for me to be with everyone is because I was rarely with them anymore. I had moved to California for grad school and stayed. I missed birthdays and brunches regularly now. For the first couple of years, it didn’t seem so different. I flew back a lot, and friends came to see me. Also, I thought I’d move back East when school was done. Even after I graduated, I told myself “next year”—every year. I didn’t want to admit that having the life I loved in California meant giving up a certain amount of another life I had loved before. So I didn’t admit it—until Stephen and I got engaged, at which point I finally had to acknowledge that I wasn’t going back.

It has been hard for me to accept what that means, even though I can see that the seeds of it were planted long before I made the commitment to Stephen and to our life in California. The truth is that time has passed, and with its passing, my friends and I have grown and changed. As much as we care for each other, we have evolving lives that include elements—like spouses, serious careers, children, newer friends—that are not solely focused around one another. But while we’re not friends in the same ways we were a decade ago, that doesn’t mean our relationships are any less vital or meaningful. Having a new family doesn’t negate this family of friends, or any other family for that matter.

I’ve noticed that the first few rows at wedding ceremonies are often sparsely populated or even empty, the result of guests giving deference to family but leaving far more space than the family can fill. The night before my wedding, when I finally got to hang out with my college friends for an hour at a bar (before honoring my reasonable bedtime), I spoke with them about how this has bothered me. The next day, when I walked down the aisle, the metaphorical and literal path of my transformation from single to married woman, I saw my college friends. They were seated directly behind my parents, filling the second and third rows. Whatever has changed, they were there, up front with my family, as my family. Supporting me and my new husband, holding us in their love and good wishes, for what comes next.

Photo by Jenn Emerling of YEAH! Weddings

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