Ever since I got married, my friends have treated me like I contracted a communicable disease. The dinner invites stopped, and the late-night phone calls, and then I started hearing of hot rooftop parties to which I hadn’t been invited. Of course, I changed a little, too. Without an incentive to man-hunt, I was less interested in going to parties and bars. Worse, I went from being an open book about my love life to one of those coy couple-people who always says, “Things are great.” It’s easy to spill about a lousy date when you know your friend will never meet the guy, but when you give a detailed account of a fight with your husband, she might tell you to leave him or say something inappropriate the next time the three of you are out to dinner.
As I became more circumspect, my friends found other friends who drank more, still smoked, and never looked at their watches. There were nights I declined an invite so Jake and I could stay home and watch a video (put marriage and Brooklynhood together, and it’s hard not to be a hermit). But there were nights I wanted to do anything but stay home, and everyone else was already out. Though I understood my sudden isolation, I felt wounded. I had become something I had vowed never to be: a married person without any friends.
I am not alone. Singles and parents have built-in communities, but the newly hitched exist in a social wasteland. Although there are bona fide smug marrieds who choose to check out of the social scene, many others do it only after being rejected by all their single friends. Janine, a 35-year-old married commercial producer, has felt the chill. “When your demographic changes,” she says, “your friends who aren’t in that demographic don’t necessarily adapt with you.” When she told her best friend, Daisy, she’d gotten engaged to her long-time boyfriend, “she looked at me and said, ‘What the fuck?’ She felt like I abandoned her. She wanted me to be that little old lady in Paris with her.”
These days they see each other less, and when they do, Daisy makes jabs. “I’m starting to get into cooking,” says Janine, “and when I tell her what I made, she’ll say, ‘Isn’t that cute, Betty Crocker, that you’re making dinner for your husband?’”
Sean, a 28-year-old grad student who moved to New York with his wife, Jennifer, last July, says they often stay in, even though they hate it. “There are a few times a month where we say, ‘We gotta get out of here.’ We wonder, Do we put an ad on Craigslist? Take up a sport together? We want to be included in other people’s lives because it enhances the value of our own.”
Though he admits they are often too tired to make plans—alone or with others—he’s also noticed that his colleagues seldom reach out to him. “Married people are thought of as not any fun, even if they are. I have good friends at NYU, and there are times they’ll talk about going out and not invite me. There is something stigmatized about a younger married couple.”
Those who find love later in life often get kudos from their friends who are relieved to see that they are happy, but young marrieds come off looking like Mormons, sexless drips who opted to end the partying for a settled life. “If you throw a birthday party, the married girls have to bring the husbands,” says Sarah, 26, an unmarried nonprofit programmer. “They only stay for dinner, because all the couples have curfews, and only the singles go to the bar. And no one smokes pot any more because, inevitably, they wind up with a partner who doesn’t.”
Jennifer, 30, has noticed her status has made her a pariah. “Your friends sort of step aside,” she says. “They’re waiting for you to reject them. Even my sisters were that way. I had to say to them, ‘I still have time for you guys and I also value alone time.’ You don’t have as much time when you’re married, but it’s not like you’re dead.”
Though singles are often very vocally unhappy when a friend decamps, Janine, the producer, says the most judgmental people are her unhappily married male friends. “They’ll say, ‘Gee, I sort of view you differently now. You were so young and available and hungry and you’d stay up all night working.’ I still do that! But they believe marriage is a trap, that you had your freedom and you gave it up. They put their feelings about their own wives onto you.”
Some young marrieds are so afraid to be stigmatized that they go overboard to denigrate their own marriage as a way of bonding with their still-single friends—something I have tried with varying degrees of success. “I’ll downplay my marriage when I talk to my negative friends,” says Janine. “I’ll say, ‘We’ve both been working so hard that we haven’t been out in a while,’ or ‘We’ve had in-laws visiting up the wazoo. You’re so lucky you don’t have to deal with all that.’” But the false modesty can be even more offensive than bragging. “They’ll hear me complaining and they’ll say, ‘Stop it. You’re making your relationship sound awful. Your life is great.’ And it is.”