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There's a bigger divide than girls against boys; it's the one between single folks and their married friends. For those who haven't walked down the aisle, it can feel like the state of holy matrimony has declared war on anything fun or spontaneous. On the other side of the fence, it seems like all you did was take the next logical developmental step, and now your old friends hate you. And never the twain shall meet?
"Sometimes it feels like my not being married makes me an alien," sighs Lisa, 28, in Toms River, New Jersey. "I don't mind being a third wheel at brunch. I'm not going to steal the married men if you invite me to a party. Just invite me, for heaven's sake."
And for marrieds, the single life can seem like the most self-indulgent state possible -- one that can evoke both envy and hostility. "Single people are just so... so... so well-rested," complains Elizabeth, 43, a mother of two in Los Angeles. "I'll tell you a secret: Sometimes, if I've got unmarried houseguests, I send in one of the kids to wake them up at an ungodly hour, and then pretend I knew nothing about it. Heh. Sweet dreams."
In some cases, a toxic cocktail of misunderstandings wrought by differing paths in life can mess up long-term friendships. "I've got an old, old buddy who just isn't into my 2-year-old," says Anna, 27, in San Francisco. "That was already a problem, and then she got in a huge fight with my husband and now hates him -- and hates me for not standing up for her. I still love her, but that's two big hurdles. We're losing touch, and soon we won't talk at all. I hate it, but it's a classic case of growing apart."
And we thought that breakin' up was hard to do.
Okay, so what are the specific gripes that couples secretly harbor toward their single friends? For the sake of friend education, we took a brief peek inside the master bedroom of that cute little house in The Land of the Married.
Those folks who are married sometimes gripe that singles don't do enough to help themselves develop healthy relationships. "They say, 'All I want to do is get married and have babies.' Yet they're hanging around at the same post-college bar, dating commitment-phobic, post-adolescent men -- gee, do ya think that's gonna lead to anything?" asks Genine, 29, in Cincinnati. "I try to give good advice," adds Sue, 38, in Falls Church, Virginia. "But they just repeat the same frustrating cycle year in and year out -- so after a while, I can't stand to hear them anymore." And the most damning indictment of all: "Hey, guess why you're still single? You're acting like an idiot!" says Chris, 28, in Spokane, Washington, soon to be married. "That bitter-singles routine is getting tired, and guys can smell your bad attitude a mile away."
Of course, that attitude can do more than hurt a single's chances of finding a healthy relationship; it can, perhaps surprisingly, make a married guy feel awkward sharing the details of his happy relationship. "A single woman will tell me about all her good and bad dates, which I don't mind at all," says Mike, 50, in Lexington, Kentucky. "But she does not want to hear about the romantic date I had with my wife. I guess people don't want to hear about the fun married couples are having if they aren't having the same kind of fun."
Scheduling conflicts are a major bugaboo for many. "My single friends always get pouty about not having enough time with me, but then they try to make plans on Saturday night -- for 'just the girls,'" says Celine, 31, married and living in Los Angeles. "I mean, hello, maybe we could make it brunch? Could you allow for the fact that it's normal to be with your fiance on a date night?" Or sometimes the disparity in availability for "going out" creates trouble, with singles having much more time for the bar scene or for a night on the town than those in committed partnerships. "Okay, so I met my husband at this one bar, the Gaf," says Jen, 33, in New York City. "But now that we're together, we've got, like, different priorities. And our old friends still go there -- not just once a week, but three, four times. It's like Cheers. And we're more like Mad About You. Sorry to be an old fuddy-duddy, but there's a big wide world out here."
Many complain that being married means taking on more weighty matters at times. And an ill or depressed spouse just doesn't compute with some single friends, frustrating their married friends. "This past New Year's, a pal asked me what we did, and I said, 'Nothing, we had to stay home -- Matt had a bad stomach flu, and I had to take care of him,'" says Kelly, 31, in Voorhees, New Jersey. "And her response was, 'Well at least you had someone to stay home with.' Yes. Well. He did have the flu." Similarly, Belinda, in Maplewood, New Jersey, had to nurture her husband through a tough work situation. "Doug didn't get the promotion he was expecting, and it was just devastating," she says. "I had to cancel a night out, and you would have thought I was backing out of a car deal, it was such a scandal. Hello, we can have sushi anytime -- when my family needs me, I'm there first."
Not surprisingly, a lot of gripes from marrieds center around the lack of understanding they feel singles have for their obligations to children. For those who have kids, the lack of understanding from those who don't can be utterly frustrating. "I've got six kids, and single friends don't seem to comprehend that a babysitter -- or two, for this brood -- is expensive, and I don't have $12 to spend on a cocktail," says Barb, 35, in Cincinnati. "If I invite friends over for dinner, they don't understand that they can no longer be 'fashionably late,'" says Margie, 37, who has a 2-year-old in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Arrive at eight, and I have to run upstairs to put the baby to bed. I feel like a crappy hostess."
And of course, there are broken promises. "I love these insincere offers to babysit," says Kelly, 29, in Tallahassee, Florida. "I understand if you can't make it last-minute, but pull out that calendar and make a date if you really mean it. Otherwise, stop offering."
One of the sweetest gripes comes from a guy -- Marty, 34, in Falls Church, Virginia. "There's this attitude that the wife has to be the old ball-and-chain. If I want to leave a night out and be with her, all I get is groans and teasing. It's a stupid attitude -- I wouldn't have married someone that I couldn't wait to come home to." Mike, in Kentucky, agrees: "Sorry, but belching guys with barbecue sauce on their fingers are no match for a glass of wine and a wife in a silky red teddy." (Sigh. Do these guys have brothers?)
All right, all right. But guess what? There are complaints on the other side, as well. Singles say their married friends can be annoying beyond belief. The troubles are sometimes less fashionable than Carrie's on Sex and the City, but the stories have the same (little gold) ring.
There seems to be an attitude harbored by many marrieds that they are the normal ones. Such notions cut deep for many singles. "What's all this talk about budgets?" asks Alicia, 34. "Looks to me like everything costs half as much. They bring one dish to a potluck, one bottle of wine to a dinner party...." Colin, 32, agrees. "I'm sick of hearing how my two-income friends are jetting off to Spain while I'm jetting off to Costco," he tells us. "I have four words for you: Couples tax break -- why?" asks Jill, 50, of Hopewell, New Jersey.
"I get them each a birthday present, but I only get one collective gift from them," agrees Deb, 24, in Austin, Texas. And where's the party? At the couple's house, not the bachelorette pad. "Oh, I can never convince a couple to socialize chez moi," says Olivia, 32. "It's like coming to a single woman's pad would be slumming -- as if the Doritos are going to taste better in their matching Bondi bowl set." A rule from Bella, 35, in Providence, Rhode Island: "No 'we-mail.' That's my term for couples who share one e-mail account with their combined names. Blech!"
Then there's the struggle to stay friends after the rugrats come. "Babysitting? Yes, I do," says Amy, 25, in Madison, Wisconsin. "It's the only way I can see my friends -- we hang out when the kid's asleep." Then, there's the bring-along: "I didn't invite the kids to my party, so don't bring them and then run around asking my guests not to smoke and turning down the music," complains Karen, 30, in Philadelphia. "Strangely," points out Fiona, 38, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, "the same people who won't go anywhere without their kids totally ignore the fact that they're screaming and running up and down in the restaurant the whole time we're out."
"Okay, here are the new rules," adds cranky Bella. "No kids on the answering machine. Keep the blurry, unreadable ultrasound printout on the fridge and out of my e-mail inbox. And as cute as your child is, I do not want to hear about the texture of his poop."
Then again, not all singles are childless, and that brings up some more serious complaints. "Some of the other moms at my son's school have the luxury of staying home and having hobbies, while I'm struggling to make sure the pipes in my house don't freeze and shoveling the driveway," says Allison, 43, in Montclair, New Jersey. "When they complain about how overtaxed and tired they are, from all their (optional) fundraising and charity activities, I want to shake them." Working single moms regret that they don't get consideration. "The men I work with can stay as late as they need to," says Jill, 50, in Hopewell, New Jersey. "But I've got to get dinner on the table and oversee homework -- you know, that stuff their wives handle. That doesn't compute, for some guys."
And social life can be tough. "My married friends are great about including me and my two teenage daughters at holidays," says Erica, 45, in Brooklyn, New York. "But Saturday nights seem to be sacrosanct. Even when they're not doing anything special together, they won't commit to doing anything with me, so while my kids are out, I'm watching Pirates of the Caribbean on my big-screen TV. Alone."
Even when single moms do get to go out, the dating world can make them wish for the comfort of married bliss. "Forget dating a guy who's never been married -- he has no concept of the demands on my time, and just gets resentful and pouty," says Erica. "I'll only date a guy in my situation -- with part-time responsibility for kids." But even within that subset, problems arise. "My friends feel free to fix me up with any single dad that crosses their path, even if he's a butcher and I'm a vegetarian," says Catherine, 38, in Blue Hill, Maine. "It'd be nice if they saw past the single-parent thing to really put some thought into the matchmaking." And single dads don't escape unscathed. "Going to neighborhood barbecues on weekends when I don't have the kids -- it's just impossible," says Emilio, 37, in Queens, New York. "I feel like a depressing freak of a failure, missing my two most important parts, and my friends don't know what to say. If they complain about their kids being a pain, I want to punch them. I'd rather go to the office and catch up on work."
Then again, did we say "bliss"? Married gals do gripe about their guys, which can cause a rift with single friends. "My friends complain about their husbands all the time, and it just makes me think -- who wants to get married, anyway? They don't call when things are good," says Maria, 40, in Brooklyn, New York.
"My best friend's husband knows his wife complains to me about him," says Tina, 42, in Atlanta. "So he avoids me, because he thinks I'm biased against him -- when in reality, I understand how the game works, and I like him just fine." And of course, there's the fact that some girls can see right through the complaints. "My friend blames her husband for everything, including the fact that she flaked on my birthday," Tina adds. "Let me see. Now he keeps your calendar? I don't think so."
But the No. 1 complaint among single women with married girlfriends is... the pity. "They get this look on their faces," says Fiona, 38, in New Orleans. "You haven't seen them in two years, and the first thing out of their mouths is, 'So, are you dating anyone?' Then they give me the old head-tilt, sad-face look. It makes me want to scream."
"It's not my married friends that bug me, it's the engaged ones," says Darren, 30, in Brooklyn, New York. "I'm talking about the ones that are so goony about their state of betrothal that they can't stop gushing about the happy life they're going to have. It makes me want to shout, 'Sixty percent divorce rate, people! See you in five years!' But I might be a little... bitter."
But there's one thing both marrieds and singles agree on: Being married isn't perfect, and yes, there are things that even the happiest wife misses about her single days. And there are singletons who value their status, even if they're sometimes lonely. Here are the top things you can enjoy on your own, courtesy of singles and marrieds.
"I love my giant panties. Love them!" Greta, Brooklyn, New York "I can hog the remote and set all the radio stations to NPR." Stacey, Scarsdale, New York "The bed, the blankets, and all four pillows: Mine, mine, mine." Laura, Topeka, Kansas "My unhappily married friends ask me for advice, because they admire the fact that I've been through a bad divorce and come out the other side. Their admiration and faith in me feels good. I love being Mother Confessor." Erica, Brooklyn, New York
"I deal with only one bizarro family -- my own." Taryn, Morristown, New Jersey "I check with one person before I make plans: me." Rebecca, Larchmont, New York "I like to run into old flames and see their wives smolder with that 'I'm-so-threatened' look." Maria, New Orleans "When my mom sends her regular shipment of books like 'Find A Husband After 35,' I get to trade them in at Barnes and Noble for really good novels!" Raisa, Oradell, New Jersey
"Hiking in the woods with my dogs and waking up to find my son snuggled next to me because he thought the vampires in his room might get him -- that's sweeter than dealing with some cranky, unpleasable dude." Sarah, San Diego "I do the museum at my own pace." Lynn, Boston "I really like not discussing the movie." Liz, Charlottesville, Virginia "I appreciate my kids a lot more now." Orlando, Queens, New York "You can go to the theater and get great leftover single seats on standby -- for cheap." Patty, New York "Two words: shopping spree." Mariette, Los Angeles