Once upon a time, in a place far away, my husband and I had a lot of friends. Our dual income/no kids New York life was exactly what you imagine a dual income/no kids New York life would be. Late nights out, lots of work, lots of disposable income. Brunches and Sunday crosswords and giant martinis sipped on the roofs of hotels. We were spoiled by take out choices, 24 hour bodegas, and a transit system like no other. And then, in the space of a busy nine months, we switched to a one income/one kid family and every aspect of our lives changed. Our social life took a nose dive. I’m sure there’s some sort of biological imperative that drives your behavior when you bring forth a child, some sort of instinctual need to hunker down and bond with your family. For us the $15 an hour baby-sitting rate didn’t help. Eventually the gravitational pull of finding friends with kids won out over trying to coordinate schedules with friends without children, and though we did our best to maintain those Before Children friendships, I will be the first to admit they suffered.
As a stay at home mom, when I was lucky enough to find another mom I got along with, it was s a bit like winning a bingo game. As the kids got older, started walking and talking and pushing and biting, if they liked the children of my friends, it was like hitting the jackpot on a slot machine. When a friend and I finally went all in and attempted the family outing and the men got along? Forget it. It was like hitting the jackpot, the lottery and bingo all at once. We were lucky, we hit the lottery a few times in New York.
And then we moved.
Amazingly, after a three and a half year stint in Cyprus, our social life had never been so good. Cheap childcare, a car, a good group of ex-pat friends, inexpensive meze and we were out more than we had been since we’d had kids. No martinis on roof tops, but that’s undoubtedly a good thing when you have a 6 am wake up call in the form of a warm, squirming child. We were getting comfortable, starting to talk about vacationing with other families.
And then we moved.
There are a lot of things about moving that are harder on the non-working spouse–especially when you are moving to a new country. But before recently, I never stopped to think about how difficult it is for the working partner to make friends. I am a fairly open person (I talk a lot) and have a pretty easy time making friends (I talk a lot). In addition, I have kids in school, which is where I’ve met the vast majority of my friends. My husband has work. And while he enjoys the people he works with (in the sense that he doesn’t hate them), after spending 8 hours a day 5 days a week with your colleagues, sometimes the last thing you want to do is see them socially on a Saturday night. Understandable. The problem is, now he has no friends.
That’s not true of course. He has very good friends. There are the ‘boys’, 5 or 6 of them that grew up together, terrorized their small suburb together, crashed a few cars together, grew into men together. They were each other’s best men at weddings, are god-fathers for each other’s children. But as adults, they are scattered all over the globe, and short of weddings, all of them being in the same country together at the same time is a rare occurrence. He’s got friends back in New York, he’s got friends in Cyprus. He has a lot of friends. It’s just none of them live in the same country. And so, after a year in Denmark, I find myself asking other women, “Does your husband play golf? Does he watch football? Drink beer?” I’m not pimping him out as much as I’m making play dates for him.
I’m not alone in this. Most of the women I’ve met on the ex-pat circuit do the same thing up. It’s a little like a Dad dating service, except you don’t need to worry about flowers or STDs. Family time is great, in small doses. When you spend all your time with each other though, things happen. You start taking certain things for granted. Things slip through the cracks, you get lazy and spend entire weekends in ratty sweat clothes. We all need to blow off steam, to bitch and vent about our spouses and families to a willing ear, to go and do something we find enjoyable that our spouse loathes. Everyone needs outside interests.
For a long time, my husband’s interests got put on hold so that he could help out at home. Playing football with the lads gave way to being home for dinner, helping with baths, and if nothing else, adding an additional voice of reason in the otherwise insane witching hours that constitute dinner, bath and bedtime. He curbed the weekend golf, but he wasn’t sitting around and singing “the itsy-bitsy spider” in music class and homing in on the one other mom that was rolling her eyes. The afternoon pint or three down the pub was forgotten, but he wasn’t spending hours bonding with other mothers over the stress of pre-school applications. And by not doing that, he was missing out on the biggest chance to meet other people like him. To make friends that could understand why it wasn’t so easy to nip out for a beer at 10 pm or why taking a kid to an afternoon birthday meant he couldn’t catch the game at the bar. Our boys have now reached an age where they are comparatively ‘easy’ to look after–easy in the sense that I don’t need to make sure that the little one isn’t shoveling Lego into his mouth or that the older one is not putting a fork into the toaster. We don’t need to worry about nap schedules or diaper bags or the stroller wheels fitting through the shop door. We all have a bit more breathing room, though perhaps the years of me hurling a screaming infant at him as soon as he walked in the front door have scarred him for life.
So I’ll make a few more play dates. Invite a few more families around. Hopefully we’ll hit the lottery once or twice more. You’ve got to be in it to win it, after all.