Home in Edinburgh, your blogger struggles against an overwhelming need to use the nominative first person singular. It comes in terribly handy in travel writing. However, it is good for the mind to find alternative solutions. It may not be fabulous for ye olde writing style, of course, but never mind that for now.
Life in Edinburgh is much more isolated than life in Toronto and the Eastern Townships, for the Historical House lacks family and children. When one resident or the other wakes up, there is only one other person there, and there is no mystery about what he or she is up to: he or she is either asleep, or in the bathroom, or in the kitchen with the BBC turned up really loudly, or tapping away on the computer. Apart from the BBC, all is calm and quiet.
However, in the House of Books, populated by a multi-generational family, all kinds of things are going on from about 6 AM. Doors open and shut. The shower turns on. Someone--who?--pads down the stairs. These dawn noises eventually give way to voices: morning greetings, inter-generational squabbling about being ready for school, "Slow German" broadcast from the basement, the cuckoo clock announcing the time, various residents announcing their plans and departures. When the phone rings, it is usually the library computer informing whomever that the books my mother has reserved are now available.
The House of Music in the Eastern Townships, though usually only populated by a nuclear family, has a similar rhythm. Doors, the shower, padding, followed by voices, inter-generational squabbles about school (etc.). There are also computer game noises and piano music and the sounds of children playing and fighting together. The telephone rings a lot, as my brother works from home and Ma Belle Soeur is a doctor.
Back in Toronto, there is also the House of Children, headed by one of my best friends and her husband. So far they have three children under seven. These children are not permitted electronic devices and are only allowed to watch TV/videos at their grandparents' houses. This is truly heroic, for it means my pal, a stay-at-home mother, is on duty 60/24/6. (7 features a visit to a grandparental house.) Her idea of time off seems to be sending the middle child to a play-school for three hours while the eldest child is at proper school and bundling the baby into the stroller for a walk. Occasionally, however, another child is put in her care, for the adults of her Catholic set rely on each other to take this child or that child for the afternoon, while they do something or other. The day-long wheedling chorus of "MA-ma, Ma-ma, mo-om, Ma-ma, mo-om" is thus supplemented for a few hours by "Mrs. [Such-AND-Such]."
Being a stay-at-home-mother with only children to talk to can be very lonely, as my own mother made quite plain. There wasn't much her children, being children, could do to alleviate that but at least now we can do something for our stay-at-home-mother friends. Thus your blogger, who woke up at 6 AM anyway, sometimes ventured forth from the House of Books to the House of Children before rush hour to sit around drinking tea and keeping an eye on things so that her stay-at-home-mother pal could go to the bathroom unaccompanied, etc. It was intensely enjoyable and quite like visiting a somewhat familiar but also quite alien culture.
There were also visits with Single friends and relations, of course. These visits were not so home-based. Indeed, out of all my Single friends and relations, only one owns her own home. The others rent, but there was only one visit to a rented flat (my youngest brother's). Most of my visits with Single friends took place in cafés, bars and restaurants, and it was in cafés and bars that old acquaintances were encountered by accident. (The 1990s Toronto Spoken Word scene seemed to flash before my eyes.)
Meanwhile, an email from a long-time Single reader thanking me for keeping "Seraphic Singles" online appeared in my in-box the Monday after Mothering Sunday. She had had a wretched Sunday--for one thing a crush object had appeared at Mass with a woman more attractive than herself--and reading old "Seraphic Singles" posts had brought her some measure of relief. (This is why, by the way, "Seraphic Singles" is still up.)
All these experiences led me to reflect that there really are three distinct forms of non-consecrated life, and there are real and serious reasons why married people very often don't hang out with Single friends. The distinct forms are Adult Single Life, Married Life without Children and Married Life with Children.
Single Life, lived away from the birth family, with all of its economic uncertainties, would be simply miserable without friends, hobbies and goals. My Single friends fit their lives around work schedules, but for most of them, work is what keeps them housed, their hobbies going and their goals attainable. Apart from the 8 - 10 hours of work a day, 5-6 days a week, they have a lot of time. Without friends, hobbies, goals, art galleries, cafés to read in, clubs to dance in, time would hang very heavy on their hands. The one real block to total freedom to do whatever they like (in terms of hobbies, goals, travel) is lack of money. Oh, and responsibilities to aging parents, if applicable.
Married Life without Children has a lot more economic stability, to say nothing of the cheerful thought that if you do end up living in a sink estate (public housing gone bad), at least you two will be together and no children will suffer. On the other hand, married people without children are sometimes conscious that their lives would be much more meaningful with children in them. This is most acute when people tell you that in their country (e.g. Poland), childlessness in married people is seen as divine punishment. However, married people without children do, of course, have a lot of freedom, bounded only by work schedules, money, responsibilities to aging parents (if applicable), and each other's permission. No matter if you have children or not, a married person has to ask his or her spouse's permission to do things all the time, or at least beg their indulgence, agreement or forgiveness.
Married Life with Children also has economic stability, compared to Single Life, but is fraught with worry because the local school has a drug problem so maybe you should move, and because you aren't sure what level of internet security is practiced by your son's new friend's parents, and because your teacher has suggested your daughter visit a specialist. The number of things contemporary parents worry about is infinite. They seem to think about work and children 90% of the time, and when they think about hobbies or travel, it is usually wistfully or like a general planning a campaign.
Married people with children are most likely to socialize with other married people with children, when they socialize outside the family at all. Their lives are almost completely incompatible with the social needs of Singles because Singles need undivided attention when they express their joys and woes, and Marrieds are usually completely distracted by small children saying "Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Dad, Dad, Dad" or breaking things or hitting other children. Speaking as a long-time former Single, it is highly annoying when you are telling a married mother about your broken heart and she interrupts you to tell her adorable proof of love to get Daddy to fix it, whatever 'it' may be. When married people with children do get together (not just hand over children at the door) their children play together and the parents all get distracted together. It is very noisy, and even married people without children can take only so much of it. It must be positively hellish for Singles.
Married people with children have less freedom of mobility than anyone outside of a cloistered convent. In order to spend time with married friends, the best thing you can do is go where they are, whenever they are there. This is usually their home, and unless you are super-close, they don't want you to see their home because it has been denuded of dangerous furniture and covered with toys, if not random bread crusts.
Married people and Singles worry about different things, and the worries of opposite groups can seem quite laughable. The Single talk about their latest romance and the Married mother, on a bad day, tries not to roll her eyes. The Married Mother discusses her worries about her child's music lessons, and the Single is struck by how wonderful it would be to have children and a husband to help pay for their music lessons. (Depending on her level of acceptance of her lot, the Married Woman without Children may have similar thoughts.) Therefore, when time available for socializing is at a premium, the Married Mother is most likely to want to talk to someone who can and will understand and sympathize with her problems.
The upshot of all this is that Single Life and Married Life with Children are almost directly opposed. The Single person needs and deserves emotional support, but the Married person with children already gives so much support to the unmarried--his or her children--that they usually have no more to give. They are both tied and tired. They are no longer who they were when they were Single, which can be difficult for their Single friends to accept.
Meanwhile, Singles think their Married Friends with Children have everything they want, whereas Married Friends with Children, without wanting to change their lot, see their Single Friends as having boundless freedom and also rather petty problems compared to the dangers that lurk in every corner, threatening the Married Friends' children.
Therefore, the best thing a Single can do when she find all her friends getting married is to make more Single friends. These friends are going to start being younger than her, but so what? Some of my best formerly-Single friends are at least ten years younger than me, and some Single friends and acquaintances are ten years younger than that. Some Single friends and acquaintances are ten years older than me. (My best Married without Children friend just turned 70.) To survive as a Single you have to be flexible where friendship is concerned. (This will serve you very well, incidentally, should you immigrate to another country in middle life.)
This is especially true if you wish to maintain friendship ties with Married Friends, especially Married Friends with Children. First, you have to accept that your Best Friends Forever may not be who you think they are. Your Best Friends Forever are actually the women who are happy and grateful --not angry and humiliated--when you turn up at their houses at 8:30 AM and start picking up the toys. Nobody knows who their Best Friends Forever are going to be when you are twenty; you just think you know. History, not you, decides.
Second, you have to accept that your Married Mother Friends are basically under house arrest, and you have to meet them where they are, if they'll let you see what their captivity looks like. A kind thing to say is, "Ah, what the heck. You can clean when the kids are all in school."
Third, you can learn a lot about marriage and children from your Married Friends with Children. Marriage and parenthood do not look at all like they look on TV or in magazines, and although we hear it, we don't KNOW it until we're IN it, or at least have a ring-side seat. Speaking as someone who enjoys socializing with children, especially her nephews and niece and courtesy nephews and nieces, parenthood seems to involve Stockholm Syndrome. Children can't help taking their parents' hearts hostage, but they do, and the parents--good and sane parents--just fall in love with them and hug their chains.
Well, that's enough from me. What a long post.
Update: Although it has the fewest responsibilities, Single Life seems to be the hardest row to hoe, followed by Married Life without Children, with Married Life with Children--which has the least freedom and the most work--the easiest. Yes, it's a paradox.