Every now and then, as I scroll through my Facebook homepage, I discover another friend that I went to high school with or know from college who is married and has children, and I feel that familiar pang of jealousy – the one that tells me that I’m the same age as that person, so why am I not married with kids? I look through the cute pictures, and my desire for a family of my own is brought to the forefront of my mind. Being married and having a family are good things, so why am I still single when my friends aren’t? Why does my life seem to be moving so slowly?
Chances are, you’ve asked yourself a similar question at some point in your life. Life stages have no age-limit surrounding them; people move in and out of the different stages in no certain pattern. It makes it easy for someone to feel left behind or even far ahead of everyone else. Watching your close friends enjoy their lives while you feel stuck in your own can make you feel dissatisfied with the life that God has given you and could lead to discontentment or depression. So what do you do when you can’t help but wish you were at a different life stage because you always feel like the outsider?
Though it may not feel like it, your life is unique, and God’s timing will never be the same for two different people. It’s important to not live your life always waiting for the next thing to come. That’s not living, and you will miss out on many opportunities because you’re afraid of missing that next stage. Your life might not even follow any predetermined stages! Learning to be content with your life no matter where you are is the best way to live to the fullest. Life never moves slowly; if you can be happy in your present stage of life, soon enough the next one will come. Trust God with your life’s direction, and be grateful for the blessings you do have in your current stage.
Trusting God and being content with life are two things that are easier said than done. Here are some practical ideas on how to still feel a part of a group of friends that are all in a different stage of life than you are:
Find your common interests.
Just because your friend has moved on to the next stage of life does not mean that you no longer have anything in common. You still have things in common with these friends! Maybe it’s the love for a certain television show or you all like going hiking or you like to do crafts together. There was a reason you became friends in the first place; don’t assume that that camaraderie is gone because she has kids and you don’t. Some things may be different now, but those similar interests can still bring you together.
If you find yourself the third wheel (or fifth or seventh) in a hangout, try not to feel awkward.
You can try to avoid these types of situations but sometimes they just happen. You can make things less awkward by not isolating yourself and not insisting that the couples sit together if they choose to sit by you instead. You can also ease any tension felt by making light of the matter; shrug it off as comical instead of letting it hang over everyone as the elephant in the room. If the couples do seem to be ignoring you and clearly want alone time, don’t make them ask you to leave (even if they are being rude by their actions). Instead, bow out gracefully and find something else to do, whether that be doing some much-needed housework or volunteering your extra time at a charity.
Initiate the hangouts.
This way you won’t feel like you’re crashing someone else’s party when you feel like the outsider. Use those common interests you still have to plan a fun day or evening with your friend. Maybe even hire a babysitter for her, if she’s the ones with kids. If you are still investing in the friendship, then she will probably respond by doing what she can to make you still feel welcome and not like the outsider. Plus, if you’re the one always getting the group together, they will all feel grateful to you for planning the hangouts, and you will still have a purpose in the group.
Don’t act bitter toward your friends or drop contact with them.
It’s not their fault that their life has progressed differently than yours so don’t treat them like it is. It’s not anyone’s fault. Acting bitter and/or dropping contact will only make you feel more like an outsider. The more you blame them, the more they will pull away from you. Even though your lives look different now, you can still be friends.
If you notice a friend who is not in the same life stage as everyone else, here are some tips for how to not alienate that person:
Keep inviting him to things!
Don’t assume that he won’t want to come just because his life has not moved like everyone else’s in the group. If you don’t invite him, he will never feel like he belongs. Make him feel as welcome as possible in the group by planning activities that he will enjoy, as well as everyone else. If he has kids, make sure and plan something the kids can do while you hang out.
If she is the third wheel (or fifth or seventh) in a hangout, don’t act “couplely.”
Make sure and include her in the conversation, and maybe even break up the couples when sitting around a table or playing a game. This will help her to not feel awkward, and she will be more inclined to come to events even if she is the odd one out. Also, be aware of the conversation. If she is the only one without children, try not to continually be talking about what your children have done. She can’t participate in these conversations besides the occasional “That’s so cute/funny” comment. Avoid alienating conversations by covering a variety of topics. Be sure to not ignore her or give any hints that you want to be alone with your significant other. You can have alone time later. For now, you should give your time to your friend.
Be invested in his life by asking him about it.
Don’t always be talking about your problems or your successes, your boyfriend or your kids. Make sure you know what is happening in his life and be interested in it. Try to never be too busy when he has a crisis and needs a listening ear. Even if your schedule seems so much busier than his, if he invites you to something, try to go! By claiming that you are too busy, you are implying that your life is more important than his, and he will only feel more isolated around you. You still have to invest in the friendship as much as he does. Make sure birthdays or other special events are written down so that you do not forget them. Keep those common interests alive by remaining interested and contributing time to your friend. Maybe you can’t hangout as much as you used to, but your friend will be more understanding if you at least show an effort to still be invested in the friendship.
Your life may not look the way you imagined it and maybe you’ve suffered one too many disappointments or hardships, but God can bring about good no matter what life stage you’re in, or even if you’re not in a stage at all. You don’t have to follow any predetermined steps to glorify God, but if you live your life waiting for those steps to appear so you can follow them, you’ll never be able to go anywhere. Life does not move slowly, so grasp each opportunity and moment that comes your way, instead of waiting for the next stage of your life to begin. If you are enjoying your life and living content where God has placed you, you probably won’t even notice when the next stage of your life does begin.