The Wife-Driven Friendship

Over the weekend I finished reading Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, a funny novel about a family sitting shiva for their recently deceased father. It’s really a book about familial relationships–marriage, siblings, parents–but this passage, about the friends the narrator shared with his wife, from whom he is now separated, really stood out to me:

It’s a sad moment when you come to understand how truly replaceable you are. Friendship in the suburbs is wife-driven, and my friends were essentially those husbands of Jen’s friends that I could most tolerate. Now that I’d been sidelined, Wade had stepped in for me like an understudy, a small note was inserted into the program, and the show went on without missing a beat.

This is an interesting idea, that friendship between men might be driven by wives. I wonder if what Tropper writes is true—if married men have their wives to thank for many of their friendships, or that “wife-driven friendships” are actually more common in the suburbs than a city.

I do believe that wife-driven friendships happen. Husband-driven friendships too. And I’m sure that when a couple breaks up, those friendships fade quickly. I’ve often heard women tell me they lost friends in their divorce, and as a city-dweller myself, I see it happen in Chicago all the time. But I can imagine how it might be more prevalent in the suburbs, where maybe it’s tougher to meet new people. I don’t know, I haven’t lived in a suburb since I was 18.

So you tell me: Are friendships of married men often wife-driven? What about husband-driven friendships? Are they less common? And does it happen more often in the suburbs? Chime in!

I’m so excited about this MWF Seeking BFF mention in last week’s New York Times! Check it out!


Filed under The Search

15 responses to “The Wife-Driven Friendship

  1. I live in the suburbs, and I think spouse-driven friendships are common. I don’t think that has anything to do with the city/suburb issue, I think it’s just easier to befriend a woman whose husband works with your husband. You already have that in common. It’s just less work that way, and you know you’ll have one thing in common, even if that’s all you have in common.

  2. I just finished your book and loved it… in fact I’ve been contemplating my response (positive of course) on my own blog from my late 30s perspective. At first read of your latest post I am confused about one thing… why do you think it might be “tougher to meet new people” in the suburbs? Technically, for the last 14 years I’ve lived “in” the cities of Zurich, Dallas and Miami, but in “suburban like” neighborhoods and I am just trying to understand your point-of-view (which I have come to value after reading your book! :)).

    • Hi Meredith — I’m not sure! That’s why I say “might”. As someone who hasn’t lived in the suburbs for a while, I can’t be sure. My mom once told me she found it harder to be in the suburbs and make friends because everyone was in and out of their cars all the time, and so it was less easy to meet people in the neighborhood. But I could certainly be wrong!

      And thanks so much for your kind words about MWF — so glad you liked it!

      • thanks for the response. I have heard family members talk about experiences like your mom describes… just driving the car into the garage and never meeting people on the other side of the fence. Also in the city there is just more to DO. More options or venues to find a friend. In the suburbs, however, it seems like you would find people similar to you: similar needs (good public schools maybe), similar interests that drew you to that particular suburb, possibly similar place in life, (in my neighborhood in Dallas there were 66 children under the age of 6 in one block of about 30 houses). We are still flexible with where we decide to live in my new city (Miami) where I am on my own friend search. I really appreciate you giving me so much to think about!

  3. Ana

    I agree with “the white wave” that spouse-driven friendships are common…but I could be either the husband or wife doing the “driving”, as it were, depending on the personalities or circumstances involved—i.e. introvert vs. extrovert husband, work from home alone vs. work with fun colleagues, stay at home meet the neighbors vs. frequent traveler, lived here all your life vs. moved here for your spouse. You get the idea! I do, however, notice that most of the time the wife is “the boss” of the social calender. Guys love deferring to “the boss” before they make any plans, I think it gets them off the hook of organizing anything.

    I don’t think suburb vs. city has anything to do with it, honestly. I’m a city-liver myself, but I don’t think moving to the burbs would necessarily make it easier or harder to make friends. Living in a very rural or isolated area is different…but a lively neighborhood with lots of same-age couples/families, not really.

  4. Well, from this man’s view, my male friends were my friends from the start. My wife of 41 years has never introduced me to another couple where I became friends with the man in the relationship. One time I asked my wife about this. Her answer kind of surprised me. But, as I thought of it, she was right. Her answer was, “I have no couple friends. I’m too busy working.” Too bad that some people put so much effort into their career, they don’t have room for friends. We have always lived in the burbs. In fact, we grew up across the street from each other in the burbs.

  5. The wife(or guy)-driven friendship is very common among my friends. My husband doesn’t seem to mind that my gf’s significant other are usually his friends or hangout buddies. He’s pretty laid back though and gets along with everyone.
    I have to admit that in a past relationship, I not only lost the relationship and my ex’ family, but I also lost 2 good friends. In that case, it was the guy-driven friendship. I was introduced to the other “girls” through the “guys” as they were 3 best friends since their high school days. As a result, the 3 of us girls bonded and were close friends. When I ended my relationship with my ex, his guy friends stuck by him making it very hard for the girls to stick by me. Eventually time, my ex starting to date a new girl, and I starting dating someone else, completely moved me out of the circle. It’s understandable because the glue to the friendship were the 3 guys, we (the girls) had formed our friendship based on the guys always being together. I moved on to another relationship and the “guys” were reluctant to mingle with my new guy because it was like betraying their BFF (my ex). Although we all still keep in touch via social media, their circle and my circle no longer mix in the real world.

  6. I can totally relate to this post. My friendships were mostly husband driven, wives and girlfriends of co-workers and friends. After separating from my husband I found, much like the author in the book mentioned in your post, I was totally replaceable and those friendships just died off. I really had nothing in common with those women besides our husbands job or our husband’s affinity for watching hockey. But, perhaps there is a lesson in that. Perhaps even in marriage we should seek to find and build friendships that are interest/personality based, not based on who can be tolerated most out of our significant other’s friend’s/co-worker’s wives and husbands.

    Also, I don’t believe it’s a suburbia vs. city thing. I think it’s a personality thing. In some cases a compromise thing.

  7. jen

    We have some friends that are going through a divorce right now and it was the wife that made all the initial friendships so the husband is really losing out on a lot of developed relationships. We live 1/2 mile from our downtown, so it’s urban – I definitely have my girlfriends and he has his guy friends, but our closest friends are still the ones that I get along with the wife, and my husband gets along with the husband. I think that’s the case in any area, urban or suburban.

  8. Andrea

    Me and my husband share no friends. He has his social circle and I have mine. It actually makes it tough because sometimes you want to hang out with another couple (other than your parents :))

  9. Shay

    I find, as a married mom in the suburbs, that many friendships I see turn out to be either kid-driven or family-driven. Two families have kids of similar ages, they like to do the same things (ski, for example), so they hang out frequently, voila, the parents are friends. Although in most cases, it is usually the wives driving the get-togethers.

  10. Spouse driven friendships are very common I believe due to convenience. No one likes to be the odd man out at a social gathering and it’s much simpler if you go out to dinner with another couple that you both are friends with. This desire for a hanging out experience that does not feel like compromise I believe motivates people to reach out to their spouse’s friends spouses. I am definitely guilty of this. However, I do believe that true friendship cannot be faked and there are times the spouse driven friendship definitely fails.

  11. Res

    I typically feel like the tag-a-long in my husbands friendships. I genuinely like several of the women who are spouses of my husbands friends, but my husband is definitely better friends with the male counterpart than I am with the female. Not sure what that is all about, but I honestly will have to think about it and try to figure it out.

  12. Ray

    My husband and I just had a whole discussion concerning this. I live in the burbs and in my world our friendships are definitely wife driven. Took my husband to our beach club to hang out with some friends and their husbands. My husband pretty much sat in the corner and didn’t connect with anyone. I told him it was time for him to go find some couples to hang out with. That rant lasted for 24 hours before I called my husband’s friend from work and made plans for tonight with the friend & his partner.
    One thing that I noticed is that my socializing changed when I had my daughter. Before I had her I would think nothing of leaving the hubby home to go out with the girls. Now, all the girls (except one) are married with small babies. I work full time and do not want to leave my daughter a few nights a week to go out. Neither do my friends. Now the husbands have entered the picture and the entire dynamic has changed. For me I think it’s more kids than the burbs that changed what I am looking for in a friend.

  13. I don’t know if this is different in the suburbs or in the city, but in my relationship I definitely drive the friend making. My husband is pretty solitary and does a lot of sports and things on his own so making friends is less of a priority for him. That means most of our mutual friends are people we met either together or people I met first and then introduced him to. I do think it’s good for our relationship for us both to have friends that were made outside of our usual dynamic.

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