Couple Privilege, Singledom, and Ways to Remain a Kick-Ass Friend

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This is not the territory I normally dive into in this reflection area, but I was inspired by an article posted at Huffington Post* last week to write about what I call couple privilege. In “The Real Problem With Being Child-Free and Unmarried in Your Mid-30s”, the author, Dr. Gunda Windmüller, writes:

Let’s see. I’m happy. Some days more than others. But I’m generally happy. Never before in my life have I so truthfully felt that way. What a gift. Also: I’m healthy. And I feel loved. My family is there for me. Always. I have good friends who would do anything for me, as I would for them.

I like my job. I enjoy what I do every day. Some days more than others. And I meet men. I go on dates. I enjoy this. Some days more than others. I’m in sync with my age. I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had — good and bad. I feel like a stronger woman because of them. Dare I say it? There’s probably nothing seriously wrong with me.

But thinking this through, I’m realizing I might actually have a problem after all — albeit a different one than people think.

I do in fact have a problem with people assuming that there is something wrong with me. Because these are mostly people who blatantly do not live up to their own standards.

Many of us like to see ourselves as very liberal people.

We accept sexual relationships before marriage; we admire independent and successful women. We know that you can have kids well beyond the age of 40. We fought for same-sex marriage.

We know that monogamous relationships are not the be-all and end-all of a life filled with love. We know that “forever and ever” should maybe not be taken too literally in a country that has high divorce rates.

We are accepting — and in fact, encouraging — of so many different lifestyles, like never before. Which is great. Would anyone wish to live in another decade? Didn’t think so.

Yet we still have a problem with unmarried women. Because a society in which an unmarried woman in her 30s seems worthy of an astonished “oh” suddenly doesn’t seem so liberal after all.

Beyond gasps or whispers-behind-their-back or side-eyes given to long-term single people, there is a deeper situation at play. Our entire society is built upon being coupled, and there are rights afforded to couples not afforded to single people.

Understand that if you are a part of a couple, particularly if you are married, you hold privilege. People comprehend this when fighting for gay marriage, understanding full well that privileges are afforded with being in a legally sanctioned marriage, and it is therefore discriminatory to not allow a group of people to marry. But they somehow forget these privileges exist when it comes to single people not having them. Maybe it’s because they think being single is a choice (sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s not), or most likely, they just don’t think to put themselves in that place, or have fears about returning there. Point is, we should all understand being coupled affords privilege, which in turn means being singled is to deal with a lack of certain privileges. (None of this is to say that no BENEFITS exist to being single, but there is no PRIVILEGE afforded, particularly when it comes to things like taxes, health insurance, housing, family protections, and getting a good table in a restaurant [no, I don’t want to sit at the bar]).

I don’t expect coupled people to take on the brunt of feeling bad about being privileged. To me, it’s about being aware of acting in ways that feed into that privilege, and simply shifting some perspectives. So if you are coupled – and that is an amazing thing to be, love is a beautiful thing! – here are some ways to be aware around your single friends, and maintain deep and profound friendships along the way:

  • Don’t be the woman who drops all of her friends when you get in a relationship. It’s such a tired, worn out trope. Men rarely, if ever, drop their friends when they get in a relationship. I have been single for a lot of my adult years, and in relationship for a lot of my adult years. Trust me, you can maintain friendships outside of your relationship, and it is ultimately healthier if you do so. If not, you slide quickly into co-dependency. Also remember, many relationships – including marriages – end eventually. It’s important to maintain other relationships not only because that creates a more fulfilling life, but you need support in your life when things get tough.
  • Don’t assume because I invite you to something, I am also inviting your partner. First of all, you are not an unbreakable unit. Second of all, just because I like you doesn’t mean I like your partner (or that they like me). Third, it’s common courtesy to ask if you can bring your partner along and not just assume you can. If you had another friend you wanted to invite along to something I asked you to do, you’d check with me to see if it was okay to do so, right? Same applies to your partner.
  • If you invite a person who is a part of a couple to an event, and let them know it’s okay they bring their significant other, extend the same right to a single person to bring a date, friend, or whomever. It’s is not okay to allow someone to bring a date to a party, wedding, workshop, whathaveyou if they are living together/married/etc but not allow a single person to do the same.
  • Be a little bit more aware about your single friends birthdays than those who are in a relationship. I know this one may seem unfair, but if you are in a relationship you (more than likely) have a built-in party organizer, dinner cooker, romantic getaway planner who will try their best to make your birthday special. (I realize that some people who are in long term relationships don’t get this/no longer get this from their partner, and that’s a tough brunt to bear because it is similar to being single in this respect.) Single friends DON’T. Some may have a best friend that takes over this role, but as you get older and most people are in relationships, this isn’t often the case. So a text or email really doesn’t cut it if the person is a good friend. And I’m talking doing something DAY OF their birthday, not when it is convenient for your schedule. That could be as simple as dropping off a birthday scone or mimosa in the morning, or swooping into their work mid-afternoon with a party hat and a hurrah!
  • Don’t spend a lot of time talking to your partner on the phone/via text/Skype/Facetime/carrier pigeon when you are hanging out with your friends. It’s annoying, disrespectful, and I bet you get pissed off when someone does that after you took time out of your busy life to hang out with them. Put the technology away (because in fact, it’s time to scale back on using technology at all while you are hanging out in real life with someone, unless there is an absolute emergency).

Try to connect to your own single-self every once in a while. Even when you are in a couple, you are still an individual. There is so much good you can get out of spending time alone and building that true love and acceptance of self. And in doing that, you can add so much magic and self-love to your relationship, which makes it stronger and more resilient over time.

*I usually don’t like to reference articles from Huffington Post as they pay very few of their writers, and instead rely on the ‘exposure’ model. As an artist that will literally die from just getting exposure, I think it’s a horrible way for a multi-million dollar business to run.

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