I’m a single person who has socialized with couples quite often. Sometimes I’m with just one couple, and other times, lots of them. During the last holiday season, for example, I went to a party of about 21 people. I was the 21st – the others were 10 couples. I had no problem with that. In fact, sometimes I have particularly good experiences socializing with couples.

But there are potential challenges. Suppose you are making plans to get together. Does the couple assume that they get to choose what you will do, and when and where, because there are two of them and only one of you? Or just because they feel entitled, because they are a couple and you are a single person? If they thought they should get to choose twice as often as you do, I could understand that. After all, there are two of them and one of you. But I’ve known couples who just assumed that their choices should always prevail. They didn’t even seem to think about that – it just seemed self-evident to them.

The two-against-one dynamic can continue to unfold once your plans have been made and you are socializing together. Does the couple assume that they are the ones to decide when your time together has run its course? Do they try to control the topics of your conversations, focusing mostly on what interests them? Or is it just the opposite, as when they are particularly interested in what has been going on in your life — and not just your love life?

The conversation issue can be particularly fraught when you are the only single person in a group of couples. A few times, when the couples I was with were all parents (which I’m not), they talked incessantly about diapers and babysitters. Yes, I tried to steer the conversation elsewhere now and then, but was not successful.

In my previous university, I noticed that when the two people in a couple worked together, they sometimes wanted to count as one unit and other times as two separate people. Of course, they wanted to count as two independent people when it came to having their own faculty positions with their own salaries and their own offices. But when it was time to take a turn hosting a work-related social event, then they sometimes wanted take just one turn and have it count for both of them. I, as a single person, could never get away with something comparable (nor would I want to), such as volunteering only half as often as everyone else.

The two-against-one dynamic is not specific to interactions with couples and single people. Among three people who are all friends, for example, two of them can connect in ways that leave the third person feeling sidelined. I had a colleague who did this quite often. Whenever the two of us were with another male colleague (who was married), she would steer the conversation toward things they had in common, such as people they knew that I did not know.

Maybe uneven numbers of people are inherently unstable. But even if the numbers issue, or differences in interests among the people in a group, makes it hard for everyone to feel included, I’d like to think that we can rise above those challenges.

Photo by kevin dooley