I’ve been ditched by friends who got coupled. Or demoted from dinners and movies on weekend nights to lunch during the week and children’s birthday parties. It used to be painful.
I have a vivid memory of one of those moments. It was back when I was a university faculty member at my first job. During the work week, my colleagues and I would go out to lunch together. They were all coupled. One Friday, the department sponsored an early-evening social event to which spouses were invited. I was there by myself, and two of my colleagues were there with their wives or long-term romantic partners. As the event wound down, the two couples went off to dinner together; I wasn’t invited.
It was a small thing, in a way, and I wished I didn’t care about it. But it hurt.
Now, many years later, I realize that couples ditching or demoting their single friends is a thing. Many single people have that experience; it wasn’t just me.
Romantic coupling, especially in the form of marriage, is treated like an exclusive club. Declarations of membership are met with congratulations, celebrations, and gifts. Once you are in, other members welcome you into their social lives. Single people, not so much.
I’ve written about this before. I’ve been thinking about it again because I was recently on a Canadian radio show to discuss an essay written by Daniel Dalman, who was single until the age of 32, and then announced on Facebook that he was in a romantic relationship. His new romantic relationship status elicited a flood of congratulatory messages, invitations, and kind notes. At first, it seemed nice, but then it made him wonder whether all those people had been pitying him when he was single. Then he added this:
“About the fourth time that someone who had never invited me out for any sort of social occasion before mentioned that ‘we should do drinks’ (the ‘we’ meaning them and their significant other and me with mine), I became resentful.”
As my coupled friends continued to socialize only with each other on weekends, I always imagined that things would change instantly if I were to become part of a romantic couple. I resented that, too.
It is different now. I pity the people who become coupled and then ditch or demote or marginalize their single friends. I see it as a kind of prejudice. It is part of the broad category of singlism – the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and marginalizing of people who are single, and the discrimination against them. People who would not in a million years practice any other form of bigotry will unselfconsciously and unapologetically treat single people in demeaning and dismissive ways. I pity them because they are showing their small-mindedness and their prejudice.
I’m not just talking about social exclusion, either. It is, I think, a form of bigotry to expect your single co-workers to cover for you, or play second fiddle, when you want to leave work early, or not have to come in on holidays, or get first dibs on vacation times, on the assumption that single people don’t have a life – or whatever life they do have is not as valuable as yours.
To all the people on Facebook who congratulated Daniel and only welcomed him (and his partner) into their social lives once he became part of a couple, you are not just valuing the coupled Daniel – you are devaluing and shaming the single Daniel, and all the other single people. Stop it. I feel embarrassed for you.
In the future, how about making just as big a fuss over other life events, such as securing a dream job or buying a home or getting a coveted degree or anything else that the person values and feels proud of? A degree, for example, is an accomplishment. Unlike a marriage, which can be and often is undone by divorce, education is forever.