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The Fraught Dynamics of Single People in Lockdown with Couples

It is “a unique category of quarantine purgatory,” said Annabel Ross in her story in The Guardian. She was referring to single people stuck living with couples during the coronavirus lockdown. In some cases, the single person was previously living only with a roommate, then the roommate insisted on letting their romantic partner move in during the quarantine.

“For the most part,” Ross said, “these singles are excluded from the couple’s plans or find themselves in a third-wheel situation they would never have tolerated pre-quarantine, when they could socialize, date, have casual sex and enjoy myriad activities outside the home.”

Ross asked for my thoughts and she quoted me briefly. I want to share the longer version with you. Here is the first of two parts.

Three is an unstable number – especially when two of the people already have a connection

Any situation involving three people has the potential to spell trouble, because two of the people could feel closer to each other or side with each other, making the third person feel marginalized or left out. When those two people are already, presumably, on each other’s side because they are a couple, then things can be even more fraught for the single person, who is then literally the odd person out.

Remember when Bridget Jones coined the term “smug marrieds”? Couples can be the same way – entitled and presumptuous. Sometimes it is not even deliberate. They can be perfectly nice people who just don’t realize that there is anything wrong with thinking that when they are dealing with a single person, their wishes and point of view should prevail.

How does the rent get divvied up, and who decides about that and everything else?

The question about rent is an interesting one. Let’s say the couple has one bedroom and the single person has another. Does the couple pay the same as the single person because each has one room? Or does the couple pay more because there are two of them living in the place and all that that entails.

Also, who claims what space? Does the couple call dibs on the bigger, better bedroom because they are the couple? Then they most certainly should pay more.

I’ve found that couples want to decide for themselves, and they sometimes pick whatever answer serves them best, even if it is a different answer at different times. In my previous university, a married couple was part of my area of an academic department. The faculty used to take turns hosting events at their homes, and the couple wanted to have one event at their home count for both of them. The faculty also took turns providing lunch for the students at our weekly research meetings, and again, the couple wanted to bring lunch once and have it count for both of them. But of course, they each wanted (and got) their own offices, faculty positions, and salaries.

As for what to do about rent and all the other issues like that, where the couple might want to pay less than their share of the rent, or do less than their share of the work around the place, or have more of a say over various decisions – maybe even more than 2/3 of the say – well, the answer to those situations is really difficult. The ideal thing I’d like to say to the single person is, stand up for yourself and do it at the earliest possible moment.

But that’s really hard and maybe unfair to suggest. It is going to be two against one, the two people in the couple are probably going to side with each other and insist that you are wrong. And there you are, on your own. It is so much easier to just let it slide. But then you are probably going to become more and more resentful over time. And it gets harder and harder to question something that has already been happening.

These lockdown situations are even more difficult. You are stuck with that couple, in a confined space, and you don’t even know how long this could go on.

There’s more. I’ll share it in my next post in this series about singles getting cooped up with other people. (Here it is.)

The Fraught Dynamics of Single People in Lockdown with Couples

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single." Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2020). The Fraught Dynamics of Single People in Lockdown with Couples. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Apr 2020
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