Now, don’t get me wrong, I love couples. There are some great couples out there like Paul & Mary, Ben & Jerry, Brad & Angelina…oh. But sometimes couples can be problematic and here’s one of the ways I think that’s true. So, picture this: six nice people sat around a table at a restaurant having lunch. They’re all catching up about their lives, eating lettuce and sipping smoothies, something like that. They each take it in turn to talk about their lives and it turns out the first four are all straight and in relationships. They’re waxing lyrical about their partner, s/he is just fantastic, s/he just swam the Channel, s/he just invented a cure for cancer, etc. Wonderful. Isn’t that nice. However, person number five is straight and single and when it’s their turn things get a little awkward, they’re not in a relationship after all. As for person number six, they’re single and queer, so that awkward silence just got awkwarder. You get the gist right, let’s take a closer look.
Our society is just rammed with narratives that pressure us into believing in and aspiring to certain things. A big one concerns relationships. Rom coms, billboards, novels, magazines etc all encourage us to find that perfect partner. Alongside getting a job, getting enough money and finding meaning, finding ‘the one’ is just another box we need to tick on that all important list of ‘things you need to do to not be a total failure’. And it’s a huge relief when we finally find someone to settle down with (or endure for a year or so). It’s like a big weight is off our shoulders and we’ve just avoided a grim, sex-free future of loneliness and isolation, not to mention no grandkids. Phew. It’s understandable that if we believe in this narrative we will be relieved once we’ve found a partner and we’ll be happy as well, it’s fun having someone to share your life with, do stuff with and alleviate your insecurities. Ideally a best friend we can sleep with. Naturally, we want to tell our friends all about our new lover (finally, something interesting has happened in our lives).
Unfortunately, the flip side of this narrative is that it doesn’t work so well for ‘singletons’. Even the idea of being single implies we’re just a placeholder half-person until we gain meaning as a couple. We’re just biding our time and doing our best to ride out loneliness. Our lives must be grim. Which is why when lunchtime conversation shifts to us it gets awkward: if we’re single and unhappy then we affirm the narrative but also don’t really have a chance to talk about it because everyone else is coupled and happy. We’re often forced to pretend ‘everything’s fine’ even if on the inside we’re screaming. We do this because we want to fit in, because (coupled) people struggle hearing about others’ suffering and because we might believe that narrative too and think we’re failures. Next is the single but happy person, naturally, we’re considered slightly deluded because no one can be happy and unpartnered right, that sounds like far too much of a threat to this precious narrative. Then there’s the single, happy person who has lots of sex, also known as a ‘slut’ who just can’t settle down and hasn’t found the one. And then there’s the queer and single one, it’s highly likely we won’t even be asked about our relationship status because queer people don’t really exist right, we’re just some ‘exotic’ addition to a social group whose way of life is so different and alien to heteronormativity that it’s too hard for straights to get their heads around.
So, people in relationships, it’s time to step up. Yup, it’s great if you’re happy and in a relationship, well done, but please create space for people who aren’t in relationships be they happy or not. And please, if you believe that pressuring, deceitful narrative that life only means something if you’re partnered, please do not project that onto others. Basically, just do not become one of those smug and judgemental couples who will probably break up anyway because no decent long-term relationship can thrive off the mutual avoidance of fear (or maybe it can, I’ve never tried). Why not help out your single friends who want a partner by introducing them to other people (so they can enjoy the happiness of coupled life that you profess to) or offering some emotional support. And single folks, queer and straight, don’t single, be independent, and own it if you have the resources and the resilience. Also, if you need help, ask for it, even if you’re asking help from smug coupled people (they’re not that bad, well, most of them aren’t). Don’t give a toss about what they think because the priority is you getting the support you need and not pretending ‘everything’s fine’ if it isn’t. Anyway, I’m not single, I’m independent and if you find this blog challenges a narrative you hold dear then good. Here’s P!nk.
I very much enjoyed this (and our chat about it the other day), though I don’t agree with the part where you say ‘[single people pretend everything’s fine] because we want to fit in, because (coupled) people struggle hearing about others’ suffering’. I think a lot of people struggle to hear about others’ suffering but I don’t think it has anything to do with whether the person listening is single or coupled – it’s just people. I do think that the person struggling has more chance of feeling comfortable sharing with someone who’s got a similar experience though – we’re more likely to risk letting ourselves be vulnerable if we think there’s a greater chance of being understood on a deeper level. I would also say that coupled people can just as easily be unhappy with their situation but pretend everything’s fine for the very same reasons. We all know couples (not just Brangelina) who have appeared to be happy on the surface (even to their closest friends) until the day they file for divorce. I guess the key difference is the societal expectation that couple = happy and that single = unhappy. So if you differ from that social norm in any way (especially if you’re also part of the LGBT community) then it’s going to be harder to feel like there’s a space for your voice to be heard.
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Hey Jade, thanks very much for your comment (and the ace chat the other week). I think you raise some great points and certainly agree that coupled people regularly have it tough, especially as they’re fed the same narrative of romanticised, Hollywood relationships which lack the practicalities of actually making a relationship work through the good and bad times. And they’re also under pressure to pretend everything’s ok even when it’s not.
I agree that people do struggle to hear about others’ feelings but I do think being in a relationship might change this. For example, the coupled person might struggle because their single friend’s experiences are too similar to the ones they had when single and they don’t like to have to be reminded, almost as if getting into a relationship was an escape plan from the ‘horror’ that was being single (but that’s if you buy the narrative). The irony is that all coupled people will have been single and actually have lots more in common with their single friends beyond their relationship statuses. So, in an ideal world, coupled and single folk would be able to provide support for one another
I don’t want to sound too generalistic in this post but I guess, as with many of my posts, I am asking people to check their privileges. Couples are afforded certain privileges, including economically, politically and culturally, that ‘singletons’ are not. Likewise, single people have their own privileges too and there may well be a post on how single people can help their coupled friends get through rough patches in their relationship without needing to feel jealous or insecure of the fact that they’re not in a relationship (there’s that pesky narrative again).
So yes, let’s keep challenging those narratives and being nice to each other whether single, coupled, independent, codependent, interdependent or other!