As a kid, when I heard variations on the phrase “find a place in your heart for [insert person, animal, or idea],” I imagined a human heart separated into little compartments with labels indicating whom I loved: my parents, my sister, my cats, Jesus, and Michael Jordan. I believed that each human had a finite amount of love to give, which made me nervous about loving new people because I thought I’d have to evict someone from my heart to create a place for someone new.
It seems some people never outgrow this notion.
In a few short months, I’ve seen a marked uptick in the number of invitations I receive from friends to do things. I hoped that I had gotten nicer or more popular, but I pretty quickly spotted a pattern: These people were almost invariably in relationships, and I recently entered a relationship for the first time in several years. The increased interest, I fear, is because these people prefer to hang out with other couples. All of a sudden it’s like I got my name put on a secret list I didn’t even know I wanted to be on, complete with secret brunches hosted at couples’ adorably appointed co-habitation spaces and even plans for going on vacations with other couples. Even my own married parents are way more stoked that I’m coming to visit now that I have a man in tow.
Until I made the list, I had no idea that for some people, being coupled really does elevate people’s status. This line of thinking was on brutal display a few weeks ago in my friend Briallen Hopper’s essay on the importance of friendship for single women: “A close friend once told me that her priorities were her kid, her partner, her work, her friends, in that order, like suits in a deck of cards,” she wrote. “This was the best way she knew of trying to impose some order on life’s complexity, but to me it seemed like a terribly reductive way to think about human relationships — plus, it was no fun to know that I would always be the lowest priority in her life.” Having spent most of my adult life single and with my world centered around friendships with other single people, this cruel self-imposed hierarchy of priorities made me involuntarily gag. Surely, I tell you, there are better ways to live!
Though I think (or at least hope) my friends don’t stack their priorities like that, I can’t ignore the sense that I am a more important friend since I got into a relationship. I am left to wonder why these invitations were never extended to me when I was single and could have used more social engagements. Did couples really talk about things that were all that different from what single people do? Were they afraid my sad singleness would contaminate their pristine partnership? Did they all have standing plans to joke about how pathetic and unrealistic my dating standards were?
The answer to all of these questions is, in short, “Nah.” I asked several of the friends who have started inviting me and my boyfriend to do cool stuff, and they all actively and emphatically insisted that this was not the case. So they’re liars, of course, but likely unintentional or subconscious ones. They probably assumed single people don’t like hanging out with couples, which is true for some people. “My response to the problem of being a single person in a world full of couples is to build my own social world that I enjoy and believe in, and not depend on couples for my primary feelings of family or belonging,” Briallen told me over email. In that case, there is no need to goad single people into hanging out with you and your partner! But far too many couples assume that single people absolutely do not want to hang out with couples under the misguided belief that the single person will be jealous or sad. More often, we just really hate one half of the couple and make up an excuse. There are also certain couples that are really hard to be around, even for other couples, because all they do is talk about each other and their own relationship, and like, get a hobby already, would you?
The obvious answer here is that we should extend social invitations to our friends (without badgering them!) based on the fact that they are our friends and we love them, not because they are currently in the same fairly luck-based experience of being partnered up with someone.
Besides being the baseline decent thing to do, hanging out with single friends has the added benefit of preventing you from becoming boring as hell. Inviting single friends is not an act of charity, it is an act of self-preservation. Unpartnered people are, by and large, cooler than coupled ones. They are more independent, more focused on their passions, and more plugged into the world around them. Look, I like being in a relationship and love is a grand and wondrous thing and everything, but I would be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that it is an uphill battle to continue to be as fucking cool as I was just a few months ago. I am growing in other ways as a human being, but having far less alone time than I used to means I spend less time engaging with thoughts and ideas and people outside the context of a relationship. I am missing out on something, as well, if I neglect those relationships and burrow further into the cocoon of coupledom.
And couples may have something to offer, too. “I actually really like being around functional couples because I haven’t gotten the opportunity to witness good relationships,” my friend Eve told me via Gchat. She says that spending time with her sister and fiancé has made her see what is possible in a relationship. “I’ve never been so close with two people in such a good relationship. It makes me see that it’s possible for me to have a relationship like that and it’s sort of inspiring that I can have that too one day,” she said. Of course, the pretension and condescension of an overenthusiastic couple being like, “Come, Withering Lonely Heart, we shall show thee what is possible in the world of love!” is the worst kind of wound-salting fuckery. I have gotten that talk from a long-coupled friend, and I was about ready to throw her into our local volcano by late last year. But although not every couple is interesting or inspiring to be around, I have definitely found occasional solace in witnessing other people’s relationships where the dynamic looked like something I wanted but wasn’t sure would ever work until I saw it play out between them.
There is a caveat to all of this encouragement of mixing single and partnered company, though: Don’t fuck up your friendship if and when you have a breakup. Briallen recalled multiple close couple-friends whose relationship with her ended when theirs did. “In at least two of those cases I can look back and say: Maybe the reason why they welcomed me so warmly and fully into their lives was because in a way they couldn’t bear to be alone together,” she told me, and that burn burned, my friends. Single people are seen as more safely discarded. This is not a good look on anyone, but especially on a newly single person who hasn’t gotten all of her coolness back yet.
So please: Hold your friendships in high regard no matter your romantic relationship status. Your heart can’t run out of room if you keep it open to all kinds of love, and there is more than enough room at the brunch table, too.