My social life is different now that I'm not married. When I was married, there were times I went out with my girlfriends, and there were times when my husband and I went out as a couple with other couples. Sometimes the two of us would go out with a single friend, or the two of us with a coupled friend who happened to be alone for the weekend -- but that was unusual.
Since I've been divorced, the times I've been in a relationship came with couples activities.
Otherwise, my social life is mostly very much that of a single woman. While I have a few very close friends I've know for years where both the husband and wife and I all hang out together, my closest friends are mostly women, and we hang out as women -- whether they are coupled or single.
With new or not-as-close relationships, I am rarely invited out to dinner with couples -- or even groups of couples. There are lots of exceptions, but in general it would be kind of weird. A married friend was recently relaying a situation in which she -- a president at a big health care company -- was being pressured by her boss to go out for dinner with his wife and her husband -- a double date. She felt she had little in common with the stay-at-home mom, and her husband -- a professional musician -- would have little in common with her executive boss. The situation would be awkward, my friend worried, because she and her boss (whom she liked a lot) would have much more to chat about than she and the wife -- or her husband and the boss.
In sum, friendships are expected to fall along gender lines. And when one of the parties does not have an opposite-sex gender in her party, the whole dynamic is whack.
I get that, but it is annoying. It hurts. For one, no one likes to feel excluded. Also, it drastically reduces my social network. I enjoy being friends with men just as much as women. And then it limits larger networks -- while it is less weird to have a single friend at a family Halloween party, that single friend is simply less top-of-mind when the evites are sent out because she is not in on the couples dinner circuit. This trickles down to the kids, and it also affects business prospects since so much networking comes from our social lives.
I don't blame the married contingent for this situation -- what is comfortable is simply comfortable, and when it comes to new or less-intimate friends, the sense of obligation is low for making single people feel welcome or included. This trend is also the result of consideration ("June would be fun to invite to tapas, but I worry she'd feel uncomfortable as the only single person among three couples."). But again, no one likes to feel like they're not invited to the party.
This phenomena is a bit dated -- and calls up the debate over whether straight men and women can be platonic friends. Single women intuitively understand that they must be extra-careful not to spend too much time at any party hanging out with the married men -- just as married people do. If my married executive friend and her boss spent an entire dinner in a rapt huddle discussing health care reform and office gossip while the other spouses were left picking at their skate and chitchatting about college admissions, it might make for two awkward drives home later. A single person spending time with married people can be an especially delicate dynamic.
But this will change.
At this stage of life -- I am 37 -- most marriages of my peers are relatively young. The reality is that half of all married people will divorce. Many of those who do will remarry. I will not be single forever -- and you likely will not either (and trust me: when your married friends are thinking about divorce, you'll be the first to know). I often think to my grandparents who played bridge every week for more than 70 years with the same group of six couples they met in high school. That is special, in part, because marriages simply do not last that long any more.
If you are feeling left out of your married friends' social circles, do this:
- Let them know, politely, that you would appreciate an invite. Give your friends the benefit of the doubt that your exclusion was not malicious, but instead the result of consideration or oblivion. "Sometimes I feel left out when I'm not invited out with couples. FYI, I would never feel weird in that situation."
- Don't be entitled. After all, no one has an obligation to invite you to dinner.
- Don't take it personally. Who knows why you're not invited. Maybe it is because you're really annoying -- not that you're single. Or maybe the dinner guests only have four of their good pinot noir glasses and are weird about stuff like that.
- Remember that it won't be like this forever. People split up, for better or worse. They also get remarried, die and stray. In other words, the cozy couples beach weekends are not likely to be a lifelong tradition from which you are not invited.