Help me deal with being the weird single guy in my group of friends
August 3, 2014 9:33 PM   Subscribe

I am newly single, against my will. In the next two months, half of my friends are getting married. Everyone else I know is in a long term relationship. I am the, like, seventeenth wheel. I have absolutely no interest in ever being in a relationship again until the sun burns out. Please help me not feel really weird around my friends.

So long story short, my girlfriend of four years left, moved out of the place we shared, taking with her our two cats that I loved more than anything. (It actually makes my heart sink typing that last part... c'est la vie.) It's been about a month since she moved out, and about two and a half months since all this went down. It sucked, pretty hard.

I think I've got my life back in order, kinda. I'm going to a gym, I'm eating healthy, I bought a bunch of shit for my apartment so I don't look like a freshman who just moved into a dorm. In short, the "OH GOD MY LIFE IS ENDING" phase has subsided, and now I'm entering the placid, "Oh, being alone isn't so bad. Now I have time to read more" phase. This is a good phase.

But aside from the usual suckiness of a breakup from a LTR, I'm having a hard time processing this problem of my social identity with my friends being based around being part of a couple. Doing stuff that we used to do as a pair or group of couples now feels.. weird.

It feels weird not exactly the way it used to feel when I was younger and single and being single was more normal (I'm almost thirty now). I just feel sort of bad asking one of said couples to go out to dinner and a movie because it doesn't feel like something a single dude does with a couple. You know? It would be different if I was taking a date out with them, but I don't want to date, I just want to eat a burger with my friends and not feel alienated.

I'm sure most of this is just my own thinking. But I do feel a bit like people are feeling sorry for me when I attend some event and I'm the only couple-less person. I don't think I exude loneliness or anything, I'm actually a very happily introverted person and being single doesn't bother me, but I feel like the social dynamic has changed in a weird way. Other than simply avoiding coupled friends, how can I try to reframe this to not make me feel like the weird single guy in the group who everyone kind of pities?
posted by deathpanels to Human Relations (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Long question and lots of possible responses, but one thing that might help -- I guarantee that some of your coupled friends would love an excuse to go out without their spouse, i.e. with just you, from time to time..
posted by Perplexity at 9:38 PM on August 3, 2014 [28 favorites]

Most of it is in your head. Most people are too busy thinking about themselves and maybe the one other person in the room who's most important to them to be thinking much about you. Sorry, but it's true. I actually find that kind of comforting.

I find that, rather than feeling sorry for you, coupled friends - especially those with children - are more likely to assume that because you are single and have no family, you will be able to work around their busy schedules. Not all of them do, of course. But see how it's all about them still?

Some thoughts: you don't always have to go out with couples. If you were friends with a guy, for example, and later he got involved with someone and you became friendly with his partner, but your primary friendship is with the guy, it's totally fine to ring him up and say, hey let's go for a burger and a beer or something. Coupled people aren't necessarily joined at the hip. Also there are actually other single people. You might not be friends with them now, but you could be!

Finally, it will get easier. Right now you're very conscious of your single-ness. It diminishes over time, though it does tend to flare up at obviously couple-y occasions like weddings. Maybe avoid those ones for a bit, if you can.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:42 PM on August 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

You'd be surprised how many of your partnered friends might actually envy you. Reframe this as "I'm the cool, sexy, unattached, master of my own domain, free-spirit of the group." Yes, the social dynamic has changed, but things change and that's okay.
posted by Gray Skies at 9:46 PM on August 3, 2014 [21 favorites]

I was also thinking that some one-on-one time with one of your coupled friends is a good idea. It doesn't have to be that you shift all your casual meet-ups to just one person and not couple(s), but definitely see if that could happen. Also lots of couples divide up and do "guys/girls night out" which also might be fun for you, especially if you're not out hunting to meet-up with a new partner, which can create a weird dynamic.

Again, this not to say you can't keep being friends with them as couples, but I think it's a natural fit for what you're going through. You may also find that it will be good for you to think about meeting up with other singles, just for variety more than anything else. This is the hard part, just be thankful you didn't lose your friends in the break-up, that is very common and often even harder than the break-up.
posted by dawg-proud at 9:48 PM on August 3, 2014

You wrote two statements that don't quite go together:

- I am newly single, against my will.
- I'm actually a very happily introverted person and being single doesn't bother me.

I'm getting the feeling that all this is very recent and you're just getting your bearings, and that's only natural. But if you're a little unsteady on where you fit on the customarily defined binary of A) happy being single, or B) actively searching for a meaningful relationship, then it's possible your friends are picking up on this unease, too.

Take heart. They're so into their own relationships that they're not noticing this nearly as much as you think they are. (And if they do pick up on it, they might feel bad about being demonstratively affectionate in front of you. That creates a weird vibe.) Be happy and supportive for them. Be honest with them on where you are on this spectrum -- not a binary. Give yourself time to get through this breakup. It won't be long until your paired friends, even in the best relationships, occasionally start feeling a little jealous of your freedom.

And find some single friends! They are fun!
posted by mochapickle at 9:49 PM on August 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

You are about the age when your coupled friends' single girlfriends are open to being set up. Invite them [the couples] to dinner, be charming, and when you're ready, let them help you.

Source: 5 years spent as the "single friend" amongst marrieds when living in the Midwest, and then the odd "married young" couple when I moved to the east coast.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:49 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

It may help to think of your singlehood as something you're more aware of than everyone else is. We don't have a window into other people's brains, and what's most prominent in our own minds can get projected. So when you're starting to feel your singleness is standing out, acknowledge your feelings about it, and move on. It could be something simple and internal that you just say to yourself in you head (Yes, this is annoying right now, oh look, cheese!). Or maybe an external action that gets you out of your head, like going out of your way to chat with someone else (So how's the new job?).
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:54 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, it's possible that because this breakup is so recent (and because you say it wasn't your choice), your friends are being a little more sensitive around you, and so the dynamic probably has changed a bit. But the handy thing is, it won't last. As you continue to get your bearings, you and your friends will almost certainly get back onto the old footing with each other, probably within the next few months (if not the next few weeks).
posted by scody at 9:54 PM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just to clarify a few points:

- Nobody has kids.. yet. I expect that the ones getting hitched in the next month or two are probably going to start rather soon thereafter, probably within a year or two.
- Really have zero interest in having somebody set me up or any of the other ways people traditionally respond to being dumped. The breakup happened in a sort of long sustained burn finally terminating in exhaustion on behalf of both parties. I say that I don't mind being single because prior to this I'd never really had an LTR – only short bursts (1-2 months) of dating followed by long periods of romantic apathy. So I'm not your typical serial monogamist, and I don't expect to do this sort of thing again, probably ever (i.e. until a major astronomical event occurs, per explanation above).
posted by deathpanels at 10:03 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hub and I go out with and socialize with single friends all the time, both together and separately. It's not weird. You are all friends, that hasn't changed. And, while you don't want to be in a new relationship at this point or anytime soon (this is a very healthy response!), keeping your social life active is a great way to meet non-asshole friends of friends.
posted by quince at 10:07 PM on August 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

When we started having kids we DOUBLE EXTRA loved our single friends because they could make and change plans at the drop of a hat. Couples expect NOTICE, and people with kids expect like DAYS of notice. Singles you call an hour before and are like, Nap time is weird today, can you get a pizza on your way and arrive half an hour late and also burp the baby for us while we devour the pizza? and THEN watch 4 hours of LotR director's commentary.

It's also a lot easier to find one person we both like than two.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:38 PM on August 3, 2014 [31 favorites]

I'm single and hang out with my couple friends (ie, all my friends) all the time, sometimes both of them, sometimes one-on-one (this means they don't have to get a babysitter), sometimes in larger groups. They really don't seem to find it weird, and I got used to it pretty quickly. So I'd say to just take some deep breaths and go for it, and you'll get used to it soon too.
posted by leesh at 11:52 PM on August 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have been single for quite a long time, largely because I just can't be bothered with dating. For me, hanging out in a in large group of coupled people can be weird, especially if some ever too chipper "I'm so in love and I want everyone else to be in love too" crazy person starts interrogating and scheming about your love life. But with just one couple, if you're pretty good friends with both of them, it's just hanging out with two of your friends who happen to be married. If you're really just friends with one of them, make one-on-one plans -- being attached doesn't mean being literally attached at the hip. Most healthy couples have their alone time and time with their individual friends.

Now that my sister and (what seems like) all of her friends started having babies, they refer to me as being single and fabulous a lot, which I have to say is quite nice.

You don't have to tell your friends you don't want to date again EVER (even if that is true), just that you don't want to NOW. They'll get used to it. I would liken this to women who don't want children -- among certain people, if you make the mistake of saying you never want kids, you'll get this barrage of "Oh just you wait, you'll change your mind!" blahblahblah, but you can dodge most of that by just avoiding the forever/never language.
posted by ktkt at 12:02 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm in a long-term relationship and we have plenty of single friends, plus friends who are in long-distance relationships or who are coupled but like to do things apart from their partners now and then. We hang out in all different combinations and it generally isn't weird. Since your dynamic has just changed, it makes sense that it feels strange or wrong, but I really feel that if you keep spending time with your coupled friends, you will readjust and it'll feel normal again. I think the real mistake would be to pull away and stop suggesting hangouts, or decline their invitations.
posted by daisyk at 12:53 AM on August 4, 2014

I think largely you should try not to focus on it, as the answer. As a married person, the only time my single friends' singleness bothers me is if they are constantly on the look out for insults/defensive about their single status. I do have friends who behave that way and it saddens me that they assume that I think less of them, or that they must be lonely or inadequate, because they are single. This is 2014! I certainly don't think that is a valid viewpoint anymore. I mean, it will be different- to hang out as 3 ppl instead of 4 is different. But that doesn't make you inferior or your company inferior.

Fwiw, I also think there would be nothing so wrong if you did 'exude loneliness'. Married ppl can be lonely, too- again, it's no reflection on anyone's value as a person. If you believe that the rest should be fine :), and if it's not, just give your friends some time to catch up with the fact that you are ok.
posted by jojobobo at 2:14 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I recently got asked out by a couple for drinks. I sheepishly declined thinking "they aren't going to want me along, they'll want a night away from the kids just together". Afterwards I realised how ridiculous this was and that I should trust them to know what they want.

Single people quite often have more going on (in my experience) so worth exploring.

Noting the crappy bits of other relationships (not to wish that on anyone, just to observe) can help balance you a bit I find.

Read Bella De Paulos Singled Out - a great take on singlehood and interesting sociologically. You might also find Lev Yilmaz's tales of mere existence youtube vids a source of entertainment and comfort.

I'm sorry you are hurting, the break up sounds hell - but on the plus sides there are new worlds to explore.. entirely on your own terms.

If you like cats.. how about fostering a rescue kitten/kittens for a while? Lots of mutual (safe) love exchanged and a very worthy cause. They are a delight :)
posted by tanktop at 3:48 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Being single IS normal, at any age. Really. 100% true. Sure, you are kinda stuck in your circle of friends, who happen to be coupled, so your view might be skewed. But there are singletons living everywhere. If stuff you used to do with your partner feels weird now, try some new activities that you can invite your friends (alone or with their partner(s)) along for. But mainly this feeling will pass. The break-up was recent and everything feels fresh and awkward, like sleeping in the big bed alone for the first time. But you will get used to it soon!

Also, your life is not complete without cats. Get yourself to the nearest animal shelter and wait there for a cat to find you. Embrace your new crazy-cat-dude status! Life is so much better with feline friends!
posted by travelwithcats at 4:10 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks, starting to see the silver lining here. I think I need some time before considering more cats though. I was really attached to them.
posted by deathpanels at 4:21 AM on August 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Um, sure, it happens with new cats real quick that you get really attached to them. Cats are magic in that regard, they make it so easy to love them. And there are so many that need new homes.
Take your time though. Good luck!
posted by travelwithcats at 4:27 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Everyone is saying to make one-on-one plans, but in my experience that's really not how it ends up and I'm wondering if the people who are saying it have been ever single for an extended period of time. I'm just saying, expect that you will make one-on-one plans and that you will in fact end up hanging out with both members of the couple. Which is also good! Just be prepared for it.

And it will be weird sometimes, possibly always. That doesn't mean it will be bad, or that you're doing anything wrong. It's just that our society is built for couples. Acknowledging that can actually make you feel better.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:45 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Couples also vicariously enjoy hearing about the antics of single people, might enjoy winging for you etc. So even tho you plan to never date again, your casual fling stories and experiences will be super entertaining.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:19 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm now the 'single' amongst family and friends. Not something I was expecting at age 40ish. For me it didn't feel right at first and I couldn't help feeling that everyone was not only thinking about my new singlehood but with pity as well because of how it all went down which was pretty damn bad.

I realized fairly quickly was that those thoughts were all in my head. What I was taking as pity was just people caring about me and understanding that yeah what happened really sucked but hey they're my family and friends and that they like me whether I'm coupled or not. It's been close to a year and I still have no interest in doing the couple thing again. If anyone brings it up all that needs to be said is 'nah not my thing right now.' That's perfectly fine.

As for making plans and going out with people. Your friends want to hang with YOU. I get that right now just 'you' feels weird. That's perfectly normal. You've become used to a pattern, a way of doing things, like a habit. It will take some time for the new pattern to feel like the normal one.

There are a whole lot of positives to being in a good relationship. I still miss a lot of those. There are also a heck of a lot of positives to being single. My couple friends comment, especially those with kids, about how I'm lucky I am with some of these. Things like just being able to take off for a few days without a whole lot of planning. It's hella easier being spontaneous as a single then as a couple. It's just me, and me.

The way I'm looking at it is I'm finding all the positives and embracing them. Then it doesn't matter whether I'm ever in a couple again or not. If I end up in couple again then I will have no regrets because I've enjoyed my singlehood to it's fullest. If I'm never in a couple again then it's all good because I'll be the best damn single me that I can be.
posted by Jalliah at 5:26 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

This may or may not be of any use, but if you enjoy musicals at all, you might check out "Company," if you haven't seen it. There's a very good recent version on Netflix.

It's about a single guy in New York City with five married or soon-to-be-married couples as friends, and his interactions with them. (There are also three women he's seeing, and he ultimately comes to the conclusion he'd like to be with someone, so if that would depress you more than cheer you up, maybe don't watch it right now).

Also, a lot of the things folks have said here come through in the show.
posted by brentajones at 6:56 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

You should think of your state of mind 3 months out of a 4 year relationship the way you think of the state of a beach town 3 days after a hurricane hit it. Yeah it sucks, but it's not going to stay that way. The last thing you should be doing is planning the course of the rest of your life based on how you feel right now.
posted by empath at 7:18 AM on August 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Don't have much advice on the being-the-only-single-with-friends front, because I wasn't much good at it at all. (Though even there, I wasn't good at it, but it didn't kill me, and trust me, 100% of couples don't stay couples anyhow, even though it feels like it when they're all getting married at once.) HOWEVER. I do have some opinions on grieving the loss of joint pets.

As someone who lost three beloved kitties in a divorce, I can second that there is something healing about getting Your Own Cat, who is Yours, who will not ever ever be anyone else's cat. Definitely honor your own time frame--mine was probably about 5-6 months--but the cat you adopt will have a different bond with you from the ones you shared with your ex, and it won't at all feel disloyal. I still ache for the lost kitties, even years and years later, but My Own Cat and I are permanent family.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:49 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have you thought about getting a dog instead of more cats? They are a different kind of pet and may feel less like a substitute.

Otherwise-- don't dump your friends but maybe make some new, single ones in addition?
posted by BibiRose at 9:05 AM on August 4, 2014

As a single person here are my biggest complaints about some of my couple friends:

- I always get outvoted whether it's what bar we are going to or whose house to hang out at.
- I get left out of "couple events" that really don't require an even number of people. Like dinner parties or weekend trips.
- Sometimes weird judgment of my pretty normal dating behavior.
- Being the target of unwanted flirtation from coupled friends who for some reason think I will be receptive to their advances because I'm single.

Ways I've dealt with this:

- Seeing people one on one or in small groups.
- Fading away from friends who just aren't fun to be around because there is no reciprocity.
- Starting new activities and hobbies that allowed me to have a social circle entirely separate from my existing group of friends.
- Seeking out new single friends and putting my energies into coupled friends whose friendship with me is not dependent on my relationship status.

The last one is really key. I was SO much happier once I started giving up trying to stay friends with couples who just didn't treat me all that well. I am still friends with lots of couples, but I've also faded away from a lot of friends. It hurt initially but it is such a weight off my back.
posted by whoaali at 10:11 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, I HAVE thought about getting a dog. That was actually my first reaction to being dumped. "Okay, scratch finding someone to spend my life with, I want a dog to spend my life with. At least they're loyal!" Unfortunately I can't have dogs in my building and I just signed a lease for another year. So.. I will keep "get a dog" as my current highest achieving adult aspiration, but I cannot do so for at least the next year. Cats are starting to sound pretty good again.
posted by deathpanels at 2:38 PM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

About 20 years ago, I was in a somewhat similar situation. I found that it was much easier being the 5th wheel than the 3rd wheel. I would suggest getting together with 2 couples, rather than 1 when you just want to go have a burger with friends. Also, keep your antenna up for conferences, work travel, or other 1/2 couple travel/commitments. Invite the singleton of that couple and another couple in your social circle out that week.

Eventually, of course, you will re-enter couplehood, but these two actions were central to a good strategy for maintaining my mostly coupled friendship group during my singleton period.
posted by hworth at 5:45 PM on August 4, 2014

Also...3 is often a weird dynamic even if there's no couples involved you could always bring a 4th is you're hanging out with a couple without it being a date
posted by Skadi at 10:49 PM on August 4, 2014

"Eventually, of course, you will re-enter couplehood,"

Ugh! I wish people would stop saying that and accept that some people genuinely prefer to remain single. For real. Let's respect what the OP said and not lecture them. Should they change their mind sometime down the road, okay, but if not, that should be respected as well.

On the topic of pets: They are not just loyal companions but can help if you are a person who needs physical touch to feel grounded. Just a few links:
The Power Of Touch: How Physical Contact Can Improve Your Health
Touching makes you healthier
Massage: Get in touch with its many benefits

Disregard if it does not apply to you, some people don't like to be touched, which is fine as well.
posted by travelwithcats at 7:08 AM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

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