How to be the single one?
July 12, 2007 10:49 AM   Subscribe

What's appropriate behavior in mixed groups of couples and singles? Especially when there's just one single?

Am I being petty and bitter? Would trying to address the situation with the people involved sound petty and bitter anyway?

I am usually single, and a lot of my friends and family are not (I'm 27 and female). I'd be thrilled to be in a good relationship but generally I'm comfortable single, and would like to think I'm not jealous or bitter but only mildly wistful towards couples that have good relationships. But lately I was in a situation that was really uncomfortable for me. The situation and my response to it have been really bothering me.

My aunt and her boyfriend were in town and they took me, my cousin and her husband, out for dinner and then a show. There was some walking involved. Both couples walked holding hands, one set walking a bit behind the other. I felt like I was bouncing between them and didn't quite know where to go.

Another time, we went out to dinner where there was a dance floor, and both couples got up to dance a slow song and left me alone at the table.

In both of these situations, I felt really... angry. Surprisingly angry. I felt like they were being inconsiderate. I also felt kind of like a kid with the grownups.

Then I felt kind of dumb and petty. Do they not have a right to hold hands? What right do I have to ask them to behave differently than normal to make me feel comfortable?

Is there an etiquette for mixed groups of single(s) and couple(s)? What are your experiences, as a single and as a couple? Have you felt the same way, and how do you deal with it? Do you ever change your behavior according to circumstances/present company? Is this really just my issue/problem that I need to work through my own inner demons on?

Also, any other thoughts and recommendations on being 'the single one' among couples would be really really appreciated! Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
There's a bit of give and take on this. If you have strong friendships with the people involved, maybe you'll feel like a full member of the circle when you hang out. If you are not close to everyone there, you might feel left out. If you sometimes have to witness some coupley-ness, that's no big deal. But if all you do with these people is go out partners dancing and for long walks by the lake, then yeah, you're going to feel like the odd duck out.

Before you get all resentful, try talking to them about it. This doesn't have to mean a big dramatic sit-down. Start with some clear but light comments like "okay you two, that's enough of that" if they start kissing in front of you.

But if they get up from the table to dance... are you really going to stop them? Can you not dance solo? Can you not hang by yourself a bit? I don't think holding hands while walking is that egregious. Things like cuddling and kissing in front of you... yeah.

It's one of life's great joys to be coupley - and sometimes that is enhanced by a double-date where you can share that mood with friends. They want to do a little of that, clearly. And you need to let them do a little of it. But they should also watch out for you and make sure it doesn't become sickening or exclusionary.

If you need them to not hold hands around you, that might be a bit extreme. But obviously you can't explain the full nuances of the circumstances so I'm not judging you. Just be prepared to give them a little latitude and decide where the line is really drawn for you. Withdrawing from your friends isn't a good outcome for anyone, so don't be afraid to take some risks by making a comment or two about it if it's that important.

Final note: don't take everything personally. I'm reminded of my mom. My mother gets enraged when we're around relatives and they speak Arabic to each other - even a little bit here and there. "DON'T THEY KNOW I'M IN THE ROOM?" This despite the fact that they generally speak English most of the time in group situations (which is a second language for them all). If there's a joke they don't know how to tell in English or whatever, I think it's fair to let them lapse into their primary language at times. She is offended if it happens at all. Bottom line: not everything is about you nor can it be judged only by how it affects you.
posted by scarabic at 11:00 AM on July 12, 2007

In situation one, you should have picked one of the pair to walk/chat with, I would think I don't think its reasonable to ask them not to hold hands because you feel left out.

In situation two, I think it's pretty inconsiderate to ditch you to dance. That or, they should have included you (somehow) when dancing.
posted by chunking express at 11:02 AM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't want to sound harsh, but that's really silly. You're an adult, out with other adults.

I don't know about their situations, but for example if my wife and I get a chance to go out without the kids, we'll take that opportunity to act like a real couple out on a real date (which we can't do when chasing around 2 little ones).

I would try to be considerate of other people around, but I'm not going to change my behavior for that reason. They didn't do anything wrong.
posted by shinynewnick at 11:05 AM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Why don't you start inviting a friend (either gender) or a date to these couple-y events?
posted by footnote at 11:08 AM on July 12, 2007

Then I felt kind of dumb and petty

And you probably should have. I'm a long-married guy with lots of single friends who hang out with my wife and I. In fact, we just took a two-week camping road trip with one.

As a couple, we like friends who don't make a big whiny "oh I'm a 3rd wheel" deal about hanging out with us. That said, we do, of course, attempt to avoid activities that would make a single friend feel intensely uncomfortable, such as slipping off to another room to make out or something similar. That would be rude.

If, on occasion, we do something only a couple can do, such as dance a slow dance (which, I haven't actually done since I was in high school, but nonetheless...), I would hope the friend could handle entertaining him or herself for a minute or two. Such as people-watch for later ridicule. Or drink procurement.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:11 AM on July 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

If I were in one of the couples, I would have gone out of my way to make sure not to obviously "pair off" in ways that might have made you feel left out.

But that doesn't mean this isn't just your issue.

I think the crux of it is to assess for yourself whether your family members were trying intentionally to make you angry or sad. No, you think? Then maybe you need to cut them a slight break, because I believe intent matters. You weren't invited out specifically to be the fifth wheel, presumably, but because it was a family gathering, and 4/5 of the group just happened to be married to others in the group.

When I was a single, I never ever cared about being in situations like ones you described, but I know that I am not the norm.

But, I have a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth over singles who expect couples to behave in a way that caters to their own dating status. Is the reverse acceptable? Should couples begin to refuse to socialize with singles until they just get on board and hook up already?

And, my own bitter taste comes from something that happened while planning my wedding. My bridal party was a mixed lot of married, attached and single girls. Over lunch with one of the single bridesmaids, I was discussing my reception plans for an "anniversary dance" -- where all married couples were invited on the floor during "When I'm 64". After a few seconds, those who were married less than one day would be asked to leave the dance floor, then those who had only been married one year or less, then five years or less, then ten years or less, and so on and so on until only my grandparents and dearest elderly friends were left on the floor to finish out the song.

I thought I was planning a sweet way to spotlight those couples that had been together for 25 and 40 years, to honor them for the example they've set as I embark on my own marriage.

But apparently, I was actually being a heartless, callous bitch that was immediately joining the ranks of the Smug Marrieds, since I was trying to intentionally create a situation where the single people would be left out of the activity and (I don't know what, laughed at and pointed at in one of those scary movie scenes where the lights go black and red and the faces stretch out and become all scary and ghastly?) ...somehow shamed.

It was a wedding reception, for chrissake. The actual event where one celebrates the marrying of the people.

But, she threatened to drop out of the wedding party if I proceeded with my plans. So I dropped it.

I have always wondered if lots of single people feel like this -- that any activity that somehow is for married couples is de facto intended to exclude singles.

I don't see things that way. I believe you have to consider the intent of the parties involved. But I might be in the minority.
posted by pineapple at 11:13 AM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

If a single friend who was hanging out with my husband and me asked us not to hold hands while we walked, I would be seriously weirded out.

No one has ever requested anything like that of me. And my spouse and I hang out with single friends all the time.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:17 AM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

In situation one, if you are female, then you should have taken the free hand of one of your female companions and walked in triplicate. If you are male, you should have walked ahead with the leading couple so that you could visit a little but also just walk on ahead if you wanted; much less depressing than picking up the rear and watching everyone from behind.

In situation two, when they were all slow dancing, that's when you should have looked around and asked someone to dance. Which would have been fun, interesting, and you never know, may have resulted in your not needing to worry about all this next time you all go out.
posted by hermitosis at 11:20 AM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

A previous answer that comes to mind: "I try to view ettiquette as a a guide to my own actions, not a set of expectations against which to measure my friends." Do you want to be right, or do you want to be mature, laid-back, fun to be around? Start policing how your friends act in your presence, and you'll start kissing your social invitations goodbye.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:22 AM on July 12, 2007 [15 favorites]

The hand-holding is not weird -- couldn't you want in between the two couples? Even if they weren't holding hands, wouldn't you have been in the same boat? But stranding you alone at the table was gauche.
posted by desuetude at 11:23 AM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you're both overreacting and justified in your feelings. How's that for sitting on the fence?

Four people getting up and leaving one sitting alone at a table is pretty rude whether the four people who got up and left are 2 couples, 4 people in a polygamous relationship, or 4 siblings. If none of the members of the couples could bring themselves to ask the single to dance, which would have been polite, then the couples themselves could, at least, have alternated turns on the floor so that they weren't abandoning their friend.

Still, what you're seeing is casual thoughtlessness, not deliberate assholishness. Unless you have reason to believe they're going out of their way to be obnoxious, they're just not thinking about it at all.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:26 AM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

In both of these situations, I felt really... angry. Surprisingly angry. I felt like they were being inconsiderate. I also felt kind of like a kid with the grownups.

I really think there's something deeper going on than "etiquette," and I don't think all the "they were wrong" answers will help you at all next time this happens (what are you going to do, point out their rudeness?). I am all too familiar with that kind of flash of irrational anger, and I know the impulse to pin it on someone else's behavior. My guess is that you don't feel valuable or considered in general (or just with your family), and this is the way that feeling is being manifested. There's no easy remedy for this, but a good start is to do things that make you feel like a valuable person IN YOUR OWN EYES (say, volunteering, or pursuing more education, or starting an art project). Be considerate of yourself, value yourself, and the perceived slights of others tend to vanish.
posted by desjardins at 11:26 AM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

This would weird me out even more than someone asking me to stop holding hands.

What, holding hands with your aunt? What are you, a slouchy teenager? Any male or female should feel comfortable casually holding hands with an aunt, generally.
posted by hermitosis at 11:29 AM on July 12, 2007

Whoa, pineapple, that sounds hideous. Sheesh.

So, anonymous, I understand your feeling having been there once myself at, interestingly enough, a wedding for a dear friend. Toward the end of the reception, the wedding party was called to the dance floor for a final dance before the marrieds threw the bouquet/garter, that whole bit. Guess who couldn't find someone to dance with? I was the maid of honor, single at the time, and hadn't realized I was one of only two single young people at the wedding. What was even more interesting was that I immediately felt like bursting into tears, which shocked me. Honestly, I didn't until that moment feel alone at the wedding at all. I dealt with it by playing it off as though I thought it was high-LARiously funny until another dear friend who wasn't in the wedding party rushed out onto the dance floor and scooped me up into his arms.

I think these things sneak up on you. There's nothing wrong with your feelings, but I think you should be cautious telling your coupled-off friends how to behave around you. I agree that kissiing/canoodling is sometimes awkward, but holding hands and dancing together are pretty standard couple behaviors, IMO. If you're going to come along, steel yourself, because sooner or later couples are going to behave like, well, couples, and you may feel excluded. If you're feeling particularly fragile on a given evening, just beg off or duck out a little early. There's nothing wrong with setting limits on your own participation. I think it gets a little unreasonable if you start trying to limit the behavior of your friends.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:31 AM on July 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

I don't know that this is a singles vs. marries problem so much as it is a Some People Are Kind Of Thoughtless problem.

Polite people, when in a group setting, make every reasonable effort to make everyone feel included. This should be natural and pretty effortless. It shouldn't feel like a burden, or an immense favor you're doing someone.

I'm not saying that your friends are rude, of course. But if I'm taking a walk with more than one other person, I'd make an automatic effort to make sure everyone is included in the conversation, and not walking off by themselves, and if I'm having drinks at a club, I wouldn't wander off and leave my friend at a table by herself.

People will try to frame this as single-people-are-jerks or married-people-are-jerks, but I think it's just that some people are not (and it's often not intentional) very sensitive to their duty as a well-mannered person to help everyone feel comfortable. That doesn't mean that my boyfriend can't hold my hand while we walk, or that he can't have an arm along the back of my chair at dinner, but it does mean that we will both, as a matter of course, include his single guy friend in our conversation-- in fact, if I felt like it were "our" conversation, and the single pal were just being included out of the kindness of my heart, I'd feel like a jerk. And of course doing things like being smoochy and exclusionary in front of someone else would not happen, because I'm not a TOOL. Ahem.

Some coupled people do get kind of... strange, about having a single person around. I don't know if this was the case or not for your friends: most coupled people, in my experience, are totally fine. And sometimes single people do get kind of strange about being around married people, and only you can know if this is the case for you.

I suggest that you try to be easy with yourself about this. You feel how you feel, and you sound a little tense about being single, if I may be honest. The more you can relax about these things, the better of a time you'll have at outings like this.

Possibly inviting a pal along on future outings sounds fine to me.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:31 AM on July 12, 2007 [6 favorites]

I completely understand your feeling resentful, and I also don't think your friends did anything wrong.

Sometimes when you're single, it seems like all the world is paired up like Noah's animals. And the cultural hegemony of the couple -- which seems invisible and/or delightful to the coupled, like other kinds of privilege -- can be unspeakably annoying.

That said, it is what it is. And making your friends feel awkward or wrong for doing normal couple things won't make anyone feel better.

If you're especially close with one of these folks, you might try talking it over with them. Not in a you-hurt-my-feelings kind of way, but more like here's-this-hard-emotion-I'm-having.

Just talking about these feelings to a sympathetic coupled person may help dissipate the charge.

You might also brainstorm together to see if there are any concrete things your friend can do to help you when you're feeling like an unmated sock. Like maybe you could throw them a secret signal, and they could come sit or walk with you.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:33 AM on July 12, 2007

I don't know how to respond well in regards to situations like this with your friends, but it sounds like your aunt and her boyfriend were treating you (and your cousin and her husband) to 2 dinners and a show.

In the case of family, sit there and take it and be grateful that she wants to spend time with you and treat you.
posted by spec80 at 11:37 AM on July 12, 2007

Response by poster: Hermitosis, that depends on how comfortable you are with your aunt, how close, and whether your family has a history of personal contact.

I've struggled with this issue when I was single. I felt like maybe the couples didn't want me there, and the hand-holding is an expression of this. This was, of course, a retarded viewpoint borne of my own insecurities. You may want to ask yourself why the hand-holding (or other displays that they're a couple) are setting you off. Are you feeling neglected? Like they're rubbing their relationship in your face? Like you shouldn't be there?

Anyway, in that situation--caught between two couples--as someone else said, simply pick a couple and walk and talk with them.

I feel like the dancing was a bit rude. I would feel terrible leaving a single friend at a table while my partner and I got up to dance--to me, that feels almost as bad as couple-trancing. You know, when you're talking with a couple and they start staring in each other's eyes, nuzzling, cuddling, making baby noises, kissing, and you're not sure whether you should turn away or join in or leave? That's goddamned annoying. If those couples were doing that, then yeah, you have a bone to pick.

But unfortunately there isn't really a good way to deal with that situation. All you can do is make sure you don't hang out with couples who do that if you don't have other single friends or more polite couples around.
posted by Anonymous at 12:00 PM on July 12, 2007

Response by poster: On posting, thehmsbeagle says it best.
posted by Anonymous at 12:01 PM on July 12, 2007

This doesn't seem like particularly bad behavior on their part, and it seems even less bad when their familial relationship to you is taken into account. If my friends did this to me I might find it a bit annoying, but probably ok. If my brother or aunts or parents did this to me, it wouldn't even register. I guess the "family" thing pretty much implies people coupling off, so I just think of my relatives in pairs for the most part, or expect most larger family gatherings to be set up in pairs. With friends it seems like there'd be a higher expectation for individual connection with each person.

Also, I would never in a million years feel comfortable grabbing my aunts' hands as we were walking along. I wouldn't think it weird if other families did it, but I hardly think it's the norm.
posted by occhiblu at 12:04 PM on July 12, 2007

I am in your situation (28 male single with tons of coupled friends). Even though I am technically the 3rd wheel, I don't feel that way nor do my friends make me feel that way. My friends also hardly ever overdo PDA (holding hands is really not pda though). So I am not in your exact situation so to speak. Learn to be less sensitive or if you know they well enough, just say something.
posted by special-k at 12:40 PM on July 12, 2007

I think the aunt-holding-hands thing is culturally specific. My family is British and American, and it would be considered quite strange to hold hands with a non-partner in public.

Anyway, I was single for two or three years before I met my current boyfriend, and I became very frustrated and bitter about my single status. You say that you're not uncomfortable being single, and that's what I said as well; but as someone said upthread, the "cultural hegemony" of couple-dom becomes unbelievably tiresome after a while. Unfortunately, this is not something that most coupled people perceive whatsoever. Unfortunately, you can't blame others for what's pretty normal behavior, and you can't really blame yourself for your reaction, which is also normal. I like the advice to bring along a friend for these activities, but otherwise I think you have to grow a thicker skin and maybe work on your self-confidence about being alone in public (which is a tricky skill to develop, but one that's quite useful).
posted by alicetiara at 12:40 PM on July 12, 2007

they = them
posted by special-k at 12:42 PM on July 12, 2007

And the cultural hegemony of the couple -- which seems invisible and/or delightful to the coupled, like other kinds of privilege -- can be unspeakably annoying.
Postively brilliant, ottereroticist.

To the OP, I think you should pay attention to and try to deal with your "surprise" anger. I think that actually says a lot about what's going on with you. It's not that they were being rude, per se, but you were probably rightly feeling notably _single_ in those scenarios and that's just never fun. It's pretty common to mask sadness and hurt with anger. I do think that folks that are coupled or married a lot of times conveniently forget how hard it is to not have your 'person' or teammate to take on the world with. I think they forget how emotionally challenging it is to be single in a couples world and how incredibly alienating and lonely it can make you feel, especially as a woman. Which is not to say that they're mean or bad friends - who wants to be reminded of how much their life used to suck? Of course they're going to revel in their coupledom. At your age, you're probably just starting to tune into this, as most people transition from single to coupled.

But here's the thing, they're not going to change, and you can't ask them to unless you want to alienate yourself. So my best advice is to figure out who's going to be attending your social functions and plan accordingly. Try to not get 'caught out' as the single person in a group, unless you're best friend or a close family member will also be there to watch out for you and not have you be stuck alone at the table while everyone is dancing (I am so sorry that you had to experience that.)

And pineapple, I would have reacted just like your bridesmaid. The dance you describe sounds wildly self-aggrandizing and exclusive. If you want to honor those who make it 25 or 64 years, just announce it.
posted by smallstatic at 12:45 PM on July 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

The dance you describe sounds wildly self-aggrandizing and exclusive.

Obviously you've never seen this done. It's quite sweet, really.

I think you should have dropped that bridesmaid, pineapple, not the dance. What kind of uppity jerk holds your wedding party hostage to change your set of planned activities? This was a trusted friend you asked to support you on your big important day? Yeesh. Some friend. You hit it exactly on the head: it's a wedding reception. Doing such a couples-only dance at any other family event would have a different meaning but at a wedding reception it is completely appropriate and I can scarcely imagine how anyone would be so threatened by it that they'd openly protest it. Some sense of entitlement on certain people...
posted by scarabic at 1:59 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

This one is very hard.

I was mostly single until I was 28, and I know I should say that I "was a little lonely at times, but mostly I lived my life and kept busy," but the fact is I was profoundly depressed. And, yes, just walking down the street behind a couple that was holding hands made me feel horrible. I figured I would never experience even that -- someone to hold hands with. It hurt me to my core, and it was sometimes close to unbearable to see all the couples, everywhere.

I'm not blaming them. They did nothing wrong. And I should have done various things to improve my situation (At the time, I didn't understand that my situation could be improved.) I'm just explaining how I felt.

Now I'm married and I would feel bad if I didn't connect with my wife (via holding hands, etc.) And I would make her feel bad, too, if I didn't do couple-things with her.

But I never forget that former me. I'm not going to give up holding hands with my wife (it's just a way I have to be selfish, If I'm going to be a happy person), but I try to be aware of my single friends and how they may be feeling. If I invite one over for dinner, I try not to overdo the lovey-dovey stuff in front of him.

Bottom line: I totally understand how you feel and don't think you're a bad person for feeling that way. (For many of us) it SUCKS to be alone. It's really awful. Yes, there are all kinds of things we can and should do: get involved in activities, etc. And those things lessen the pain. But the pain is still there.

I think we tend to dance around that fact. We tell lonely people to volunteer for a charity or learn how to dress better; and we former lonely people tend to distance ourselves from our past. We dive into our new relationships, gratefully, and we become just like all those couples that used to hurt us so much. Well, what else can we do? Horrible as it is, each person must navigate the sea of loneliness by himself.
posted by grumblebee at 2:09 PM on July 12, 2007 [11 favorites]

I'm perpetually single and hang out with lots of marrieds. It doesn't bother me, but it helps that in most cases, both members of the couples are close friends of mine, so I don't feel like I'm hanging out with couples so much as with a group of friends. It only bothers me when they make a big deal about not wanting me to feel left out- like, if we're at a wedding together and a slow song comes on, I'd much rather they all go off and dance and enjoy themselves than obviously linger around because they feel bad that I'm by myself. I'm perfectly comfortable heading to the bar to grab a drink and maybe even having a chat with a stranger. I think you'd probably feel worse if couples deliberately acted differently around you because you're single. "Don't hold hands! The single girl can see us!"

In general, we humans tend to be very self-absorbed. Remember, a couple holding hands has nothing to do with your dating status, and you should try not to take it personally. However, perhaps you'd be more comfortable if you invite a friend along to couple-y events with you.
posted by emd3737 at 3:40 PM on July 12, 2007

A few months ago I went to a party, and several of friends of mine—most of them roomamates—and I got together to carpool. Just before we left, there was some kind of blow-up between two of the roommates, and all my fellow passengers on the drive to the party spent a good amount of time hashing out their feelings about it. This was really awkward for me since I couldn't really participate in the conversation and was kinda trapped in the car—even though I thought it was great that they were talking through it—and so they apologized to me afterwards, which was really gracious of them. I think this is analogous to your situation, and illustrates how it's not a singles/couples problem: it's not that they did anything wrong, so much as they were doing something that wasn't completely right. ;)

I'm the only single guy in my main circle of friends. I agree with the other posters who suggest this isn't rudeness so much as absentmindedness. And I think you're totally justified in your feelings; I've had similar, and I can't ever remember my friends ever doing anything so painfully couple-y.

I've dealt with it by rationing. I would sometimes decline invitations if I knew I was in an "Oh, I'm such a third wheel, woe is me" kind of mood, or if the activity was especially couples-oriented. I would suggest the same for you: it seems like going out dancing with a bunch of other couples is kind of a recipe for awkwardness. At the very least, I don't think you can gracefully ask them to stop doing what they're doing: there's not really anything wrong with it.
posted by brett at 4:52 PM on July 12, 2007

I would have reacted just like your bridesmaid. The dance you describe sounds wildly self-aggrandizing and exclusive. If you want to honor those who make it 25 or 64 years, just announce it.

Calling out every single married couple along with their number of years married, would have taken much, much longer than the two and a half minutes that the dance would have.

But frankly, it's nice to hear that at least one other person would have totally freaked over that two-and-a-half minutes. It gives me some peace about the very uncharitable feeling I've held toward my friend over the way she chose to handle her reaction to the issue.

And it's valuable in the context of this discussion as well. It affirms for me the thing I've wondered about the singles v. marrieds issue; for some people, intent means nothing because the only thing that matters at all is their own personal experience.
posted by pineapple at 5:28 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

thankfully where i live now, my closest friends are singles in the same way i am, but in my circle of friends in my former city, i was always the perpetually single girl. when i went to visit last winter, i sat through two dinners in which i was the single girl amongst 2-4 couples, most married, and most definitely affectionate and of course, brought up my singleness by trying to go through the catalogue of single men they knew with whome they could set me up. yeah, not the most fun.

but you know what? they're my friends and they're part of a couple. and couples will act…coupley. and that includes wanting to dance and hold hands (i'd be the same way). some couples will only ever hang out as a couple anymore, others will disappear from your lives until they break up, and some couples are more sensitive about the single friend in the room—but i find they are few and far between. sure the coupliness is annoying and sometimes uncomfortable but you just have to decide if you like their company and/or value their friendship enough to just suck it up.

there are only a very few couples that i truly enjoy hanging out with without getting (secretly) annoyed and those are the ones who a) also make it a point to hang out with me without the s.o., and b) who, when we are all hanging out together, try to be inclusive. one couple friend i know—although i am closer to the girl, her boyfriend always makes me feel good through compliments and random hugs. i don't know whether it's a point he intentionally makes or if that is just the type of person he naturally is. whatever the reason, i really don't care—and they are one of the few couples of which i have never resented or with whom i have never been annoyed to be around.
posted by violetk at 7:18 PM on July 12, 2007

also, pineapple, i agree that was heineous of your bridesmaid—and i am single. it's your wedding, you should damn well be allowed to do whatever you wanted. it was her job as your friend and bridesmaid to help and support you. not being down with two and a half minutes of the entire wedding, was supremely selfish and uncool of her.
posted by violetk at 7:22 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd have been a bit put out by the dance thing too. Depending how often the cultural hegemony of the couple had thoughtlessly rubbed my nose in my own unprivileged state lately, I might have been extremely put out. Adding an all-dance phase at the beginning would have helped a great deal, though.

Come to think, if the newlyweds themselves had the grace to leave the floor at the same time as the singles, my concerns would have been completely resolved. 'We'd like to take a minute to honor those who have made their marriage endure. If you and your dance partner are not married, or have been married less than a year (five years, whatever), would you step to the edge of the floor?' Because then you clearly are paying your honors to marriage, and not merely patting yourselves on the back, and the charge of thoughtlessness is defused.

for some people, intent means nothing because the only thing that matters at all is their own personal experience

True, for some people. For others, intent means a whole lot, but personal experience counts a little too. And sometimes a great accumulation of experience may tip the scales against a lightweight, relatively casual intent. (How serious an intent is implied in merely not meaning to hurt someone, anyway?)

As to OP's predicament: I think it would be all right to say, 'You know, I like spending time with y'all, but the things we do are always very coupley,'—assuming that this is, in fact, true—'and ... that, er, doesn't work so well for me.'

If that failed to do the job, and if I believed I had the emotional capital to spend, I might follow it up more pointedly, at the next invitation: 'Is this an outing for one group of five? Or for two groups of two, and one group of ...?'

BTW, OP, am I correct in guessing that your cousin is (relatively) newly married and/or your aunt (relatively) newly be-boyfriended? In my experience, those two ranges are at especially high risk for accidentally ignoring everybody else in the world. They do grow out of it, and fortunate are those who still have their single friends once they do.
posted by eritain at 8:13 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Let's please avoid the derail I see coming down the pipe over Whether Or Not the Bride Is Always Right, which was never my point and which I don't agree with.
if the newlyweds themselves had the grace to leave the floor at the same time as the singles, my concerns would have been completely resolved. 'We'd like to take a minute to honor those who have made their marriage endure. If you and your dance partner are not married, or have been married less than a year (five years, whatever), would you step to the edge of the floor?' Because then you clearly are paying your honors to marriage, and not merely patting yourselves on the back, and the charge of thoughtlessness is defused.
This is a really fine point to put on it. Why not just stop letting the couples dance at all? All wedding receptions should be restricted only to the hora, the Chicken Dance, the Cotton-Eyed Joe, the Hokey Pokey, the Harlem Shuffle, the Cha-Cha Slide and other dances that are either line, group or singles only. No twosomes.

In fact, we really should stop letting wedding receptions make such a big deal out of marriage... since clearly it's really not about the two people being married or about celebrating a marriage... but actually about the single people and their feelings. God, how self-congratulatory of those fucking couples.

What galled me most about my situation then (and if I'm totally honest, what continues to gall me here) was not that my single friend might have felt left out of the dance, but that her reaction as I floated the idea was so vehement and self-centered. There was never an acknowledgment that it might, just might, be her own personal issue or might be rooted in her own insecurity in her singleness (What did eritain just call it? the "unprivileged state"? wtf is that?), as Anon has had the grace to wonder here.

No, my friend was right, by God, and I was thoughtless -- and she believed it so strongly that it was worth it to her to immediately hold hostage her participation in my wedding. (And I can't even write it off to one bizarre isolated overreaction, since she's clearly not the only one.)

And for what it's worth, I first thought of having this dance when I witnessed it while a single guest, no date, at someone else's wedding. Not for one second did I feel resentment, shame, anger, ill treatment, or excluded. Instead, I teared up a bit as I saw two 80-somethings wobbling together, and thought, "I hope that's me one day." Not "God damn those old people for ruining my day and reminding me of how miserable I am!"

I asked earlier, regarding "singles who expect couples to behave in a way that caters to their own dating status": Is the reverse acceptable? Should couples begin to refuse to socialize with singles until they just get on board and hook up already?

The problem seems similar to the toilet-seat-up-or-down argument. When a girl complains that a boy has left the toilet seat up, even in his own house, her argument presumes toilet-seat-down is the most correct and natural position. But maybe in a boy's own bathroom, toilet-seat-up is what's natural. It's a shitty analogy, but I guess I mean that people seem to assume that whatever condition they prefer at the moment is the one other people must cater to.

I think ThePinkSuperhero and thehmsbeagle are on the money. There's never going to be any set of rules that will please all people in all scenarios, so we may as well just stick to "Be excellent to each other."
posted by pineapple at 9:16 PM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Right on, Ted.
posted by desjardins at 11:20 PM on July 12, 2007

Mod note: anyone who wants to continue the wedding discussion can go to the metatalk thread about it, thanks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:23 AM on July 13, 2007

I think the issue is not so much about being coupled or single. It's more about the adult realization that it's no one else's job to take care of your feelings. Other people will sometimes be considerate and sometimes be rude - do you want to always react to their actions as a willing victim of their choices?

It can be quite lonely being the single one. But take that for what it is - "I feel lonely" - rather than focusing your feeling outward and blaming others - "They are rude to ignore me." If you acknowledge your feelings about that directly, you stand a better chance of meeting your needs. Getting angry, resentful, and demanding, or having rules about what other people need to do to hang out with you, is likely to alienate them further and make you unhappier. If you find you feel lonely in couples settings, then you can turn down those invitations, or even accept them but then follow up by calling your girlfriend/cousin/aunt and saying "It'd be nice to catch up, just the two of us - want to have lunch?"
posted by Miko at 6:34 AM on July 13, 2007 [3 favorites]

I don't know that this is a singles vs. married problem so much as it is a Some People Are Kind Of Thoughtless problem.

This is how I see it, and keep in mind that's not "OMG they're so rude" just "it's probably been a while since they were the odd person out, or maybe it's a not just the sort of thing that phases them" type of thing. That is, getting angry about these sort of things helps no one including you, so that's something that's worth looking into somewhat.

I'm a single person in a social group that is almost all couples except one other friend who is also single. Most of these couples are delightful to be around, don't act in any way to make me feel that I'm the less valued member of our group when we all go out together and I have pretty good relationships with both members of the couple. They're also nice about not pairing me up with the other single, even though he and I are friends. Then there's the other couple.

I started out friends with her and am now friends with both of them. I was friends with them before I was single and it seems to me that my single state has created some awkwardness with the three of us hanging out together. The woman in the couple now engages in what I consider to be a lot of public "couple affirming" behavior: lots of whispering to her husband when I'm the only person in the room, lots of small pretend conflicts flare up that need to be resolved when I'm there (the conflict and the "okay now we can make up" part), we'll all be sitting around together and suddenly she'll start giving him a backrub or wrestling with him. That's their deal.

I find it strange, but I'm not part of their two-person club and whether it's "we're the pair bond and you are not" behavior or I make her nervous or just general cluelessness at the fact that this sort of behavior can be feel exclusionary, I don't know and at the end of the day it doesn't matter. I think people who are rich with social graces don't act like this, but again that's only useful in an abstract sense and helps me plan the next social event I might go to with them. I have some friends who are single and, I think, touchier about that fact than others. When I wasn't single, I tried to be considerate of that fact but I also wouldn't engage in "being single is so terrible!" kvelling because for me it isn't really, as it seems to also be the case for you.

So, it seems like you've had a few situations that made you feel bad and this could have been for any number of reasons. I know when I'm out at a club or a show and suddenly everyone goes someplace and I'm at an empty table I feel incredibly awkward just because I don't like being out in big noisy scenes on my own, nothing to do with couples or lack thereof. On the other hand, the fact that I'm there by myself generally means that at whatever precise point I decide I'm not enjoying myself, I can pretty much go someplace else: go outside, leave, go to the bar to get a drink, make a phone call etc. That freedom is yours as well when you're out and sets of couples that you're with decide to start acting (completely legitimately) coupley.
posted by jessamyn at 6:46 AM on July 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

Horrible as it is, each person must navigate the sea of loneliness by himself.

There's nothing lonelier than being in a bad marriage, in my experience. Being single is cake in comparison. Sorry for the derail.
posted by jokeefe at 10:55 AM on July 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm with Jessamyn. I'm often single and don't mind being a third wheel - I know people will be couple-y but I don't care at all; what I mind is when they stop inviting me out because they feel awkward that I don't have a date. Now that I'm seeing someone some of my coupled friends suddenly seem a bit more available for 4-person dinners & such...

I try to be involved with everyone at the table when out with a group, not just keeping track of pairs vs singles, so might think it a bit thoughtless to leave folks alone when walking or at the bar, but on the other hand I wouldn't get upset by hand-holding or dancing on its own. If conversation was generally inclusive and the evening was comfortable overall, then a moment here or there where you were left dangling is just part of being a single person.

If you felt that the attitude permeated their behavior all night, then that could just be a strained sort of relationship, that counts slightly too much on social roles to easily accommodate the odd ones out. Especially when you don't know people all that well, a lot of the way you relate to them can be based on norms which all call back to your roles in the world - your job, your gender, your status, etc - and it's much easier when it's couples together or singles together or whatever. Once you're past that and actually communicating person to person, it shouldn't really matter, but then, we often don't get past that with more than a few people, if that...
posted by mdn at 11:28 AM on July 13, 2007

Is there an etiquette for mixed groups of single(s) and couple(s)? What are your experiences, as a single and as a couple? Have you felt the same way, and how do you deal with it? Do you ever change your behavior according to circumstances/present company?

I thought of something else today that fits this, and which I feel to be a simple way to be considerate and inclusive.

I'm in a women's club that occasionally hosts a social event where dates are welcome. Leading up to the party last year, the social coordinator continued to refer to the event as the "couples party," and to everyone's guests as "spouses" and "husbands." A few of us took her aside and pointed out that not only is not everyone in the club married, but not everyone is attached or dating someone, and someone might choose to bring a platonic friend or family member to the party, or even no guest at all. The event is now called the "plus-one party" instead of the "couples party."

I think that the offender is question just didn't think about her actions, and is a perfect example of someone who is on "the other side" and has forgotten that being married is not a big club that everyone in the world is just raring to join.
posted by pineapple at 1:27 PM on July 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

1. The couples should have made some cute remark/apology before departing the table to dance to let you know they were thinking of you.

2. Holding hands isn't necessarily an issue whilst street-walking, but it sounds like maybe nobody was making an effort to include you in their conversation?

3. It's possible that there was a general pattern of them not including you throughout the night that caused you general frustration which then came out during the two times mentioned. The sort of thing that maybe didn't even register with you at the time: them not inquiring about you and your life, for instance.
posted by wemayfreeze at 5:53 PM on July 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I heart my SO enough to have married her and everything. But ya know, neither one of us would pass up the opportunity to talk to actual other people on those rare occasions when we're out. Novelty, and all that.

Ignoring Pineapple's Olympic-record-breaking derail for a moment, I find it notable that the rather thoughtless people mentioned in the original question were not married. Don't we normally associate that sort of behaviour more with teenagers than grown-ups?

On reflection, "novelty" probably explains all of it. Everyone's following the shiny.
posted by genghis at 9:15 PM on July 13, 2007

Once upon a time, it would be socially incorrect to have an odd number at any social occasion. I found the thread fascinating in how that has changed. That it has changed makes all the sense, as customs have changed. Singles are more common today, at all ages.

That said, the OP is perfectly within reason to feel some resentment from the dancing situation. Going dancing with an odd number is stupid in the first place, it sets things up for someone to feel resentful. Etiquette is clear, leaving someone alone at the table was rude. Of course it isn't likely intentional.
posted by Goofyy at 6:57 AM on July 16, 2007

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