The Social Cost of Being Single – When Society Simply Doesn’t Know What to Do With You

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Kelly Bertrand examines the unspoken cost of years of singledom and asks why solo people are met with such confusion.

Having been single for the better part of four years, I thought I knew the condition fairly well.

Strong, confident woman. Pretty happy, proud of the independence with the occasional stab of loneliness, mingled in with the monthly reminder from my ovaries that they weren’t prepared to hang around forever, sunshine.

I was also acutely aware of the financial cost of being single. It’s not rocket science; it’s the most expensive way to live because Netflix doesn’t offer one-person discounts (they SHOULD we’re the ones keeping the bloody platform going) and you can’t buy one-person-sized lettuces from the supermarket.

I left my single days behind me last year. I met a wonderful man who was worth giving up my nights alone where no-one knows how much rosé I’ve drunk (hard to find, but they exist). But it was then when I realised the far harsher, far more devastating cost of being single.

celine dion love GIF

The social cost.

Since becoming a ‘we’ not a ‘me’, I (we) have been invited to more barbeques than I can shake a teriyaki skewer at. Double dates are a thing. Messages like ‘Oh, we HAVE to have you around for a meal!’ have been flying in from people I haven’t spoken to in months.

What have I been missing out on for the last four years?! Was I, a fun single female, incapable of speaking to husbands and partners? Was I not invited for fear of rubbing my singleness in my face? Or is it just assumed that single people don’t like barbeques?

(They do.)

It’s an unavoidable truth that society just doesn’t know what to do with single people. We’re an uncomfortable interruption to order. An outlier to symmetry. The odd volume number when it should be an even. A sore thumb that sticks out when it comes to board game partners, rollercoaster rides and table settings.

I mean that literally – a friend confided last week that she wasn’t invited to one of her good friend’s weddings purely because she was single and she’d throw off the seating plan. She only found out at the hen’s do when everyone else asked where they she was staying before the big day.

It’s an unavoidable truth that society just doesn’t know what to do with single people. We’re an uncomfortable interruption to order. an outlier to symmetry. A sore thumb that sticks out when it comes to board games, rollercoaster rides and table settings.

The bias even reveals itself at the RSA, where because a single person’s membership cost the same amount as a couple, so, much to the amusement of my family, I refused out of principle until I found a partner and I was forced to knock back my RSA pours of wine with indignation and loathing (but thank you for your service).

Singles are seen as the uncomfortable middle seat of people – just there, you know, with no true purpose unless every other car seat is taken, sandwiched between smug coupled seats who have more than enough room but don’t seem to think about scooching over a smidge.

When you’re part of a couple, you make sense to society. God, don’t we love it when things just go together – wine and cheese; Brian Tamaki and jail; turning 30 and the accompanying existential crisis. All of these things make you nod and utter ‘ah, yes, the universe makes sense again, and thank God for that, because isn’t the very fabric of everything else unravelling faster than a kitten with a ball of wool’.

But it’s also never been harder to be single – I mean, have you tried dating during a pandemic? I have and trust me, it was unbelievably tough. Imagine trying to find your person while navigating lockdowns, social distancing and Covid tests – especially if you’re in your 30s and you’re trying your best to cooperate with your body clock.

Singles go against perceived logic in every way. Biblically, practically, societally – and doesn’t the world love to remind us of it. But it doesn’t boil down to any of that, really.

Happy Keeping Up With The Kardashians GIF by E!

I think that sometimes, single people are a reminder of the greener grass.

The freedom, the fun, the frivolity. The not giving a fuck about anyone else apart from yourself when you get home, rip your bra off and plonk down on the couch to watch Love Island.

For some who maybe followed society’s flashing neon lights towards the picket fence early on, because it was what they were ‘supposed to do’, maybe the flagrant flashing of freedom and an open disregard for convention is cause for regret.

It comes out in little ways. My single friends – how many times has one of your long-coupled friends had a few drinks at a party and begged to ‘play’ on your Bumble?

Sometimes they just see dating as a game (when we all know it’s a special kind of hell carved from a devil that gets his jollies from shallow conversation, awkward pauses and 72,000 pictures of fish, guns and cars?)

13 reasons why Bridget Jones's Diary is the ultimate Single Gal Movie
At least Bridget Jones got invited to that dinner party.

But I know we’ve all seen the true glint of longing from at least one of our friends who never got to experience the true journey of figuring out what you want, but being happy, content and free on the way.

People want to be able to justify their decisions, and the narrative that you can only be successful if you’re part of a pair is one way to enforce them.

I was single for a long time and I (mostly) loved it because I got to know who I really am – the good parts and the bad parts – so when a great guy came along I was truly ready, and truly happy.

But on behalf of your single friends, especially as we gear up for what can be one of the most painful days of the year, Valentine’s Day, please think about that social cost. Don’t worry about odd number place settings, or uneven gender balances.

Embrace a little asymmetry – and for God’s sake, invite them to a barbeque. Single people like chicken kebabs too.

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