When I was married, I thought of myself as being well liked. We had lots of friends, hosted and were invited to lots of social events, and as well as a group of close friends – both in Australia and in the UK – we had a broad network of other friends and acquaintances with whom we would occasionally catch up. On the social front, life was good. We had been in Australia for only a few years, but we had a great group of friends – our Aussie family – and I thought we would be there for each other through thick and thin.
I was unprepared – in the extreme – for how this would change when my marriage ended.
These days I could count on one hand – and still have a few spare fingers – the friends I have retained from that time. And I have to say that this loss of friendships has, over the long term, caused me more pain than the divorce itself. It was clear that my marriage could not continue, but the end of so many friendships took me by surprise.
This may all be in my head, but it seems to me that when you are single, people think, at some level, that you are a bit of a loose cannon. For me, this was most evident when it transpired that a friend of mine was of the belief that I was involved in drug selling, despite having had only very limited and short lived experience of smoking marijuana in my late teens and never having touched anything since. I don’t even drink caffeinated coffee for goodness sake.
But there are other signs. When I was married, we would frequently have friends over and much alcohol was consumed. Generally speaking, those who were driving would stay sober whilst their other half got a bit merry and loud, and everyone had a great time. I’ve noticed that single women getting drunk is viewed rather differently though. Judged is probably a better word to describe it really – as though their being a bit inebriated is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how wild they might really be and that they are only barely keeping a lid on their debauchery.
I refuse to be one of those women who believes that the reason that they are no longer invited to ‘couples’ events – which is virtually all events – is because the other women think they will try to take their man. Partly because I’d never do it, but also because it suggests somehow that you believe that you’d be attractive to your friend’s husbands. The reality is – as I know far too well, unfortunately – that if your husband is the sort of husband who would sleep with, or run off with, one of your friends – or any other woman in fact – he won’t care if she’s single or not. And nothing you do, and no amount of trying to keep single women away from him will stop him.
I think the reason that single women become outsiders is simply because people like symmetry. They are a couple and they want other couples in their lives. They also like stability, so they don’t want someone around who might up end the apple cart by introducing someone into the mix that everyone doesn’t like.
When you become single, you don’t belong in the social group you used to belong in. You’re a special category – perfect for coffees, girl’s lunches, girl’s nights out and not much else. Weekends away with groups of friends is out for you – unless all your married friends come away with you for a girl’s weekend. It gets so that you virtually never get to speak to a man unless you’re on a date or in a business meeting. And I like and miss men – not just as partners but as people generally – most of the time without a single thought of getting them into bed. Throughout my life, pre marriage and during my marriage, I’ve always had close male friends. One of my closest, and best loved friends is a man – who is thankfully single or else I’d probably not be allowed to speak to him either.
So – in the interests of public education, I’d like to share a few top tips with you for being friends with a singleton…
- Never assume that your single friend won’t want to join in something that is otherwise all couples. We’re used to being single – we’ll probably cope. Every single woman has had a friend tell them that the reason they haven’t been included in something is because they thought you wouldn’t feel comfortable. If you find yourself having that thought, first consider whether it is actually you that won’t feel comfortable – and then having done so, give your single friend the opportunity to decide for themselves whether the event is likely to make them feel uncomfortable or not;
- Don’t assume that your single friend only ever wants to see people of the same gender as them. Personally I really miss family style events where there are couples and children and I am very rarely invited to them* – and I think this is probably more acute for those of us who don’t actually have any family in the country;
- For most people who get divorced, fundamental material things about their lives change. For me, I went from not working to working full time and I moved house to be nearer to work so that my children were alone for shorter periods before and after school. I was very much busier than I had been previously and found it hard – although I really tried – to balance the need to do my job, be a parent and run a household alone as well as try to manage my social life. These changes are on top of the challenges of the end of a significant relationship and can often cause tension in friendships. Try to bear with your friend while they make these adjustments – the likelihood is that they value and want to retain your friendship but it’s going to look different to how it was. And be prepared for things to take a while to settle down;
- Try to avoid prioritizing ‘couples’ events over social events with your single friend, particularly if you’ve already made arrangements to do something with them. All of my single friends complain – and I’ve also experienced this – that there is a hierarchy of invitations, and doing stuff with single people is at the bottom of it. It’s so far at the bottom of it that there is an assumption that we understand that couples events take precedence, so people are often quite open about cancelling or postponing an arrangement with you on the basis that they have now been invited to something with the other half and sometimes the kids. I can’t think of another way to describe it so I’m going to come straight out with it. It’s rude. And often really disappointing.**
- Think of your single friends occasionally on those days when traditionally you’d be all en famille. Check in with them to say hi, and if they are alone and it would be appropriate to your family circumstances, ask them if they’d like to pop in. It’s likely that they will say no as they wouldn’t wish to intrude, but just to know that someone thought of them is probably enough. This is particularly true of single people who have shared care arrangements for their children, and so might be spending some special days completely alone;
- This doesn’t happen to me so much anymore as the few friends I’ve retained know me pretty well, but don’t assume that if you’ve arranged to go out for a drink with your single friend that they are wanting to drink 6 months worth of sparkling and have their biggest night of the year. That’s you wanting to do that, because you’re on a girl’s night. For us this is possible any night we go out so it’s more likely that we’d like to have a couple of glasses of wine and a good chat, getting home in one piece and waking up the next morning with a clear head.
- Related to the above – don’t be afraid to go out for a drink with your single friend. They’re not going to get drunk, chat up some hot guy at the bar and abandon you in the dodgy end of town. They can do that any night, and if they do, they are probably not a good friend regardless of whether they are single or not.
- And lastly – if you are a singleton who has now found love, don’t forget your single friends. If they are good friends, they will be thrilled that you are happy, but they still want to be part of your life.
*in Australia. When I’m back at home in the UK with my friends who have known me forever this doesn’t happen. I’m not sure whether this is a function of the longevity of our relationships or whether this is a cultural difference between the two countries
**again something that I don’t think would happen to me in the UK but the same applies – is it the length of the relationships or a cultural difference?