Ladies’ night! Those words evoke two-for-one white wine spritzers and half-priced rail drinks. A pack of women in high heels, howling into the night. Girls’ night! A group clustered on a couch, empty wine bottles in a recycling bin, mountains of dirty plates caked with dried guacamole.

Guys’ night is basically ladies’ night, but with a carefully chosen T-shirt or button down. A bar, or perhaps a club, where one dude is white-knuckling a sweating longneck and picking furiously at the label. Ah, to be single and free!

These are, of course, stereotypes. The images of a certain kind of person when they were young, reckless and untethered. The experience may change depending on sexuality or class, but the sentiment is the same: A time — or a harkening back to a time — before a partner and a mortgage; before 3 a.m. diaper changes or infertility treatments. A time before, when life was simple and gender-segregated. Ladies’ night is singledom as nostalgia. It is singledom as kitsch.

So when the married or committed call out for ladies’ night! No boys allowed! they’re actually suggesting a partner-free dinner planned weeks in advance, usually rescheduled once but probably twice. Just a few hours, sans partners or kids, where everyone can let loose, speak freely and listen without distraction.

For single people, however, this is just another Tuesday night and it’s pretty simple. A minimum of two people review their free nights without syncing schedules with anyone else, and they meet at an agreed-upon time at an agreed-upon place to eat food or drink together. It is great — but then it is also just a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Ladies’ night, on the other hand, isn’t so much about friends getting together. It’s about scheduling — specifically coupled scheduling. It’s about coupled friends taking time for their single friends, those people who don’t quite fit into normally scheduled lives.

For most single people, therefore, ladies’ night is rife with subtext. The evening can feel contrived, as if the coupled are slumming with her single friends. It’s as if the coupled person can relate to the life of the single person only if partners are absent. Without the ball and chain, we can all “catch up.” Perhaps that does happen for a moment, but ladies’ night is a group affair — and in lieu of personal connection, the single person’s dating life is often trotted out as the evening’s entertainment. These are pithy stories shared in a tone ridiculous enough to get one laugh after another. Stories like the one where the guy talked for an hour about spying on his ex-wife, or the one where someone’s date asked: “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you? But what’s wrong with you?”

After tales like these, the coupled go home feeling relieved that that’s no longer their life. They are comforted that their days of swiping left or right have passed. Their lives are the picture of adult maturity, while their single friends are stuck in a sort of adolescent limbo.

What people who get married or coupled young don’t realize is that singledom, like their experience of coupledom, changes and matures over time. Being single isn’t limited to bad dates and endless takeout. A person lucky enough to high-five their middle 30s unhampered by a partner or children isn’t necessarily more free than her coupled counterpart. These people still have bills to pay or a mortgage or a job or a family, or the tick-tock of a biological clock. The difference is that by being single and no longer in your 20s, you’re by necessity more independent and self-reliant than your coupled peers. Ladies’ night assumes the opposite: It presumes a person is frozen forever at 23 or 25.

If you’re single in your 30s, not only are there those Tuesday night dinners, but there are opportunities to explore other interests. You can change and not have to explain yourself. You come to know yourself as an adult, freed from the insecurity of your younger self and the obligation and compromise that comes with being in a household. Your threshold for nonsense is low, while your ambition and curiosity is at an all-time high.

Ladies’ night doesn’t celebrate any of that. It can’t. Ladies’ night, as a branded event, fetishizes the past. The coupled who cry out for ladies’ night can’t know that to be young-enough and single is an opportunity. It is a respite from having to consider the needs, schedules, tastes and temperament of another person or persons.

Embedded in each uncoupled day is the chance to live your own life and live it uniquely. The young-ish and coupled don’t get that same experience. They’ve given that up for something else and bully for them. But this is why your standard ladies’ night is the social equivalent of table-side guacamole: delightful, but limited — and a very long way from the rich complexity of actual Mexican food.

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