Five years ago, the first wave of couples got engaged and then married. Slowly, others trickled in with their boyfriends and girlfriends and spouses and pregnancies. Even the new friends I made entered the group as pairs.
The remaining handful of my plus-one-less friends are spread out across different neighborhoods, cities and states. We’re each struggling to navigate this Noah’s Ark of friendship while our paired friends sit calmly, knowing they’re ready for the flood. Our solidarity is maintained in email and text chains detailing horrible and hilarious first dates and will-or-won’t-they-call-back dramas.
Being single in a world of couples often leads to being left out of couples-only dinners, vacations and even movie dates. If the couples aren’t excluding us, they’re trying to fix us. I’ve been the victim of the wedding seating chart, the single-hookup and the “Hey! He’s smart, you’re smart, you should date” commentary. It’s not fun; it rarely works. And it usually leans more insulting than supportive. At group gatherings, I’ll tether myself to the other singles looking to have a fun time, not for an arranged marriage.
There’s an unspoken solidarity — until there isn’t.
Even when those of us remaining singles — who bonded over this shared experience — start to pair off, we’re less than thrilled for one another. The small wins for one of us deliver a crushing blow to the rest. It’s hard to be authentically happy for my partner in singledom when she gets a boyfriend and no longer understands my plight. The only thing worse being the two single friends left in my social circle is being the absolute last.
Sometimes it’s not just a happy accident that my single buddy pairs off; being the last of the singles brings out our worst insecurities. Gone are the days where we’re solid wingwomen, talking up our friends. Instead, our naked ambition pushes through, hip-checking our friend out of the way as we make our pitch. Even if the guy isn’t our type, it becomes a race to the finish because we’re taught that being single means there’s something wrong with us instead of having not met the right partner yet.
A single girlfriend of mine lives across the country, but we’re always in touch. On the few occasions a year when we’re in the same room, we’re always on the same team. But our last outing, the wedding of dear friends, played out as expected. She was in the bridal party and gave me the important details on the groomsmen almost as soon as my plane landed: “The only single one used to be cute … but now he really isn’t,” she dished.
Walking through the vineyard where the first night of wedding frivolity was to take place, I spotted him immediately. And despite my friend’s determination to convince me otherwise, he was still attractive. My to-be-wed friends said to go for it, remarking on his single status. But given it was a two-day affair, I slowed my pace, peppering games of bocce with playful teasing and knowing glances over our wine glasses. My intention was not to land a boyfriend or even a sloppy hookup. At this point in my life, both of these prospects are unappealing. It’s too contrived to enter a night with a plan for a man I’ve yet to meet, especially when the intended end is in a cheap hotel room with someone whose last name I don’t know. My interest was more to adding a new member to our crew, someone who could compliment my dance moves at the following night’s reception. However, once I told my single co-pilot that I did find this guy cute — and might make for a fun, new friend — not even an hour later, she was sidling up to him at a bar as I was winding my way through the crowd to my Lyft waiting outside.
This anecdote isn’t unique. I’ve seen it happen often among single women. Our paired-up friends act in a way that trains us to think we must race to the finish line, and our insecurities step in when loyalty falters — leaving us climbing over one another on our way to happily ever after. But now that I’m entering my 30s, I also know that a cute groomsman — or the random concertgoer for whom I might have ditched my friends at 25 — ultimately isn’t worth it. I’ve dated long enough to know that even though it might make for a good story, this random person is not likely to play a starring role in my life. A spark might ignite over a drink or dance, but that is not where a relationship starts. If it were that easy, none of us would be single anymore.
While these fits of competition can be upsetting, I don’t necessarily begrudge my friends for acting out. I, too, am guilty of such attempts to pair up. But having a partner isn’t a goal to check off right under receiving a master’s degree and owning a home. I know that there’s no boilerplate application or contrived situation through which you manifest a soul mate. It’s a long game. I have no interest in sacrificing any of my friendships, which I’ve spent years cultivating, on the path to make it there.