“I’m going to tell my married friends that I will cook for them if they set me up on a date,” one of my many single friends confided at happy hour. I took a sip from a glass of house merlot and watched a group of guys cluster defensively in the corner of the bar, pretending not to see the hungry eyes of interested women that darted toward them.
“Doesn’t that seem a bit like begging?” I asked her.
“Who cares! Their husbands must have friends; they can’t all be married.”
I pictured “Will Cook For Dates” posted on my friend's Facebook wall and rolled my eyes. “Good luck,” I said. And I really meant it.
The truth is, we single people are—for the most part—on our own these days. We have been relegated to a social space specially segregated to contain only single people—bars, parties with other single people, “single” or “young adult” events at church, and did I mention bars?
As our friends start to get married off, those who remain single discover that there is an ever-prevalent separation of class—the Marrieds and the Not-So-Much, the Haves and the Have-Nots. When two single people find one another and get married, they leave one world and enter another.
In fact, being single can often feel like the social equivalent of the less fortunate friend of lottery winners—I tend to take this more macabre view of things on one of my bad days (yeah, yeah, I know my single years are a time of great growth and freedom, but don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about). We "single people" might tell ourselves that our friends' marriage changes nothing; we have simply gained an advocate on our behalf. But, when the rice settles, there is often a sinking realization that your friends just bought a one-way ticket uptown, and they are never looking back.
This is a rather dystopian outlook for a single person to take, but it’s not always easy to see single life for it’s many admirable qualities, not when you want to get married and are staring down a society-wide shortage of dates.
In fact, our dating culture seems to be in a state of paralysis. PEW reports 61 percent of never-married single Americans hope to one day get married. And yet, another PEW poll reports that most single Americans, age 18-50, say they are not actively seeking a romantic partner and, out of those “seeking a relationship,” about half are dating infrequently or not at all.
But I wonder, what would happen if single people could break free from the “singles mingle” social structure that contains them, and—gasp!—hang out with single and married friends alike?
Imagine, for example, that those men I witnessed huddling for protection at happy hour had a married friend who invited them to dinner at his place instead. And let’s say his wife invited my “willing to cook for dates” friend and I along, too? What might transpire?
My friend and I might help with setting the table and one of the guys would pop open a bottle of wine to enjoy while we were waiting on dinner. We would squeeze next to one another at the table, dragging a few spare chairs up so we could all fit. The married couples might pepper us with questions about our latest projects and probably remind us how lucky we are to have the time to do them. We might all sit and laugh about the series of unfortunate events that led to our married friend’s first date, and the ups and downs of being a new parent. Maybe the married couple’s baby starts to cry and they ask on of the guys to hold him. It might be the first time this guy has ever held a baby, he’s nervous and wants to say no, but he doesn’t. As the night draws to a close, my friend might forget that she is trying to impress these guys because she feels so at home. One of the guys might realize that he likes the way she laughs, so he tells another joke.
OK, this may just be a little daydream of mine, but the truth is, the majority of marriages happen as a result of meeting through mutual friends. And since the marriage rates are looking grim, perhaps that is exactly where we should start.
So what is holding us back? Social laziness. Both married and single people share the same problem: As our social situations change we tend to self-select because it is most comfortable to be around those who share a similar situation.
But allowing for married couples and single people to socialize makes for a healthy and balanced community, where single people can get to know one another outside the context of their single lifestyle. A home or a party that includes both married and single classes provides the opportunity for single people to observe one another as a member of a community and as part of a family.
Young married couples can act as mentors and advocates for their single-and-seeking friends. And this kind of solidarity is not one-sided. Marriage is hard and, believe it or not, married couples can learn from single people and do need their friendship and support.
Making this fantasy a reality means married people need to welcome single people into their home and single people need to look beyond the single world and extend a hand of friendship to those who, let’s face it, probably want to “get out” more.
I’m not saying singles events and bars are fruitless. But I do think that happy hour would be more fruitful if those single-and-looking had a married mentor to encourage them, to offer a taste of why they are doing this miserable dating thing in the first place, and best of all, to call them up and say, “Hey, I met this girl who sounds like she could be perfect for you—oh, and you owe me a dinner next Friday.”