As I get older I find the idea of wanting to be in a couple more and more bizarre. I’m not talking about sex — which anyway often becomes less frequent after years of familiarity — or marrying for financial security. No, I’m puzzled about people’s obsession with getting a permanent companion. There are all sorts of websites and advice columns purported to help us reach this goal. I used to receive ‘taster’ emails from Rori Raye, a bubbly American lady with blonde curls, author of How to Have the Relationship You Want. She offered to show us, for a fee, how to be the woman men always fell for. Our ultimate aim should be to ‘get the ring on the finger’ — basically, to entrap the elusive male.
I became rather fond of Rori, who would empathetically relate her own failures — and her ultimate success. But is ‘being in a relationship’ as wonderful as it’s touted to be? We have all met women who think they’re superior simply because they have a husband. There’s a hilarious bit in the film Airplane when the lurching plane seems about to crash and one passenger says sympathetically of one young woman: ‘She hasn’t even got a husband!’ Then a few minutes later another terrified passenger boasts: ‘I’ve got a husband!’
Some women like to list their mate’s frightful habits or rules as though they were intrinsically interesting, or as if they were proud of taming a wild animal. ‘Michael never notices when the rubbish is full’, ‘Paul insists on a holiday house with at least five bedrooms.’ ‘Bob won’t let me wear red nail polish.’ Surely this is simply another version of proclaiming: ‘I’ve got a husband!’
Since being single for nearly 30 years — I was married for nine — my intolerance level towards possible longterm mates has shot up, but so has my enjoyment of my single state. I love spontaneously watching offbeat TV programmes — about poltergeist activity in an old Louisiana hotel, or Romanians on Benefits and Proud — and I can freely talk to myself, or my dog, without being stared at.
I can exit a party promptly instead of waiting on the doorstep as the ‘other half’ starts yet another conversation. And thank God I don’t have to think much about meals. Cooking seems a frightful waste of time when I could be reading, seeing friends, walking on the downs or spending time with my grandsons. And why do couples always have to sit together? I remember once on a flight from New Zealand to London a stewardess asked me to move from my window seat so an American couple could be side by side. I said no. I was looking forward to watching the sun rise over the American desert. Anyway, didn’t they have the rest of their lives to sit together? To my dismay, I then saw the old lady in front of me, who had a stick, being bullied into moving from her window seat. How babyish — and selfish — can a couple be?
Perhaps being in a couple erodes your ability to take pleasure in your own company. I have a friend whose husband is ill and who, despite her career achievements, is suddenly shy about socialising on her own. How will she cope as a widow? A long marriage is a lovely thing, but once you start defining yourself as part of a couple, don’t you lose a bit of yourself?
I am even more baffled by the fashion for polyamorous relationships, ‘woke’ young couples who allow each other to have sex with whomever else they choose. This seems exhausting, complicated and not liberating at all. Why fence oneself in with even more relationships? The upside must be that they don’t get sexually bored. It’s not enough of an upside.
I mustn’t forget that we singles often rely on our married friends. I have four married couples who are almost like parents to me, despite one couple being several years younger than I am. But I’m glad I’m not married too. If I were, I’d see much less of them. I hope to goodness they stay in their marriages though. I need them — and I like to think that they need me.
Many studies show that men do better within a marriage and that women are often happier single. In fact, the most contented group of people polled are single women in their sixties, seventies and even eighties (if they’re in good health). So why all the desperation to pair up and be less happy?