Last weekend I went on a big walk with a friend who has had a rough time during lockdown.
Because of pre-existing health issues, she’s had to take the pandemic about 40% more seriously than the average 30-something woman, and because she’s single, she’s had to deal with it mostly alone.
The response from friends has been… well, mixed.
“The other day I was on a Zoom call with all my school friends,” she said.
“I sat there for an hour while everyone compared notes on latching, and then when someone asked how I was doing, I just said ‘shit, actually’.”
It’s a common story. To paraphrase the writer, Elizabeth Day, single women are expected to be accommodating and understanding when their friends have babies, to carve a space out in themselves large enough for their best friend’s husband, children, in-laws, and pets. But the accommodation and the empathy isn’t necessarily gifted back to her. The single woman is invited round and asked to spice up the evening with tales of sexual misadventure and to remind the married couple how bad things are ‘out there’.
And then they try to fix her. They give her crap advice about being either too available or not available enough, when what she actually wants is a glass of wine, a medal for her valour, and a ‘sorry babe, that sounds awful'. Most people, contrary to popular belief, don’t want their friends to ‘solve’ them. They just want to have their lives acknowledged.
As a woman who is in a long-term relationship but is not married and still child-free, I feel like an ambassador, negotiating peace talks between these two camps. I can go to the settled house and have cosy conversations about monogamy and why men take forever to put their shoes on, and I can get pissed with my single friends until the small hours, and talk about how dating apps have given even the dullest, plainest man license to demand a 22-year-old Boohoo model for a wife.
But even on these nights, I can see that my single friends are looking at me with a wistful, faraway expression. They think I will abandon them, someday.
And while I can’t promise to keep up the big Soho dinners and the three-bottles-of-wine-on-a-Wednesday evenings forever, I can pledge the following
If we are talking about how hard it is for you to meet anyone new, I will not suddenly turn to my partner and say ‘do you know anyone nice…?’ Of course he doesn’t know anyone nice. Men make five friends at school and keep hold of them for the rest of their lives. All of those men are married. The only single man my boyfriend knows is his barber, and he thinks coronavirus is the government’s way of trying to chip us
When you tell me about a horrible date, I will sympathise immediately. I will not squint and ask if perhaps you are being too picky
If I am ever planning a wedding, I will not insist, at every turn, that it is ‘an excuse for a party’. That I ‘just want a really chill day’ and that I am ‘not into fuss’. I will not keep repeating easy-going statements while simultaneously acting absolutely insane. I will realise the stress this puts on you, as the person who has to hear about wedding plans. I will try to be utterly frank about how insane the wedding is making me, instead of leaving you to talk me down from a ledge, gently asking if perhaps I would like the ivory chair coverings, and insisting that no, they’re not too fussy, not if you want them
If I am ever pregnant, I will not use my pregnancy as a way to escape criticism. I will not stroke my stomach defensively when someone tries to tell me I’ve behaved poorly. I will not behave as if I am beyond rebuke because I am carrying a child; you, in turn, will insist that I am glowing with health, even if that glow is a fine line of moustache sweat
If I have kids and appoint you the godmother of my child, I will not demean the post by appointing several honorary godparents. Also, I will not guilt you into coming over by saying “but your GODDAUGHTER hasn’t seen you in months!” If I have to use this line, I will at least wait until my kid is old enough to know your name, and not try to imply that a creature who doesn’t know where their own thumb is somehow feels your absence like an open wound. It’s me. I am the one who feels your absence like an open wound
When something good happens to you, whether it’s a job opportunity, a trip abroad, or a 23-year-old male model, I will turn the warm beam of attention onto you and I will allow you to bask in it like it’s an Italian sunset. I will not use your adventures as a yardstick for my own domesticity; I will not immediately launch into a litany of reasons why I can no longer travel abroad, or work on huge projects, or sleep with men who are too young to remember 9/11. I will save that for therapy
If I cannot be happy for you because I am too jealous; if I cannot be empathetic because I have been out of the dating game too long; and if I cannot quite understand because I’ve never been on Hinge, I can at least promise this: I will never behave as if your life matters less than mine. I will never call you feckless, if you will never call me boring. And as long as we can pledge that, we should be solid until menopause.