Coupling: Is It Better To Be Single?



All of a sudden, everyone is couples. Not just like dating, but couples couples. I shouldn’t be surprised — ­everyone I know is between the ages of 27 and 37 — but still, everyone seems to have gotten really serious really fast. In the past few weeks, two couples I know have announced their engagements. One such announcement came by text message late on a Friday night, when some friends and I were having dinner. Both the content (“We’re Engaged!!!”) and the urgency of the medium were weird, because Harry was a sort of Lothario notorious for his filthy messages. Over the summer he had moved in with a girlfriend, Emmy, and he hadn’t been heard from since. Sightings of the two of them were reported infrequently, like sightings of comets or Bobby McFerrin.

They weren’t the only ones who had disappeared. It was like the Sci-Fi Channel out there: Everyone was living with someone or about to be living with someone, or producing children in what seemed like a very short amount of time. Hardly anyone we knew was out drinking anymore, not even us. This was probably due to the fact that it was cold, I said to my boyfriend, Mr. Huge, early on in the winter as he queued up Netflix.

Not that Mr. Huge and I weren’t guilty. We, too, had kind of disappeared. We weren’t living together, but we had been, as my friend Jessica put it, “faux-habitating.” My apartment had become a place where we weekended occasionally, and we had been spending a lot of time together, just the two of us nesting, like a pair of possums.

This didn’t seem, at first, like a bad thing. Mr. Huge is delightful, and I don’t want to be with anyone else, not even Eric Bana. But the sense that everyone else around me had gone into nut-sharing hibernation was bone-chilling. In the back of my mind, I guess I always envisioned myself kind of like Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair — you know, that part where she says, “Men make women messy,” and she’s all fabulous with her eyeliner. I had nodded understandingly when Olivier in Six Feet Under told Claire she should never, ever fall in love because it would ruin her career. And I kind of expected that my friends thought the same way. That we were all too cynical, with our divorced parents and tabloid habits, to actually want the whole bourgeois cohabitation-wedding-babies trifecta. I mean, at least not yet. We were still young! There were shots to be drunk!

Right?

Guys?

As it turned out, it was not just the weather. The atmosphere had changed: Monogamy had descended over Philadelphia like a thick fog, and where were all of our friends?

Mr. Huge and I were the problem, I decided. We had become isolated. Boring. We didn’t see anyone anymore, I complained, even though, as he pointed out, we totally did, and rattled off several instances of social interaction.

Of course, he was right.

He is always right. “Also he is much, much neater than me. Like, he’s kind of anal,” I was telling my friend Savannah at brunch one day. She looked exhausted.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked.

“Oh,” she sighed, “I spent the entire night making out with this Italian guy, and I woke up at his house at like, six a.m. and walked all the way home.”

She looked tired, but happy. The walk of shame, I thought. I missed it — being alone with your thoughts and messy hair, getting coffee at a place in a strange neighborhood. And making out … Mr. Huge and I never actually “made out” anymore. I was envious.

It was around this time that I started to feel nostalgic for my single life.

Which was easy, because without even being aware of it, I’d managed to completely revise my memories of my life in between boyfriends. The montage in my mind was full of parties and friends and shopping and museums and shoes with heels that never wore down. I was prettier and thinner when I was single, I thought.

This, of course, is utterly false. But still, over the weeks the fantasies changed gradually from what single life was like to what it could be like. Without my relationship holding me back, without all the dinners and movies and cuddling, I would do more. I would be more social, read more books, take Berlitz classes.

And when Mr. Huge had to leave town for two weeks, I didn’t hide my excitement at getting to revisit my pre-relationship life.

“It’s not that I want to date other guys or anything,” I said to him when we went out to dinner the night before he left. “I miss the other parts of being single. I wore makeup. I tried harder.”

“I know what you mean,” he said, glancing down. He was wearing a sort of sweatshirt. “Tonight I wondered if I should wear something better, but then I was just like, I need to save the button-downs for my trip, so …

“I guess when you’re in a relationship, you also sort of miss that sense of possibility you have when you’re single,” he said. I nodded, because that was what it was that Savannah had that I wanted — a sense of possibility.

For the first few days Mr. Huge was gone, I took full advantage. I spurned proper meals and ate cereal for dinner. I caught up with the friends I hadn’t talked to since I became boring.

One of them was a guy who is smart and cute and witty — and perpetually single. “Do you know any girls you can set me up with?” was one of the first things he asked.

“I can’t believe you don’t have a girlfriend,” I said. “You’re such a catch.”

“That’s what people keep telling me,” he said glumly. “I think I might actually rename myself ‘The Catch.’”

One night, I go out with a friend I’ll call Maria, who was recently dumped by her boyfriend of two years when the subject of their future came up. “He doesn’t think he can marry someone who’s not Jewish,” she says. She looks shell-shocked. I too, am shocked, that people are getting dumped nowadays for not being marriageable.

That night, Maria and I eat nothing but hors d’oeuvres and drink an enormous amount of wine and somehow end up at the Union League arguing with a guy who looks like a young Rick Santorum. We take a cab home — four blocks. “This is what being single was like!” I think, happily. We reminisce about how two years ago, during a time when we were both single, we used to wake up still wearing our shoes and coats from the night before and then we’d shower and get dressed and go to the office like no problem. “When I lived near Wawa, I always woke up with that fake cheese all over me,” Maria says.

Five hours later, I wake to the sound of Maria throwing up. I reel into the shower, cringing like a stroke victim.

By noon, I’ve stumbled to the office, and several hours later I am staring at the same blank page on my computer screen.

Then I remember: This, actually, is what my single life was like.

In the afternoon, Savannah e-mails. “The Italian has not called,” she announces dejectedly. “Also, I found out that he has a girlfriend. And I’m really, really fat.”

Later, I get a text message from Maria: “Went out with Di and Steve” — friends of hers who recently got married — “last night and I decided that I really just want to date a frat boy. But everyone is married!!! Am old and depressed.”

She was being melodramatic, of course. Maria is 27, and certainly not “everyone” is married. But like Faye in The Thomas Crown Affair, I began to crack. How could I have forsaken Mr. Huge, who is so wonderful? I immediately placed a long-distance call. “What did you mean, you miss having a ‘sense of possibility’?” I demanded.

“You started it,” he countered. And of course he was right. “Look, I want to be in a relationship,” he said. “Everyone is looking to be in couples. No one is looking to be single.”

Right again. But the most succinct summing-up of the situation came from Harry, disappeared dirty texter. How could he capitulate, I asked him, after offering half-hearted congratulations. Didn’t he miss being single and fun, like I did?

“You’re not missing being single, you’re missing being younger,” he said. “Do I miss having random sex? Yes. But there’s something beyond that. We’ve graduated from that.” And he was right. Somehow, after a long, extended adolescence, we had become grown-ups. Like the cast of 90210.

And maybe it wasn’t a bad thing. Certainly, my liver could stand slightly more grown-up behavior. We weren’t losing ourselves, we were just changing.

And luckily, no one was changing too much.

“It’s time, Pressler,” Harry cackled over the phone. “Take naked pictures now!”

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