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Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,
So, here’s the scoop: I’m perpetually single, and it’s by choice. Meanwhile, most of my peers are either married or dating. Don’t get me wrong; I’m perfectly content with the single life. But there’s something I’ve noticed about friends in relationships.
It’s when some of them suddenly become unavailable. So you give them space, find new friends, explore new hobbies, and all of a sudden, they reach out when relationship issues arise.
And then there’s this thing where some of them can’t go anywhere without their significant other, and that pulls us single folks into befriending their SO too. It’s fine if the SO is friend material. Although I must admit, it still feels a bit odd.
I do my best to be supportive of my friends’ romantic endeavors – holding back cynical comments, expressing curiosity, and being kind to significant others I may or may not be fond of. But at times, I can’t help but wonder, what support do I receive as a single person?
Or maybe this is just the price I pay for swimming against the tide and choosing to be unattached when, by society’s standards, I should have tied the knot by now.
Dare I say it feels like empty nest syndrome, but for friends?
Dear SolePathSeeker (SPS),
Thank you for your email.
The relationship between singles and married couples has been the subject of a number of academic studies. This research article is of particular interest for anyone wanting to examine this relationship in greater detail, as it reviews inter alia the different academic theories as to whether the single state is isolating or integrative.
The debate is presented as follows: “On the one side, theorists view marriage as the primary building block of community, an institution fostering social integration, and suggest that those who are single are isolated, lonely, and have limited social ties.
On the other side, scholars argue that marriage is privatizing, as it competes with, even undermines, other relationships, while being single promotes these relationships.”
It considers the concept of greedy marriage, developed by Prof. Lewis Coser in Greedy Institutions: Patterns of undivided commitment, to describe housewives whose dual roles as mother and spouse absorb the majority of their time, to the detriment of all other relationships, such as friends and extended family.
This concept certainly explains your situation, SPS, when married friends switch between availability and absence. While all is rosy, they are apparently absorbed by their marriage; when problems arise, they look beyond their spouses for support and advice.
As for your question about SOs, some couples are happy to give their partner the space to see their friends solo while others tend to do so only together. This preference can of course always be challenged by, say, intimating that you want to discuss something private “just between old friends.”
Regarding support for singles, society does seem to treat marriage as the default setting and thus categorize those who choose to be single as an aberration. This may be because marriage is regarded as socially desirable, or because they want to be surrounded by like-minded people, or crave conformity. They are therefore unlikely to provide support for anyone following a nonconformist path and may even view such people as a possible danger, with potentially anti-societal views or designs on their partners, particularly if they are insecure in their own marriage!
Support should therefore come from your family and single friends, people who hopefully understand you and your views.
Thank you very much for your letter. I am so glad that Mr. Baer’s response included a wider, more sociological perspective to your problem. Based on research and, of course, his innate sensitivity to you (and anyone whose letter he chooses to answer), he also predicted the possible trajectories of your friendship, and shared guidelines about what to expect not only from your friends, but from society in general.
Even if society’s view of singlehood is a tad malupit (brutal), I ask your forgiveness ahead of time in case my approach is more hardline than his.
Yes, I have read the research about how the first throes of romantic love can seemingly overpower all. But the operative word here is seemingly.
In case you’re wondering how long this “madness” of passionate love (where friends are expected to take second place but in my mind, shouldn’t be) abates, the neurologist Dr. Fred Nour who, in his 2017 book True Love: How to Use Science to Understand Love, says romantic love lasts an average of 2-3 years.
That’s a hell of a long time to be twiddling your thumbs while your friends reclaim some spent time and bandwidth apart from their new SO, so they can focus on you once more.
What are single friends like you supposed to do waiting for this wild, hot, new love to wane? Wait for two/three years and, like a puppy dog forever loyal to someone not as loyal to them, welcome them with open arms (open paws?) and jump around such a friend for finally finding you interesting enough to hang out with again? No way! At least, not for me, because being a puppy dog is not one of my main goals in life. I doubt it is one of yours either. And bully for you! Because while true friendship may be most happily measured by the times spent together where you laugh so hard you snort, it is also most realistically evaluated by who is there for you when you need them.
Need cannot be scheduled so it fits in only when your newly attached friends have the spare time to listen.
Lest anyone is wondering if my hard line is because of some immense and painful bust up with a former best friend, no it isn’t. It is because (or so I like to think) a decision I (and, to my mind, any rational person) makes when you juggle what’s most important to you and how best therefore to take care of them.
Respeto lang (this is a matter of respect), is what I say. That is, give as good as what you want and need and expect nothing less from them. That is what you all deserve.
Be grateful only for the friends who come to you the minute they even just feel (and have no need to be told) that you miss and would love some time with them. I hope this will be the litmus test when deciding who are worthy of your devotion and love.
To paraphrase astrologer Linda Goodman in her 1979 book Love Signs: Unlock your True Love Match when talking about the planet that rules Capricorn: “Saturn gives stern tests, but immense rewards.”
Isn’t Saturn what true friendship is often like? Sometimes it asks a hell of a lot from you, BUT the people on whom you decide to shower all this time, effort, and whatever else means a lot to you are your friends. If they do not feel and behave towards you the way you do towards them, then I hope you decide not to count on them as friends. There lies the path to heartache.
All the best and hoping you find friends worthy of you,
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