Dear Take Two:
One of my friend-groups is made up exclusively of couples. Until a few months ago I, too, was part of these couples, but my relationship ended. Now the dynamic is off when we all hang out in a group—if my ex is there, it's hard not to revert into our old couple dynamic with him (not healthy), and if he's not, then I'm the only single one there (11th wheel), and the couples aren't very considerate of that. (It's fun to play "Do I Exist?" while they gaze into their respective partners' eyes.) Tips for how to address this to my group of friends? We're mostly in our mid-20s. I have some single friends but would like to know how to improve my interactions with this particular group.
Says Jacki: Spending time in Couple Land is uncomfortable for you and it's not useful for your coupled friends to have you there. It is good for most couples to spend non-romantic time with other adults, developing independent interests and relationships, in part so that they don't find themselves in your position—where if they don't have a steady romantic relationship, they don't have friends. Help your coupled friends find enjoyable ways to hang out solo. Ask just one friend to come exercise with you at the gym, or invite just three of your girlfriends over for dinner. Reshuffle the dynamic so that couple status is less important than personal interests.
Moreover, smaller group interactions can give you good opportunities to talk about how left out you feel in bigger group moments. In those smaller group moments, ask your friends for advice. That's a good way to make your problem clear without you coming across as accusatory or whiny and prompts them join you in thinking of ways to fix it.
Says Jill: How I wish I could tell you couples become more sensitive and less vicious as you get older, but alas. I hear this same complaint from the recently widowed, the middle-aged divorced, and even within groups that are still all couples when some start having children. Some groups are blunt about it, some just start passively dodging invitations and stop including you in theirs, but the reality is most couples stop socializing so much with single friends in their prime recreation hours unless you started as that lovable extra to their Ark formation. It doesn't sound like this has happened to you yet, but it might be a good idea to bite the bullet and quit hanging out with the couples so much.
It's heartrending, but those days are over with you and that group; if you keep going back for more, it just prolongs the agony. When was the last time one of those evenings—and your game of "Do I Exist?"—left you feeling relaxed or inspired or even neutral?
Also, I don't know whose idea it was to break up, but you're right when you say it's unhealthy to be around your former partner in the scenario where everything has stayed the same except your relationship. This may sound counterintuitive, but if the two of you are at all amicable, I would try to seek him out and divvy up the social engagements you attend simultaneously, to take away both the friction and the surprise element. At the same time, you could try to keep in touch in a limited way with the occasional coffee. That way, you'll still be seeing each other enough to be in touch (and remember why the breakup was necessary), but not where any of the couples can inflict psychic harm.
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