Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and I’m still single. Why does this matter? It’s not because of the day itself, driven by corporate marketing. As a side note, for V-Day itself, I suggest the Anti-Valentine cards, and the Daily Show segment about The War on St. Valentine’s Day. Can I be single and happy and joyful? It’s a serious question. Well, yes, of course I could, but it’s going to become a lot more difficult, and soon. To describe the problem, I’ll tell the tale of the fourth best friend. What is the fourth best friend? What is that relationship? I hope everyone has a fourth best friend, because it means everyone has at least four friends. (As a side note, I was reading about job interviews last weekend. One practice question was “Who is your best friend, and how would you describe your friendship?” The book noted that many people can’t answer that question. Also, it strongly suggested the employer contact that person as a reference.)
The fourth best friend can arise from one of several places: a coworker, a neighbor, a sports coach, a religious community. Fourth friends have the qualities of Friends that I’ve listed before: Activity, Values, Trust, Power Equality. At least in part. But the fourth friend is a little different. The values might be a little off – I’m a progressive Catholic, you’re a traditionalist. Or there might not have developed full, intimate trust, not because of any flaws, but perhaps because of a lack of opportunity or need. Those might occur, but mostly it’s a lack of activity. The fourth best friend isn’t first, second, or third because he’s not there as often. Why not? Certain roles prove higher. A spouse comes first – well, in a decent marriage, at least third. A close same-sex friend, first or second, will share lots of interests. Gender matters because it’s a chance to talk about Proximity helps; neighbors often become close friends because they’re available to watch the house, help with the party, look after the kids. Friendships, like all relationships, need time to develop.
Dating couples form friendships with other dating couples. Married people form friendships with other married people. They have more in common. It gets frustrating for non-attached folks like me, particularly when old relationships are jettisoned. I invented the term “couples vortex” to explain the common scenario where someone I knew started dating. He disappeared for months, then was only seen with his girlfriend. Since he was lost for so long, it had to be some weird physics thing. Of course, this was unproven hyperbole. I think. Yet it makes sense under Friendship Theory. Couples have more in common with other couples, even while dating. Married people have joint taxes, suburban houses, and children, things that never-married singles generally don’t touch. Pairs prefer pairs.
The couples preference extends throughout society. Since a majority of adults are married, the tax code provides substantial benefits, even for couples without children. Universities offer jobs to spouses of desired candidates, as documented in places like the Chronicle of Higher Education. I guess it’s a skill to seduce and marry a strong academic, as much as teaching or research. Language even conspires against the single person. Look at the meaning of “odd” – strange and different – versus “even” – smooth, balanced, regular. Couples are even. Singles are odd.
This oddness makes single life hard. An active unmarried person can make plenty of friends through work and neighborhood and activities. Nevertheless, without the shared environment of marriage and family, they tend to become fourth and fifth best friends. It’s hard to form a support network with fourth best friends, and it leaves a large intimacy gap. Right now, graduate school is an environment with a fairly large amount of charming, wonderful unattached people. There aren’t many places like graduate school, particularly for a religious person. When I leave here this year, it will get substantially more difficult to form the support network that I, and everyone else, need. Like there wasn’t pressure enough, eh?