I have the privilege of knowing couples whose relationships (at least as far as I can see) are an inspiration. In some cases, I have a friendship with both partners; in others, just with one – generally because I either know him or her better, or simply have more in common with him or her. Either way, I do not think of these partnerships as 'couples' but as individuals who hold hands fast but look outwards. To refer to Kahlil Gibran, they are like the pillars of a magnificent temple. To support the large roof which shelters them both, they stand well apart.
Then, there are the "we" couples.
I asked a new colleague if he had a pleasant holiday. "Yes, thank you, we went skiing."
Who is "we"? Is it a royal "we"? Or did he go skiing with a platoon?
My particular favourite is the glowing announcement that "we are pregnant", which evokes the image of conjoined twins expecting a new arrival.
Mind your own business, Scribe Doll. Stop being so judgemental of how others choose to manage their relationships. I wish I could. Except that the "we" couples choose to make it my concern.
A friend invited me to her wedding. "Bring someone," she generously offered. At least, I thought it was an offer.
"That's very kind but I'll come alone."
She sounded alarmed. "Oh, no – you must bring someone, or you'll have no one to talk to – they'll all be couples."
A bring-your-own-conversation-partner party? It seems hardly worth the effort of dressing up and taking the Tube to get there, or the expense of a wedding present. I nearly asked if I could bring a book as my "someone". Instead, a few days later, I rang and told my friend something unexpected had come up...
At one point, a few years ago, I was the only sole occupier of a block of flats lived in by couples. I spent many a happy afternoon having tea and cake with the wife components of my neighbours. I even entertained the notion that the four of us had become quite good friends. Every so often, there would be trips to the cinema followed by a pizza. I never joined in. I was never invited. Apparently, an odd number of people looks untidy. Or perhaps they thought I was not able to provide sufficient conversation single-handedly.
Time and again, men and women introduce their other 49% as "This is my wife/girlfriend" or "husband/boyfriend". I smile, shake hands, and say, "Lovely to meet you, Husband" or "It's a pleasure to meet you, Girlfriend".
I am still trying to work out whether the slight is directed at the nameless appendix, or at me.
I have a suspicion that the hotel and catering industry is also in the grip of the "we" mafia.
During a recent trip, I stayed in a hotel where, on my first morning, I was served breakfast in the main dining room. I noticed I was the only guest. Later that day, more visitors checked in. The following morning, as I made for my table, the manager asked me to "take a seat next door" and directed me to the second dining room, where just one single table had been laid. I asked why I was being exiled like that. "Because next door is full," said the manager.
That was untrue. There was only one elderly couple at a table. I pointed that out. The manager grew impatient. "Yes, but everyone else had dinner, last night, so I'm keeping the same tables for them, this morning."
So was it just a question of my not having paid the dinner supplement? Or are solo travellers not entitled to respect?
The other guests drifted past me with quizzical looks, no doubt wondering why I was sitting all alone in a room apart. I could not swallow my breakfast.
Over the years, I have learnt that, as a lone traveller, more often than not, I am allocated the hotel room overlooking the smelly back alley, the train seat with no window, the restaurant table by the noisy kitchen or the door to the loos. Hoteliers have pointed out the inconvenience of bestowing upon me a double room because they do not keep single ones. One bed and breakfast actually allocated to me the only table on a rostrum, and simply could not understand why I felt quarantined sitting there, on prominent display (or was it as an example) and wondering if they were about to start stacking dry twigs around me.
The solution to beating this discrimination? Training classes at the Jerry Herman musicals school of thought. Single woman descends wide staircase to a swelling full orchestra, and is universally applauded and adored – and given the best table in the house.
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