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Woke Men Only: I’m refusing to become a shit friend after getting cuffed

Love, sex and dating columnist Kimberly Mcintosh on why, after spending most of her 20s as a singleton, she's refusing to become the friend that gets a boyfriend and leaves the party early.

17 May 2020

My birthday is in January, which few people envy. It’s cold. It’s close to Christmas. All your gifts are bundled at the beginning of the year leaving February to December barren. Knowing what we know now, the timing of it is enviable – I got to have a party with all the trimmings: pre-drinks at the flat, a cramped jazz bar in the basement of a church and a final stop at a club night for the dedicated. I took long, unnecessary drags on a cigarette in a real-life smoking area and got told off for laughing too loud as the jazz played.  

I was also free to worry about life’s trivialities. Is it time for a new job? [Yes]. Will dating my flat mate’s best friend fuck up my living situation? [No]. Do these single plaits actually suit me? [Kind of]. And I had been thinking a lot about friendship. 

“What if I become one of those couples…you know…those ones,” I asked a group of mostly single friends at my birthday pre-drinks. They assured me that I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t disappear, my attendance at any event that began past 8pm gently evaporating, so that by the heat of summer all that remained were my sporadic WhatsApp messages and the occasional appearance at milestone birthdays. 

Yet research by Oxford University found that people who enter into a romantic relationship lose on average two close friends in the process. I find this devastating. These aren’t acquaintances you’ve been trying to shift since Croatia ’08. This is your inner circle; the real deal.  

We have endless tales of what we gain from romantic love. We have movies and sitcoms and sonnets that tell us of the whirlwind before the calm that follows the only cliff-hanger we’re told matters – the romantic ending. You’re nobody until somebody loves you, apparently. But when you carve out space in your life for someone else, what do you lose? What do you give up to fall in love? And do you have to? 

“My friends are not an add on or extras, just there to make the scene livelier”

I was single for the majority of my 20s. With both dating and Couch to 5K, I struggled to get past week three or dipped in and out, intermittent and one of us always non-committal even if we claimed otherwise. So my friends were the loves of my life and lovers took the supporting roles. Friends sent the flowers when there was no partner to send them. 

When people start a relationship they are meant to centre it, a spotlight shines on only them and their surroundings are set in darkness, unimportant and unseen. But my friends are not an add on or extras, just there to make the scene livelier. Sadly, they are often unintentionally demoted, particularly the single ones.

I’ve always found single people, on average, to be more attentive friends (with better stories to share at drinks). I’ve not been brave enough to say it publicly before, for fear of being read as unsupportive, bitter or jealous. But being in a relationship is like having a personal PR that can protect you from these attack lines, free from fear. 

Couples do catch up after a stint of longevity. Post year-three together a world that shrunk to include only them and a select group of other couples expands its sphere wide enough for you to re-enter it. Is there a way to skip these three years of solitude and carve out space for your single friends?

“I’ve always found single people, on average, to be more attentive friends with better stories to share at drinks”

“You can, but most people don’t” – was the conclusive response from my single friends’ group chat. They recounted being blown off because friends’ partners had cooked dinner (even when they were well on their way to meet them in town). They described disappearing acts up to five years long, the value of their friendship undulating with the crests and troughs of a mate’s romantic relationship. It leaves you feeling used when you’re only wanted for company when Dave’s on a minibreak or they’ve had a big fight. They recount friend’s partners who envied and resented any time their partner spent away from them – forcing their friendships to weather and rust. 

I’m determined that I’ll be different. Not in the “Pick Me” sense, claiming that I’m not like the others. I’m just as flawed and inward-looking as anyone else. I’ve just looked on silently through a one-way mirror and seen how these scenarios play out. The hurt when people get into relationships and stop showing up to things. The sadness of finding out that there is a whole dinner circuit you’re not invited to. The single friend’s that over time will make a new WhatsApp group without you in it because they know you’re not coming. 

So to my single friends, I know I’m not always there when you call, but I’ll always be on time. In reality, I’ll be late, but I’ll definitely show up. 

This is part of gal-dem’sWoke Men Only column.