Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Uncoupling

The latest trend in socializing is splitting up, covering all the bases, killing two birds with one stone, serving two gods, pleasing both parties, expanding coverage, taking turns, following individual muses, each doing his/her own thing, your friends/my friends, you go know and I'll come later, one is better than none, or just a plain 'ol 'I'm not going to do what I don't feel like doing.'

In other words, the whole idea of inviting a bunch of couples to a social event and then having those couples actually show up as couples is out the window.

We all do it.  It starts maybe with a bunch of guys who hang out together, and when they marry, they bring their wives into the mix, but sometimes their wives aren't all that into it.  Or vice-versa.  Or it starts when one wants to stay late, and one wants to leave early, so they start taking separate cars, and then that separate car pattern expands to where one wants to get there on time and one wants to arrive late.  Or not at all.  Or it starts when the children are young--couples take turns doing what each one really wants to do, using a babysitting trade-off with their spouses so that each one gets the best option.  Or it starts aesthetically--the wife wants to go to the concert but the husband doesn't.  Or it starts with tiredness--the weariness of the same kind of social event with the same people once again.  Or one goes to church and one doesn't.

Whatever the reasons for this growing social pattern, it is safe to say that 50, 40, or even 30 years ago, it would not have happened.  A husband let loose to roam a party with all kinds of couples?  A wife goes to a party without the security of her husband?  (Yes, I'm playing off stereotypes here)

Last weekend, I attended a birthday party where there were three couples, one husband, one wife, another husband, and a divorced guy.  Not great odds for the marital unit, eh?  But it's reached a point where no one was too curious as to where the spouses were.  It was just a series of givens--one was too tired to come, one was helping the kids do homework, one's missingness I didn't catch. 

Nobody was worried that the couples were fighting and that was the reason for the solo appearance.  There was a time when that would have been the only likely explanation.

My favorite example of all time is when my friend and his then-wife were invited over to another couple's place for dinner, but for whatever reason, she didn't come.  They were the only ones invited, so instead of four, there were three.  And when the husband was ready to head home, he had to ask if his hosts could put together a "to-go" plate for his wife who didn't show.

The one that happened to me that makes me laugh involves Halloween.  We like to have a little gathering after trick-or-treating, a kind of wind down, a kind of debrief since our neighborhood is especially hard hit by trick-or-treaters.  One of the guys who really pushes for this party doesn't live in our neighborhood, but he likes the tradition.  So does his wife.  In fact, last year, she really pressed me to put on the party, since I was wavering, it being a midweek Halloween.  So, yeah, I revved it up and we put on the party with some pretty good food.  What did they do?  She went to the home of a high school classmate up the street; her husband came here.  She was here for about 10 minutes.

But, like I say, we all do it, and, therefore, I can't be entirely opposed to it.  There's something to be said about the flexibility of this trend and the way that a couple can meet the needs of both spouses by allowing them to split up sometimes. But it can also feel like a guest in a home is more "crossing the T's and dotting the I's" than actually wanting to be there.  There's a something about a couple, an established social unit, that brings a different kind of energy to a party, a different level of confidence and interaction that the stray who can need special coddling and attention from everyone else.
And, if you are the one putting on the party, you have to deal with what Forrest Gump once said about a box of chocolates, "You never know what you're going to get."

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