By Sara Eckel
One thing I really miss about being in a relationship is the immediate and intense community it has always brought me. When I’m part of a couple, I am constantly invited to dine with other couples, double date, hang out and get to know my partner’s friends. When I’m single, I get about 50% fewer invites.
There seem to be so many couples-only dinners, events and nights out, and I really don’t have any single girlfriends left. Even if they’re not married, they’re engaged or in a serious thing. And while they can certainly sneak away from time to time for a girl’s night, I’m left out of a substantial majority of activities simply because of my singleness.
It was fine in my twenties because some of my friends were single too. Now, I can’t think of one. I long for community and I feel like it’s missing from my life, like it’s been ebbing away quietly as more and more friends paired off.
The other side of the coin is that when I do get invited, I often end up feeling like the third (or fifth) wheel. There’s something soul-crushing about watching everyone in the room be very loved and then going home alone. Again.
Do you have any advice for building community solo? – G
You have struck on one of the toughest parts of being single: maintaining a healthy social life, especially when you’re constantly losing people to romantic partners. So I’ll share the best piece of advice I ever received on the subject: entertain.
Instead of waiting for an invitation or feeling like the sole spinster in a group of cozy couples, make yourself the social center.
Many years ago, I was struggling with the same thing you are now. So I started hosting dinner parties, inviting about six or seven women to my apartment for lasagna or Chicken Marbella on the occasional Saturday night. This did a number of things. First, it pre-empted the “Saturday’s bad. What about Tuesday?” conversation. Can’t tear yourself away from your boyfriend on a weekend night? Then I guess you’ll miss the party.
Second, it gave me a low-pressure way to reach out to acquaintances—neighbors, women I met at parties, etc. During that time, I was taking a lot of classes and doing various volunteer projects. I’d meet some nice people, and sometimes we’d say ‘let’s have coffee sometime’ and then we wouldn’t. But when I invited them to a party, they very frequently showed. And if they didn’t, no stress—all I’d lost was the two seconds it took to add their name to an email list.
Third, it gave my friends, new and old, a chance to know each other, which is really the foundation of a community. Someone mentions that she’s always wanted to go white water rafting and another person says she knows a great place to do it; pretty soon you’ve got a group outing.
And that leads to my final point: Entertaining leads to reciprocity. Once I started throwing parties, both intimate dinners and the kind that require purchasing large quantities of salty snacks, I noticed that my inbox started filling with more invitations to not just parties but bowling nights, pub crawls, and weekend hikes.
Now, I’m aware that not everyone lives in the kind of home that is conducive to dinner parties or beer bashes. I’m aware of this because when I first got the advice to entertain I was living in a studio apartment that was slightly larger than a pool table. So before I could move to a more party-friendly apartment (and, yes, I made this a priority), I wasn’t able to entertain people at my home. So I did the next best thing: I organized. I’d find a bar that was lively but didn’t get too crowded and send an email. “Hey everyone, we’re all getting together at X Bar two weeks from Friday. Hope you can make it!”
If bars aren’t your thing, of course this can be done with anything—spa days, exercise classes, poetry readings. Many people get so busy during the week that by the time Friday rolls around they just hit speed dial on the takeout Thai place and start scanning Netflix. If you can find something cool for everyone to do, a lot of people will be glad to have you do their thinking for them.
Now, if your friends are committed to a boring couples-only lifestyle (!), there’s not much you can do about that. But that’s all the more incentive to find some fun people. That can be hard, but when you commit to being the inviter, rather than the invitee, an interesting shift starts to happen. You stop asking yourself “How can I be less lonely?” and start asking “How can I make others less lonely?” In my experience, addressing the second question is a lot less stressful and a lot more fun.
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