1 December 2021

Is there such a thing as 'couple' privilege?

| Zoya Patel
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Three fingers

Is it time people in couples realised how lucky they are? Photo: File.

I have a friend who is perpetually single.

She lives overseas, and we catch up almost daily via voice notes we send to each other. Lately, she’s been experiencing some of the worst dates I’ve ever heard of. This friend is heterosexual, in her late 30s and is what some would call ‘conventionally attractive’. She has a well-paid job, owns her own home, is clever and, personally, I consider her a catch.

And yet, she’s constantly being disappointed by the men she dates, who ghost her, say offensive things, or send her outright gross messages after one date. After her most recent message to me, where she wondered out loud if it was time for her to ‘lower her standards’, I sent an impassioned response explaining how I think she shouldn’t have to accept behaviour she finds unacceptable.

In the course of this rant, I said that although I’ve been in a relationship for the majority of my adult life, I feel confident that if I wasn’t with my partner, I’d rather be alone than with someone who didn’t meet my expectations in terms of how they treated me.

I genuinely believed that too.

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I often say that being in a relationship is a choice both partners make daily, and I am hyper-alert to the potential of ‘settling’ in a relationship even when it isn’t making you happy. I like to think that I would rather be single than settle.

But my friend’s response, gently but firmly, challenged this notion by suggesting that I couldn’t realistically say whether I would be as happy alone as I am in a relationship because I haven’t been alone in a long time.

“It’s actually very lonely, especially when the majority of your networks are coupled up,” she told me.

“You might not realise it, but you have a lot of privilege being in a relationship.”

Something in me balked at this. I didn’t like the implication that by virtue of being coupled up, I’m somehow part of the oppression of single people, or that being in a relationship is inherently easier than not.

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Relationships are hard work. They involve constant compromise, a lot of emotional labour, and don’t automatically equal happiness. But when I paused to consider my friend’s point of view more deeply, I found myself realising that actually, maybe there is a level of ‘couple privilege’ that I haven’t been entirely aware of before.

For a start, having a dual-income for our household means that day-to-day expenses are much easier to manage, and we can gather savings and budget with greater ease. Given the average rent for a single-bedroom dwelling in Canberra is so high (it’s hard to find a listing for less than $300 per week), if I were living alone, I’d probably be forced to live in a sharehouse, which I wouldn’t choose for myself otherwise.

There is also a level of social privilege to being in a relationship. Our choices and lifestyle are automatically considered valid because being in a couple at our age is the assumed norm.

By virtue of having a long-term partner, I’m seen as having achieved a critical milestone for people my age. I can see the veiled judgment and often pity that my single friends receive in contrast, based on nothing other than their single status. There’s a sense of their lives as being incomplete, and the questions they get about dating are relentless. If they aren’t actively seeking to find a partner, people are perplexed, as though they couldn’t possibly have a full and meaningful life without one.

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My friend was recently renovating and she had to deal with numerous contractors in the process. Having to manage the renovations while working full time and having no one else to share the load or even just run decisions past was exhausting for her.

If I were in the same situation, I know that both my partner and I would share the responsibility of managing the process, and I wouldn’t have to carry that burden alone. It was a good reminder of the fact that, actually, I do have a certain amount of privilege being in a happy and long-term relationship, which I may be taking for granted.

Obviously, that isn’t to say that any relationship is better than being single – or that being single is undesirable. All experiences are relative.

But it’s true that society is geared towards couples in some fundamental ways, and while I’d like to think I’d have no issues being on my own, I don’t have a very accurate idea of what that would look like in practice. It feels uncomfortable to think of myself as benefiting from an unequal system, especially when finding a partner is something that few of us have any control over. But I’m going to take on my friend’s gentle rebuke and acknowledge that I have ‘couple privilege’. Is anyone else with me?

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Often women are single by the lifestyle and attitude choices they have consciously and subconsciously made. These choices include the power and satisfaction to reject potential mates. However a single female will then often resent men for not choosing or persuing her and also resent other women for having what she secretly always wanted, a compatible male.

Couples privelige is matched with the singles supplement. It just costs MORE to be single.

The cost of single travel particularly in Australia is exorbitant as well – single supplements are almost the same as paying for another room, ticket etc.
Given the number of female deaths from domestic violence each year and incidents against women each day, being in a relationship doesn’t look all that good on paper either.

Singles should explore shared accommodation options so they don’t have to go home every day to an empty house/apartment, and have companionship and someone else to take a turn loading the dishwasher, minding the dog/cat/axolotl while you go on holiday, etc.

So it’s all a vicious plan to make singles unhappy!!! ???????

Please, get a grip!

I’m a father. One of our sons is immuno-compromised and can’t get the Covid shots, nor could he get shots during any previous pandemic – the one in the late 80s and 90s – when I was studying for my degree in MgmtSc (InforSys) & tutoring in IS and door-greeting at BIG W to keep our home.

Life just IS tough.

Unless mum & dad are rich – and – don’t go broke

I and my other 4 siblings and our Mum, were under the care of the Repat dept’ when Dad died at 43 yrs in 1960 near Anzac Day. Mum learned Shorthand and Typing and got a job as the pension wasn’t enough!

And, if you have any dealings with the health care system you may have found your rebates going into your accounts. I did that.

Don’t forget that you also get the discount of being able to buy food in larger quantities so at cheaper prices. Oh and it costs the same to heat or cool a house with one person in it as it does a house with two in it, so we singles pay more for that too.

That said, I have actually been quite grateful that I am single over the last couple of years, as I am not sure I can even imagine liking someone enough to be willing to be locked down with them, much less them wanting to be locked in with me! 😉

Jenny Graves2:51 pm 02 Dec 21

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. But, as I read recently, sometimes that’s because there’s a sewage leak on the other side.

You really can’t generalise. Some are happier in a relationship, some not, and all relationships are different anyway. I don’t think there’s any privilege attached to being in a relationship at all. I suspect that the author’s friend was just jealous and that, if she were in a relationship, she might well still not be happy!

I was single for a long time and I have been in a long relationship. From a financial perspective, I much prefer to be single. I had so much more control of my life and finances when I was single. When I was single, I could have an investment property of my own, and based on my income alone I didn’t have to pay for private health insurance. Once I entered into a ‘relationship’, I was then treated by the government as an ‘joint entity’, rather than viewed as an individual person. The worst thing about being in a relationship is how you are treated financially by the government and the tax office. You can only have one ‘principle place of residence’ per couple, (one investment property per couple), whereas singles can have one property each, singles can have one of everything each, but couples can only have 1 between two people. This can cause a lot of problems, leads to dependency on another person and also takes away people’s financial independence. Couples also get highly taxed on the Medicare levy and also private health insurance. The same applies with pensioners who partner up as they will get less money and are no longer viewed as ‘individual beings’. This also leads to other problems such as domestic violence, control issues and financial abuse in relationships. Everyone should be treated as an ‘individual’ by society and the government, with the same rules applied regardless if you are married, living together or single. There is definitely a financial ‘couples tax’ applied to couples by the government. Enjoy being single!

Personal Opinion but I think a lot of women (& maybe men) are influenced by TV dating shows & social influencers & therefore have an unreal idealised view of their perfect partner


The author even admits as much when she talks about “settling” in such a strange way.

Too many people these days have extraordinarily high standards for what they think a partner should “bring to them”, without ever considering how what “they bring” might not quite meet up to other people’s expectations.

That’s not what relationships should be about.

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