Is there such a thing as ‘couple’ privilege?

Zoya Patel 1 December 2021 89
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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89 Responses to Is there such a thing as ‘couple’ privilege?
Cary Elliot Johnson Cary Elliot Johnson 5:48 pm 03 Dec 21

Lower her standards? Sounds like she is the problem. Now I'm interested in who gets her vote for "hit or shit". Toxic femininity right there.

Matty Gruber Matty Gruber 4:39 pm 03 Dec 21

Stephen Holmes Paul Janssen couples privilege is a real thing! Just ask brad!

Thom Vaan Thom Vaan 7:32 am 03 Dec 21

Adam Angel Christine Cotter look it’s us! 😂

Marek Moeckel Marek Moeckel 6:59 am 03 Dec 21

"It's time people with jobs realised how lucky they are and accepted that there is a certain 'employment privilege' that makes life richer, easier and even cheaper."

The same argument can be made for anything that is considered a social norm. Fitting into a social norm is, by definition, not a privilege. You are at a disadvantage if you don't.

Acton Acton 11:37 pm 02 Dec 21

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.

Craig McPherson Craig McPherson 10:08 pm 02 Dec 21

I acknowledge the message, but to describe people who are partnered up as being 'privileged' I don't agree with.

A privilege is something bestowed on you surely - a result of your context - something you inherit? That you meet someone, connect and partner up send to be fate or even lucky, but of itself it makes you privileged???

I'm not so sure it does.

Natalia Komarova Natalia Komarova 8:38 pm 02 Dec 21

When my friend lost her husband she said to some extend she lost her social circle as well. While she would catch up with her female friends for a coffee or lunch she was not invited to dinner parties and evening outings by the coupes any more which was not the case while her husband was around. It was a very interesting and somewhat sad observation.

    Nada Krstin Nada Krstin 9:58 pm 02 Dec 21

    Natalia Komarova yes, I have seen that, very sad indeed - it was either the couples felt 'superior' or the women in their social group felt threatened by a single woman (whether divorcee or widow) - pathetic & insecure on all accounts 😞

Michael Strand Michael Strand 7:11 pm 02 Dec 21

So when she asks if she needs to lower her standards, what does that mean? Maybe looking at a guy is not not 6ft tall, or a total narcissist, aka an Alpha? If she is perpetually single, she is the problem.

    Liz Hampton Liz Hampton 7:13 am 03 Dec 21

    Michael Strand narcissists can still get into relationships.

Shane Stroud Shane Stroud 6:52 pm 02 Dec 21

Meanwhile in other news, the sky is blue, the grass is green, and crowbars don't float.

Karan Campbell-Davis Karan Campbell-Davis 5:46 pm 02 Dec 21

Obviously, your friend hasn't experienced a long term relationship, or she'd appreciate when she's better off.

I suggest that she adopts a cat! 😉👍🐈

Never make the assumption that those of us who choose to remain single are not content with their life... 😏

lyndeelu lyndeelu 5:00 pm 02 Dec 21

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

spmm spmm 4:59 pm 02 Dec 21

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.

David P David P 4:56 pm 02 Dec 21

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.

Paul Anthony Wallis Paul Anthony Wallis 4:23 pm 02 Dec 21

When I trained for ministry in the Church of England, couples had their student fees mortgages paid and accommodation costs met to allow them to rent a second house for the duration of their training. Single students were required to live in tiny rooms on campus and were expected to sell their homes in order to pay their own way through college. Get the picture? Disparities like these were raised by the student body so our chaplain presided over a morning of community listening to discuss ways in which single students were being marginalised in college life. The leader of the discussion group I was in began by saying 'We have been given questions for single people to answer and questions for couples to answer. As we only have one single person in this group let us skip the single questions and go straight to the couples' questions." Get the idea?!

    RW Church RW Church 4:47 pm 02 Dec 21

    Paul Anthony Wallis I hope that the single person got up and walked out of the discussion group.

    Paul Anthony Wallis Paul Anthony Wallis 4:51 pm 02 Dec 21

    RW Church I unselfconsciously gasped and put my hand over my mouth. When the group saw this people froze and realised what had just happened. It was what some would call a teaching moment! At the very least it was a moment of embarrassment!

    Claudia Davis Claudia Davis 5:31 pm 02 Dec 21

    Paul Anthony Wallis terrible 😞

Gaida Macs Gaida Macs 3:29 pm 02 Dec 21

… an interesting read …

Robina Jane Robina Jane 2:56 pm 02 Dec 21

There is absolutely ‘couple privilege’ for all the reasons you mentioned and more. I’ve been in both worlds over the period of my adult life. Our society is built around couples (who can go on to produce family units) - socially, economically and romantically (which is good business) and which keeps modern life very ‘neat’. Single adults (irrespective of their individual circumstances, level of happiness etc) are the ones left standing without the chair when the music stops.

TimboinOz TimboinOz 2:55 pm 02 Dec 21

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.

Kiriel Kiriel 2:53 pm 02 Dec 21

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 Graves Jenny Graves 2:51 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!

Birchy Birchy Birchy Birchy 2:37 pm 02 Dec 21

A great article 😁

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