real life

Why couples suck


I’ve become such a great third wheel that I deserve royalties from the sale of all future tricycles.

It’s not that I like being the nose of a bizarre Isosceles triangle but it’s sometimes necessary to prevent loved-up friends from getting sucked into the vacuum of all those hormones. For the eternally single, like my glorious self, love is war. A never-ending series of battles to stop your immediate friendship circle eroding away. No, I will not concede my territory.

This is Sparta, ladies and gentlemen, and your canoodling just got flanked.

You might think it desperate – that’s fine – but it’s a certain fundamental cunning that preserves my whittled social life.

I was reminded of this over the weekend when I came across Candice Chung’s piece about the Couple Bubble in Sunday Life. It sounds quaint and faintly adorable until you realise the bubble is made of cast iron and those on the outside aren’t allowed in.

“In the early stages of romantic love, your brain gets flooded with all kinds of hormones – it mimics someone that’s on cocaine,” says Emma Merkas, relationship commentator and founder of the $30 Date Night blog. “Basically, it’s an addiction to your partner. We’re biologically hard-wired to want to be with them all the time … so you might lose your sense of social etiquette or awareness, if you let yourself succumb to it.”

Biology, it seems, is the enemy of human decency. Not only does it explain why new lovers adopt public-behaviour codes pioneered by drunks (making out, fighting, excessive love-declaring), but hormones might also be responsible for “couple’s coma” – a pesky malady where once-active individuals abandon any interest in making an effort socially.

“It’s true that once you’re in a long-term relationship, you don’t have as much energy as single people do,” says Merkas. “When you’re single, what you get is a rush of testosterone – and all this hormone sends you out there, trying to find a mate. Once you’ve found someone, all that testosterone goes away, eventually replaced by a bonding hormone called oxytocin.

A 2010 study shows that falling in love is likely to push out two close friends from your inner circle – a phenomenon known as “dyadic withdrawal”. The research, led by Robin Dunbar, head of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, showed that those who enter a new relationship are likely to see their average number of close friends drop from five to three (excluding their new partner). “If you don’t see [your friends], your emotional engagement with them drops off, and does so quickly,” says Dunbar.”

See? I wasn’t imagining things

My couple friends tend to forge ahead in two directions. There are those who remain a vibrant cog in our borderline fantastical social life (what’s hyperbole? I’ve never heard of it) and there are those who collapse in on themselves like a fallen star creating a social black hole of such density that nothing can escape.

It’s all well and good that a couple might want to go into lockdown, but who am I going to discuss politics with when they’re rabbiting on about the ‘equal distribution of labor’ in their kitchen and buying 2-for-1 dinners as proof of their future economic viability?

The yarn I browsed made mention of the fact the ‘couple bubble’ comes complete with the jettisoning of normal social values and benchmarks. Where previously a pair might have rejected the idea of Public Displays of Affection (PDAs) now they embrace the public grope like they’ve just entered a competition for public groping and the grand prize is more of each other.

Using the extraordinary powers of self reflection I was granted during a terrible accident as a toddler, I can see this rant might make me sound a little deranged. Maybe even needy. But, you see, I’m doing it for them.

I’m saving them from the endless rotisserie of domestic discussion that might overwhelm them. Saving them from those bothersome displays of over-the-top public romance (stop recreating the scene from Lady and a Tramp, this meal was expensive) and saving them from, you know, the abyss.

They might very well enjoy it, but my social circle is a finely crafted masterpiece and I don’t need it being reinterpreted by, let’s say, Snooki.

Speaking of couples, here are some who I don’t have to worry about because we were never friends to begin with:

Are you in a couple or (sort of) happily single? What’s your take on the ‘couple bubble’?

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