A Single reader wrote in to ask about married people and our willingness to visit out-of-town friends. She has noticed that once her friends marry, they are no longer so willing to visit her, although they don't stint on their invitations to her. Was this just the way life was, she wondered, and would she be the same when she married?
The email seemed jocular, so she got a jocular reply. In short, it is a widely known fact that couples gain at least ten pounds after marriage, in part because they become very reluctant to go outdoors after dark. We come home from work, we eat, we watch TV, we go to bed. The next day, we go to work, we come home from work, we eat, we watch TV, we go to bed. If children come along, they complicate matters and make it even harder for married people to go outdoors after dark. Husbands famously never go out with their wives at night, etc. That was the gist of it.
Well! The Single reader wrote back in what looked like a fury, saying that it confirmed what she suspected, which was that Single people were less selfish than married people, for married people just lived for each other and their children, whereas Single people live for others.
There was sincere regret at the other end for having written the jocular reply, but also some confusion as to how spouses and children don't count as "others" and how a Single woman could conclude, given the contemporary dating climate, that in general Single people live for others.
In fact, the most deeply selfish people I have ever met are Single. However, it could be argued that their very Singleness is a mitigating factor, for it is more difficult to climb into the pits of self-absorption when you are married: there is always this other person there with, like, needs and wants of his or her own, who won't let you. If you resist, he or she either convinces you to shape up or he or she runs away, and hey presto, you are [functionally] Single again.
It is good to live with other people, for it forces a person to think of others, at least if that person wants to live in peace and harmony. It is a dying to self, and my goodness, the sufferings of real-life, concrete Edinburgh parents who sacrifice so much (especially sleep) for their children fill me with awe. The childless married person usually has to think just of his or her spouse, which is not that difficult, if he or she has chosen well, and usually involves some kind of housework and never saying "I told you so" or "You never." Still, even the childless have to be willing to sacrifice this dream and that, this anticipated treat or that long-awaited ambition, for the sake of a spouse.
It is not, as a matter of fact, selfish for a married person (or anyone, really) to turn down an out-of-town invitation from a Single friend. In fact, the married person who delivers the bad news is probably doing the unselfish thing in taking the heat on behalf of his or her spouse. "I'd like to see Mary Sue," I can imagine the wife saying. "Can we see Mary Sue next weekend?"
"Next weekend?" wails the husband. "You KNOW what kind of week I'll be having at work. By the weekend I won't want to do anything but sleep and veg in front of the TV. I'm sorry, but driving all the way to Buffalo and back is just too much for one weekend ."
"Well, I'll go see Mary Sue then," says the wife, bravely, for she has never been the same confident driver since that accident that time.
"But you hate highway driving," says her husband. "Why don't you ask Mary Sue to come here?"
"But she came last time; it's our turn to go there."
"I'm not driving to Buffalo, and that's final," says the husband. "And I don't want you white-knuckling all the way down the I-90, either. Meanwhile, I'm barely going to see you all week. Let's spend Saturday at home and then go out for dinner. Mary Sue can come with us if she wants."
So the wife, with some relief, just hunkers down and emails Mary Sue to say "We can't come, but you can always come here!"
And Mary Sue has the choice to be hacked off at the thought of the drive or to be delighted that her friends have given her an open invitation.
There's a married woman in Toronto who is wonderful company but has three children under 7. She doesn't have much time for her Single/childless friends, poor sweet. After (or concurrent with) family obligations, she manages to arrange "play dates" with other exhausted mothers of small children, which are always when the vast majority of her Single/childless friends are working.
This married mother has a childless friend who has visited Toronto once a year for the past six years. When they meet, they never travel farther than the nearest shopping street, and this is almost always with at least one child in tow. Usually what they do is sit in the married mother's house amid a sea of toys and children and drink herbal tea. The childless friend holds one of the children, and the married mother runs around doing this and that for this child or that child or her husband. And the childless friend just sits there with the baby or the toddler, happy as a raccoon at a baby shower--to quote the American car salesman on the British TV advert--and looks at her friend.
"You're doing the most important job in the world," she says to the married mother, who always looks a little thinner and a little more tired than she did the year before.
"I really hope so," says the married mother fervently.
She almost never writes, she almost never calls, she almost never checks Facebook. She really has no time. But her childless friend waits and looks forward to her next trip to Toronto and as much sitting in the toy-and-child sea as possible because...well, love.