The Secret Struggles of Being Single When Everyone Else is Married

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There are things I don’t tell my married friends about, and my social struggles with them is one of them.

Growing up, I was surrounded by fiercely ambitious friends. They were driven by dreams bigger than themselves and had extraordinary life goals. I was inspired by them.

However, in recent years, I’m slowly losing the same fiercely ambitious friends to a life phase called marriage.

After a honeymoon and a kid later, everything from their priorities to commitments changed. With more friends tying the knot and raising a family, I became the last remaining friend who was still single. I was unceremoniously left out.

When I confided these struggles to my other single friend Clara, she thought I was overreacting. Just recently, Clara third-wheeled her best friend’s camping trip where her husband tagged along.

“It’s okay ah. I’m used to it, and they don’t care,” she says.

Third-wheeling is one of many social situations that most singles face when hanging out with their married friends.

Aside from that, there are other social struggles too.

1. Their spouse always tags along

I find it really annoying when your husband shows up to our lunch dates.

There, I said it.

Honestly Intan, I wasn’t thrilled when your husband joined us for lunch two weeks ago. When you approached the table with him in tow, I wanted to grab you by the collar and say, “I thought it’s just the two of us today?”

Since social etiquette dictates that politeness is important, I welcomed his presence like a good-mannered friend.

But beyond the forced smile and friendly hello, what I really wanted to say was “Does your husband need to tag along wherever you go?”

That’s not to say that Amir isn’t a nice guy. He’s the kind of friend who entertains guests in a boring wedding dinner or drives out to buy satay for anyone who stayed back for supper. He’s that nice.

But when he married my close friend Intan, things changed between us.

We hung out less, and it got harder and harder to find a free weekend for our girly dates.

So when we did manage to find that free afternoon, I was looking forward to it. We’d finally be able to reminisce those drunken moments at Grace’s bachelorette party, and the awful boyfriends who made our college years a living hell!

But not that day because your husband was around.

Instead of recalling our fond memories, we spoke about other things.

2. They always intrude on my dating life

“Are you seeing someone?” Intan asks for the umpteenth time.

I wonder if you or Amir ever noticed how my shoulders slump every time you ask about my dating life. Or the moment when I wolfed down my lunch to avoid your question.

Korang nie. Selalu je,” I would often say.

Saje je,” Intan replies. “Try Tinder lah!”

Until today, I can’t tell if my married friends were being intrusive or helpful. Assuming the latter, I can safely say that I’m happier than a sad Kanye on any given day.

“How about I introduce you to my graphic designer? He’s nerdy sikit but a super gentleman.”

It’s okay, Intan. I’m good.

If it’s not about dating potentials, conversations with my married friends will lead to other things.

3. They always talk about their kids

Emma, a cousin of mine, has a seven-year-old son who recently entered primary school. As a proud and doting mother, her profile is filled with Instagram Stories about her son.

Last week, I met Emma before she picked up her son from school. Her kid was all she talked about.

“Guess what happened yesterday?” she asks while waiting for her Earl Grey to cool down.

Let me guess: Is it about the Mother’s Day card he made in class or the time he received a golden star for submitting his homework on time?

“No lah, my son got elected as an assistant monitor!”

That’s great, I thought.

Do you know what would be greater news? You.

Emma, I know your kid is the most important thing in your life right now, but I miss listening to stories about you.

You once dreamed of setting up your own dental clinic, snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, and learning the guitar chords to Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’.

For once, I’d love to hear what’s new with you. Not your son, but you.

I mean, we once dreamed about going skydiving together. What happened to that?

“My life is a lot different now. You know I can’t do this extreme stuff anymore,” Emma admits. “I have to think about my kid. If I get injured, what will happen to him?”

That day, I also realised something else.

4. They’re slowly becoming distant

A few nights ago, I third-wheeled two married couples at Uncle Don’s. After a few rounds of cheap beers, the conversations with my girlfriends Abby and Mai moved from backpacking to breastfeeding.

“Seriously, I can’t wean my toddler off my boobs. I need tips!” says Abby while turning to Mai for some parental advice.

Obviously, I don’t have a clue.

When I turned to their husbands hoping to join their conversations, they talked about buying mini jerseys for their son’s first football match.

I don’t have a clue about baby football jerseys either.

Back in the days, we would chat about simpler things like movie nights and relationship woes. Now, I find myself becoming distant from these people who were once my closest friends.

Not wanting to ruin the flow of our conversation, I even pretended like breastfeeding talk mattered to me.

“I have a friend who spritzes apple cider vinegar on her boobs. I guess you can try that?”

But seriously, are they going to take advice from someone who doesn’t have a child of her own? “I’ll give it a try,” Abby says, but I know she was just being polite.

I promised to have dinner with them again next month, but I’d probably fake a migraine or something.

At the end of the day

What brings me to these points?

If you’re married, you might think that I’m feeling bitter or insecure. If you’re happy being a third-wheeler, you might think I’m overreacting.

Here’s my truth. If you’re entering a stage that defies social norms, like being single while everyone else is engaged or married, it can feel like a personal struggle. Almost like being left behind by the pack and become a lone wolf.

It’s tough to see the same friends who once had an ambition bigger than mine, move on to the next phase of getting married and raising children.

After a moment of reflection, I realised something important: Change is inevitable.

To make peace with my secret struggles of being single among married friends, I have to accept the inevitable.

If it means that marriage can change a person, so be it. If it means accepting that independence doesn’t last beyond marriage for some people, I’ll let it.

If it means embracing that my cousin puts her child on the pedestal, I’m okay with it.

Until then, I’ll continue to be that friend who nods politely to any motherhood problems or throws a high-five when your kid wins first prize in a spelling bee.

Everything except third-wheeling. I can’t fake a smile through that one.

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After being raised on a steady diet of chic flicks and Mum's spaghetti, I've decided to do the things I love most. So I bade farewell to my desk job, moved back in with my parents, and started my freelancing career. You can either wish me luck or read how I'm coping with taxes and annoying aunties on In Real Life.
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  1. You have my sympathies….I am also that single one between lots of married friends.

    I managed to find a few new buddies, but they’re mostly married as well. We do share a strong common interest….so we get along, but since we don’t meet a lot, spouses usually get left out, luckily.

    I guess we all gotta find our own way to figure it out. Good luck and keep at it! Conforming just for harmony is always bad for the initiator in the long run, I believe.

  2. As one of the four single person at my workplace (two are quite senior which one of them is waiting for her retirement in couple of years, the other one which is one of my closest friends because we started working here on the same day, seems like she already give up on idea of getting married). No I’m not insulting my besties (12 of them, one of them was the one that I mentioned above).

    I just don’t like the system that our seniors use here. They called me (and my friends before they found their other half) whenever they want, without looking at the time. Even at 12am! Yes. They called me at MIDNIGHT just to talk about work. They called my number, my whatsapp, texted me (Of course I won’t pick them up nor reply them, those are my private time!). Then they asked me (in the text), why didn’t I respond as they saw me ‘online’. Still, I did not reply it.

    Ok, frankly speaking, I’m a teacher. Govt sect. At a state that is located at the north of Msia. And I’m from Perak.

    Whenever they had to choose person to go for outstations, I’d be on the top of the list, to be appointed. Even taking students to hosp in the middle of the night, also I’d be the first one they were looking for (Yes I’m a warden, because I’m single).

    Oh ye. I had an experience, where I had outstation at Malacca, for 2 weeks, during school holidays. And my HOD was informed about that. YET. They had a meeting, which was held on the next day, right after I finished my outside work, and it was compulsory for me to attend that meeting! While the others was enjoying their holiday, I was working day n night. And when I was going to rest, at my hometown, with my fam, they did not even thinking about that, made me go back to office, which is around 600km from Malacca, just to attend a meeting which was held only for few hours. After the meeting, everyone went home which were around the school. But me? I had to drive for more than 10 hours, from outstation base, and after the meeting, drove again, for 4 hours, to hometown. 😂

    Not to mention, as we can’t get any temporary substitute teachers (because our institution is related to MQA, so only qualified teachers can teach students), I’d be the one who had to take my buddy’s classes, teach their subjects, when they were on maternity leave. Well, my friends here are so productive, as every year, at least one of our gang have a baby. Yes. Good news for them. But for me? It’s like ‘Ok, now I have to do two person’s job’.

    And I know, these aren’t only happening to me. It happen to almost all single woman out there.

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