Self

As The Single Friend, I’m Tired Of Being The Entertainment

Photo: Medvid.com / Shutterstock  
woman looking tired

I don’t love writing about singlehood head-on, unless I’m joking about it, or exploring loneliness. There’s a ton of much better writing on the topic, mostly but not exclusively from Shani Silver, and I don’t know that I would add anything useful that wouldn’t somehow be twisted to pathologize singlehood. 

But there’s something I gotta say: I am done, as the single friend, being the entertainment.

Before I explain, let’s be perfectly clear. At this stage in my life, I love being single. There was a time when I didn’t love being single because I was panicked about it. (And I was panicked about it simply because I was told to be panicked about it, but that’s a whole other Oprah).

RELATED: The Time His Wife Called After An Amazing First Date

But now? Now I’m deeply relieved I have a house to myself. I’m deeply relieved I can make decisions without having to “collaborate.” I can adopt all the animals I want, travel wherever and whenever I want, and wallpaper the ceiling of my hallway without someone telling me it’s a waste of money or too feminine. I can make a pot of vegetable stew and get in bed with it.

Mostly, I’m relieved I never had to go through the divorces all my friends went through. And I do mean “all.”

Every wedding in which I was a bridesmaid has ended in divorce, and not the “we just grew apart” kind of divorce. By the time these divorces were final, lawyers walked away with six-figure fees, someone got kicked out of the house, and all the kids were traumatized.

But before these marriages imploded, a strange thing happened. My married friends made me their entertainment. I allowed this to happen, mostly because I couldn’t tell it was happening at the time. A frog-in-boiling-water sitch, if you will.

Like the frog in the boiling pot of water, I didn’t even notice when it started. At the time, my friends were still married but hadn’t yet admitted how much they hated their husbands, at least publicly. I, on the other hand, was actively dating. The combination led to conversations that would follow a predictable if simple pattern.

First, the married friend(s) would ask me if I had any “fun dating stories” because their life was “soooo boring now that they were married.” And because dating is a horror show, I would try to make these stories funny.

Dating is a hellscape filled with men who think that you are somehow plotting to marry them, even though you’re the one with the nice house and they’re the one with a small one-bedroom apartment with a black leather couch from Costco, and protein powder residue on the countertops.

Let me repeat: it is the men who think that it is you who is trying to nail them down, even though they can’t seem to understand why they keep losing money while trading crypto on margin, and you are the one with a 401K and a steady job. This is, at its core,  hilarious. So I would regale my friends with horrible dating stories, but made them funny because after all, comedy = tragedy + time. 

I also made the stories funny because I had a weird little whisper of a feeling that it was my job to be a clown about it all. I don’t know if I marinated too long in multiple Sex and the City episodes, or whether it was some deeper-seeded, unconscious social contract that obligated me to maintain the illusion that single people were flawed and weird and strange. But whatever it was, I delivered.

After the drinks arrived and the “fun dates?” question was thrown down, my married friends would sit back and unnervingly stay silent.

This was my cue to start rambling about the latest horrors: the guy who was in law school who explained what law school was like to me, a lawyer; the guy whose bed I woke up in after too many body shots, who never called me again; the updates on my on and off again toxic relationship with the guy who started out as a Ph.D. candidate in history but ended up a failed day trader; the guy who screamed and yelled because I commented “wow, you didn’t tell me you went to see this!” on Instagram when he posted a photo of a frog museum in Croatia. (Off-topic: yes, there is a frog museum in Croatia).

My married friends would laugh, and say something like “oh man, I’m so glad I’m not out there!” or “I could never handle one of those dating apps!” sadly failing to see into their divorced future.

Then, because women are naturally programmed to cheerlead for their friends, I would say something like “Amen! You should be so grateful!” And I would die a little inside without really understanding why.

This started to happen at every dinner, every hike, and every brunch. The more it happened, the more I slipped into my schtick faster and faster, feeling more depleted and exposed. This dynamic was as much my fault as anyone’s because I just unthinkingly performed it on cue.

But eventually, after one too many dinners when I drove home crying without knowing why, I did a forensic analysis of the conversation and realized how much I had degraded myself. So I decided to stop. At the next dinner, I simply said there was nothing interesting to report, and tried to turn the conversation to something else.

This didn’t work. As soon as I said that there was nothing new, my friends grabbed their drinks, leaned over, and said “oh, come on. That can’t be true. Has [latest guy] called you?”

RELATED: 10 Common Lies Men Tell Women On A First Date

Reader, they absolutely knew that Latest Guy had not called me, because I had already told them I had been ghosted by Latest Guy. They also knew this was painful for me. While I don’t believe my friends wanted to hurt me, I do believe that their need to be entertained and distracted from their own lives was so great, nothing, and no one else mattered.

This was the moment when my suspicions were confirmed: I was the court jester, although court jesters were actually paid. I, on the other hand, was out a lot of cash for the two overpriced dirty martinis I needed to get through dinners like this.

Perhaps this bargain — that it was my role to entertain, and their role to be entertained — flowed from some sort of unwritten marital privilege. Maybe once you cross that threshold you get to be reserved and private and dignified, while single people are still expected to be exposed and open and messy, a carcass available for the picking.

I don’t pretend to know. What I do know is that once my suspicion was confirmed, evidence of this dynamic was everywhere. The strongest and most painful proof came when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant at 44.

I panicked when I found out, and immediately asked my doctor for an abortion. But she wanted me to think about it, because I was sobbing in her office at the time, which made her (rightly) concerned that I hadn’t thought it through. She sent me home with instructions to join an online group of single mothers, to see if I thought I could hack being a single mom. (The “father” was that PhD-turned-Day Trader guy, and he had made it painfully clear that he was not down with this development).

My doctor’s refusal to give me an abortion right away (spoiler alert: she eventually did) made me more panicked, so I made a grave mistake. I told all my friends I was pregnant. I was hoping that my friends would rally around me, and help me decide what to do. And my single friends did. But to my eventual horror, my predicament was just another episode of entertainment for my married friends.

I wish this distinction wasn’t so stark, but there’s no denying the evidence. My single friends cried with me, and one got up at 5:00 a.m. to drive me to the abortion. My married friends, on the other hand, never asked if I was okay, or if I needed help.

They just wanted to hear the latest cruel thing that Day Trader Guy had said. When I gave in — because the role of the court jester was well-worn — and told them the contents of his latest email or text, they would engage in long self-congratulatory monologues about how they “always knew” that he “was the worst.” I’d sit silently on the other end of the line, googling the cost of infant daycare.

Eventually, I stopped calling these friends and stopped taking their calls. I knew, for me, that I had limited time to figure out what I was going to do and these so-called conversations weren’t just unhelpful, they were damaging.

I felt more exposed and humiliated than I ever had at one of those dinners, but the flavor was the same: my life was a mess, and that was really fun to hear about, in painful installment after painful installment.

After about two weeks of no longer calling “the marrieds” or picking up their calls, my friend Jackie (married then, now divorced) left me an angry voicemail: “I’ve been calling you and calling you and you won’t call me back. I’m trying to be a friend to you and this is not okay.” But it wasn’t okay because Jackie had lost her entertainment. I had broken the contract. She was mad that her jester had walked out of the court.

That was in 2015. Since then, I’ve tried to be vigilant about being cast as the entertainment, but it’s harder than it sounds.

The expectation that single people will perform for our married friends is strong and entrenched, albeit unspoken.

The only way to break free is to guard your privacy, like my dog Fish guards the front window. Now when I’m asked if I’m dating, I simply respond that I’m not. (This is also conveniently true, because again: Costco couches and protein powder, okay?)

RELATED: Woman Shares ‘Invoice’ She Received From Date After He Offered To Pay, Sparking Debate

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of insidious pushback against this boundary, which most often takes the form of a lecture that goes something like this:

Wow, but you are so great!!! I’m sure it can’t all be bad, right? Have you thought of a cooking class or a hiking club? My friend just got divorced and she’s on all the apps and she is having the best time!!!!!

The weird thing is that this lecture is inexplicably shrieked by the married person as if they know that I’ve now permanently declined the jester role, and they are desperate to convince me to stay. What will they think about on the drive home, if not how messy my life is?

Sometimes, perhaps feeling their desperation, I unconsciously slipped back into the clown role and told them about my latest sadness or hijinks. After those slip-ups, the next morning I felt hungover from it all and humiliated again. Boundaries are hard to maintain all the time.

But eventually, after a long period of actually not dating, there really were no more stories to tell.

I thought this would be the end of it, but it was around this time that I learned that the lack of subject matter didn’t really matter. Some humans just expect other humans to entertain them. The messier your life, the more likely you are the entertainer, the jester, the clown, the one expected to distract others from their own life.

Exhibit A: a few months ago, I let a family of Ukrainian refugees live in my parents’ house. This turned out to be a big mistake (someday I’ll write about why), so I decided to kick them out early. I told my friends about this, under the delusion that somehow this subject matter wouldn’t create the same dynamic as dating and romance or unexpected pregnancies.

Whoo boy, was I wrong? When I spoke to two friends in particular during the messy period between telling the family they had to leave but before they actually left, the first thing they would ask during each and every conversation was “OMG do you think the Ukrainians are going to leave?! What will you do if they don’t leave??”

Not “Do you need help in case they don’t leave?” Not “How are you holding up with the stress?” Each and every time we got on the phone they would ask “do you think they’re gonna leave?” This happened so often that I started to wonder if they wanted the Ukrainians to refuse to leave, just because that would be fun to watch.

The weird messiness of trying to do something nice for refugees but having them turn out to be a horror show is a lot like the dating hellscape, and it gave my friends the same entertaining thrill to hear about it. I was already cast in the role of an entertainer, but I had run out of the original material of the dating hellscape, so they shoved this script in my face instead.

But no more. The Ukrainians left, and I didn’t say a word about it, just like I no longer say a word about my non-existent dating life. In fact, I’ve stopped telling certain friends about anything I do. I’ve even stopped posting on Instagram. I will do anything and everything I can to burn this dynamic to the ground.

Admittedly, I realize that this whole theory could be the height of narcissism. I could be completely deluded that my life is interesting enough that people care at all whether I talk about it because let’s face it, my life isn’t that interesting at all.

But I have a feeling I’m not alone in this. I have a feeling that other single people have been pushed into this role. I have a feeling that people who are going through a hard time, like an illness or bankruptcy or whatever unimaginable thing, are also often asked to open up a vein and bleed for our friends’ entertainment.

If that feels familiar, let’s stop hemorrhaging for other people’s entertainment. Let’s stop being the car crash, the court jester, and the soap opera. Perhaps we’ll know who our true friends are, and who are just audience members.

RELATED: Woman Ghosted Man After He Requested They Split The Check On First Date, Sparking Debate

Adeline Dimond is a federal attorney who writes about her life, love, and experiences with relationships.

Sign up for YourTango's free newsletter!

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.