Posted by Galatea
Over the past six years or so, I have run up against a number of the ways in which twenty-first century Western society is set up to assume that people of my age bracket will be partnered or actively looking to be, and have sometimes had bad times as a result (with some irony, a lot of this running-up-against happened while I was actually part of a couple, just not one that operated in the assumed-default mode). Thus, to beginning to think about couples privilege and the privileges associated with coupledom, and to beginning to compile a Couples Privilege Checklist.
This isn't, of course, to suggest that people in couples are all evil, or that there's a giant social conspiracy wherein everyone come up with ways to mess with single people (although if you've met some of my relatives, you might start to have Suspicions...)! However, I do think it's important to look at some of the ways in which our charming heterocentric nuclear-family oriented society creates (or fails to smooth over) obstacles for people who don't fit into the one-man-one-woman-couple model for whatever reason.
I'm deliberately leaving out the sex-and-romance parts of coupledom in this post, and just focusing on the privilege points that affect daily life. A lot of these points are heavily tied to straight or m/f couple privilege, and some of them are tied to class and race privilege as well. I'm also sure that there's a lot of stuff I'm missing, and would appreciate it if anyone is able to point any missed issues out in the comments.
ETA: As andustar pointed out below, many of these privileges also apply only to people in non-abusive relationships.
I should also say that as a sexual/romantic person who has been in relationships (and indeed, is in one now), I've experienced most of these privileges from the 'good' end as well as the pointy one -- I have some brief and transient experience of what might be a much more long-term problem for, eg., an aromantic person.
The final added caveat, of course, is that these are my issues seen from my perspective, and that YM, as ever, MV.
As a member of a couple...
- I can take holidays! Most package holidays and hotel stays will be available to me significantly more cheaply if I am able to book as part of a two-person unit (* see below for example). I will also probably enjoy wherever I go much more if I have someone else to travel with, and will be able to take part in activities that would otherwise only be accessible to me if I travelled as part of a club or other group. This, FWIW, is why I basically didn't have a holiday for six years, and it sucked some major no-funningtonness through a no-fun-flavoured straw.
- If I live with another person, I will be able to afford accommodation much more easily. The accommodation that I can afford is also likely to more spacious and of better quality, and quite possibly safer (ohai, rooming houses with shared kitchens and bathrooms). This is particularly the case in my lovely home-town of Oxford, where one-person apartments are vanishingly rare (** see below for example), but I suspect it's still an issue in other places. Admittedly, this can be worked around by people who are able to live in shared accommodation, but for various practical and mental health reasons that is not a long-term solution for the Galatea.
- Unless I'm very well-organised, I will probably find it easier to minimise fresh-food wastage if I'm cooking for two or more people. I will also be able to buy larger packages and use them before they spoil, which often come with a saving in cost.
- Re the last point under the 'Economic' header: When part of a couple, I'm also likely to cook more, and to eat significantly more than I would left to my own devices. This isn't necessarily an emotional issue, but it's worth mentioning in terms of general wellbeing.
- With another person around to share in the care, feeding, vet's bills etc., it's easier for me to have and look after a pet, which for many people improves emotional wellbeing significantly. Also slight crossover to the 'economic' issue above.
- I feel that I have a legitimate claim on someone's time and attention: if I'm upset or need help, I don't feel guilty or embarrassed about asking for comfort in the same way that I would in demanding a friend drop everything to help me (although of course, I have very good friends who will do and have done exactly this, and I'm profoundly grateful for them).
- I feel cared-for in other ways. I have someone to peform ridiculously tiny services for me, of the kind you don't even notice until they're not there -- an example might be when you're standing in line at a coffee shop, and the person in line behind you is part of a couple, so hir partner goes and snags the last table for the two of them while ze queues to order their drinks, leaving you without a seat even though you were technically there first. I don't even know what to call something as small as that, but little tiny moments like that do add up in the end.
- I certainly don't have somebody who always agrees with me: in fact, there's probably something quite disturbing about my relationship if that's the case. However, I do have someone who is always prepared to listen to me: if you have never tried to live without that, you don't know quite how precious and important a gift that is.
- On a related note, in a larger social group I am more likely to feel confident that my voice will be heard if I have someone in the group who is likely to give me backup: even if my partner doesn't agree with me, I'll have confidence that ze thinks me worth listening to, and that others will follow hir lead in listening.
- As a member of a couple, it may well be easier for me to remain in the country that I wish to live in, provided that my partner is a citizen of that country. This is a privilege that has historically been denied to same-sex couples in the past, and today may be particularly difficult to access for non-monogamous people or partners who don't live together.
- I can be reasonably sure that if there's something I really, really want to see or do that nobody I know has any interest in seeing or doing, I will have at least one person who can be persuaded to accompany me (although I will probably have to be prepared to be persuaded to go places and do things that I'm not particularly interested in doing in return!)
- If I'm female (or, as Lola Olson points out below, perceived as female), when out in public with a male partner I will experience markedly less street and other harassment than when I'm alone. (This is, of course, often a specifically cis m/f-couple-privilege issue, and to some extent a same-race-couple-privilege issue too).
- I will not be subject to friends and acquaintances attempting to pity me or 'set me up' with possible dates.
- Coupled-up acquaintances are less likely to regard me as a potential threat or rival to their relationship. (I say 'acquaintances', as I don't think I've ever actually been *friends* with someone who behaves in this way).
- If my relationship is monogamous, I have a ready-made excuse for not participating in events such as traffic-light parties or speed-dating events if I don't want to.
- If I'm invited to a formal event as 'Galatea +1', I don't have to struggle to think of a person to ask along or worry about being awkward if I don't invite anybody.
- I am more likely to be included in events and gatherings that require an even number of people or a 'couples-only' set-up.
- In my birth culture, I am more likely to be respected as an adult by members of my extended family if I am long-term-partnered/married.
- If I choose to have a child, people are far less likely to concern-troll me about my ability to parent (again, this is also an area of intersection with m/f-couple, cis, class, abilist and racial privilege). It will probably also be easier for me to adopt or foster children, should I choose to do that.
An added heading, put here at the suggestion of a friend:
- If I need to attend for moderately serious medical or dental procedures as an outpatient, I will generally have less trouble being discharged if I have a partner who is able to pick me up/accompany me home. My friend suggests that in hir experience, there is a point at which hospital staff etc seem to judge you for bringing a parent or relative, rather than a partner, to medical appointments, listing parents as next-of-kin etc. Ze also points out that not having a live-in partner or person with whom you can be reasonably physically intimate can greatly complicate recovery from illness or injury (eg. if you live alone, changing the dressing on a wound can be a major challenge if it's in an inconvenient spot), etc.
If you can think of any other areas of privilege that I've missed here, please point them out in the comments.
* Example: From Lastminute.co.uk, here are some screenshots showing the total cost per person for a couple to spend a three-day break in Paris, and for a single person to spend the same break in Paris, using the website's 'Suggested Top Deal' function:
Couple = £293 per person
The same trip for a single person = £468.06
** Examples: From Zoopla.co.uk, here are some screenshots showing monthly rent for a one-bedroom flat for a couple and a single-occupancy flat:
One-bedroom flats suitable for couples: Each flat = £400 per person
Studio flats suitable for one person, rents = £610 and £625 per person. Note that they're also smaller, and generally (in Oxford, at least) in poorer condition than larger flats. Despite that, they're also, tellingly, all already gone!