Couples who want togetherness and the freedom of being single, too

Bella DePaulo

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A few years ago, an essay by Isabelle Tessier, "I want to be single – but with you," zipped around the internet, amassing hundreds of thousands of likes. The longings Tessier described may well be even more widely shared now than they were then.

Here are some examples of what Tessier means when she fantasizes about the man to whom she would say, "I want to live a single life with you":

"I want to eat with you, want you to make me talk about me and for you to talk about you… I want to imagine the loft of our dreams, knowing that we will probably never move in together.
"I don't always want to be invited for your evenings out and I don't always want to invite you to mine.
"I want to be your good friend, the one with whom you love hanging out. I want you to keep your desire to flirt with other girls, but for you to come back to me to finish your evening. Because I will want to go home with you. I want to be the one with whom you love to make love and fall asleep…For our couple life, would be the equivalent of our single lives today, but together."

What Tessier does not want is what is celebrated in so many love songs – the longing among couples to be each other's everything. In Singled Out, I called that "intensive coupling" and described it this way:

"Serious partners, in our current cultural fantasy, are the twosomes who look to each other for companionship, intimacy, caring, friendship, advice, the sharing of the tasks and finances of household and family, and just about everything else. They are the repositories for each other’s hopes and dreams. They are each other’s soul mates and sole mates. They are Sex and Everything Else Partners."

Tessier does not want to be enmeshed with the partner she fantasizes about having. There are hints that many other couples are moving away from the model of intensive coupling, too. For example, in Alone Together, Paul Amato and his colleagues reported that couples in the year 2000, compared to couples in 1980, were less likely to go out together for fun, have their main meal together, work around the house together, or have as many friends in common.

Also relevant is the practice known as "living apart together." These "dual dwelling duos" are couples who choose to live apart from each other, and not because they have to for some reason (such as having jobs in different places) or because they want to feel free to cheat on each other without getting caught or because they are not really sure they want to be together. They simply want a place of their own, and they want their relationship, too. Many are married and some are even married with children. I devoted an entire chapter to them in How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century. They illustrate the contemporary cravings for both time alone as well as time together. (Previously here at NewsBreak, I discussed why some committed couples want to live apart, and why women’s wishes matter more.)

What I find intriguing about Tessier's essay is her framing of the live she covets. She calls it single life, even though what she is describing sure sounds a lot like some version of coupled life. The title of her article is, "I want to be single – but with you." It isn't, "I want to be some kind of couple, just not the 'you-are-my-everything' kind."

After decades in which living single has been stereotyped and stigmatized, is it now becoming something that even couples want a piece of?

Another striking example came from Kate Bolick's Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own. Her goal, Bolick said, was not "a wholesale reclamation of the word spinster..." Instead, she wanted to offer the word "as a shorthand for holding on to that in you which is independent and self-sufficient, whether you're single or coupled." Again, coupled people get to call themselves single, too.

Is this really happening? Are couples really trying to say, "Hey, I'm single, too!" If so, I think I like it.

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Expert on the profound rewards of single life. Author of “Singled Out.” Popular TEDx speaker. Harvard PhD.

Summerland, CA
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