One of the problems that many single people face is social exclusion. A friend of mine at church once told me of an experience where she was explicitly told by a group of church friends: “We’re going out for dinner now, and you’re not invited because you’re single.” Then all of the couples in the group got up and left. My friend was left speechless, along with a couple of other single “leftovers”.
Yes, this actually happens to single people. Yes, it happens in churches and it is done by fellow Christians. It is not always this overt – at times it can be more subtle, like couples inviting other couples out within your earshot – but this example is an especially appalling one.
Exclusion, whether intentional or not, can be confusing and hurtful. It can feel weird when you are the odd one out in a group of people. It can be worrying – “Is there something wrong with me?” – and it can be painful. It can be tempting to fake tough and pretend that you don’t care about social rejection. Or maybe you genuinely don’t care about being in the In-Crowd.
Other groups of people get excluded too. Since I’ve started interviewing for my book Surviving Childlessness, I’ve realised just how frequently childless people are excluded from social gatherings. This is not just because parents naturally gravitate toward other parents, based on their common interests. That is perfectly understandable. It’s about how far society is prepared to go in being inclusive of all.
I think my expectations are pretty realistic. As a non-parent, I do not, for example, expect to be invited to playgroups. Nor would I want to be. However, I would like to be able to have conversations with parents that go beyond what is happening with their kids. Don’t misunderstand me: I care deeply about other people’s kids, especially if they are sick or something. But not having kids myself, it can quickly become a one-sided conversation.
I do not expect to be invited around for play dates. I would like, however, to be invited out for coffee occasionally. But I have heard of childless people who are excluded from such normalities. Why is this so? I assume childless people still drink coffee?
Some think that childless people cannot cope with being around parents. Perhaps parents feel that childless people cannot understand them, or vice versa. I do not attempt to understand why some people feel excluded in their social circles and church gatherings. I just know that it happens. I know that it hurts. And I think it can be easily avoided.
So if you are a single person, or a person without children, do you feel out of the In-Crowd? Or do people make an effort to include you in your community? Are there ways that you could invite yourself along to the In gatherings or ways that you could otherwise let people know that you want to be included?
If you happen to be a member of the In-Crowd: Who are the single and childless people in your group or church? Who is on the outer? What can you do to ensure everyone is being included?
In a world built on difference and segregation, my dream is that not one person gets left out.