I used to feel sad for couples who compartmentalize their social lives by keeping their partners away from their friends. To me, a healthy relationship is one that includes lots and lots of shared experiences with friends, both pre-relationship buds and the mutual friends you make throughout the years. Marco genuinely enjoys the company of The Hohobags, and it was surprisingly easy for me to talk to his Magic: the Gathering buddies despite my refusal to invest in the game. As a couple, we befriended a large, informal gaming group and spent many a weekend geeking out on board games, MMORPGs, and video games with them. Having tons of mutual friends enriches a relationship! How can anyone not want to be part of their significant other’s social circles?
But after four years of happy togetherness with our varied social groups, my identity is starting to feel inextricably tied to my boyfriend’s. I would guesstimate that less than 2% of the people in my friends and acquaintances lists have spent time with me only. To the rest, it’s unthinkable that I socialize with them on my own. Maybe making aspects of my social life Lauren-only is not such a bad idea after all.
Marco took this picture
This line of thinking began with an observation: whenever I fly solo to meet our friends, “Where’s Marco?” becomes the standard post-beso greeting. It’s hardly ever a “How are you?” or a “What’s up?” Almost always, it’s an inquiry as to where my “other half” is.
To this, I usually shrug and I say, “At home, asleep?” But in my head, I’m letting out an exasperated sigh and quelling an neurotic mini-rant. “I really don’t know. He could be anywhere in the world doing god knows what. We actually trust each so much that we don’t send blow-by-blow reports of what we’re doing, where we are, and who we’re with when we’re not together. Why are you asking? Last I checked, we’re in a relationship, not conjoined to the hip sharing vital organs. Is it so weird to see me out by myself? Do you not like being around me sans Marco? Am I just one half of a couple to you?”
Don’t you want to be friends with just me?
I’m sure that anyone who uses the where’s-Marco-as-greeting probably means nothing by it. As my friend Rica pointed out, they’re likely asking out of sheer curiosity. She also added that we’ve built common friends as a couple, which makes it natural to inquire about the one person that connects them to me, when that person isn’t around. While this explanation applies to the informal gaming circles we’ve joined, it doesn’t explain why even the Hohobags waste no time asking about Marco’s whereabouts when I show up alone.
I guess this is what really bothers me, the where’s-Marco-as-greeting coming from my pre-relationship friends. I expect them to be happy to see me, but when the initial greeting is followed up by a “Where’s Marco?” it’s like, when did I stop being Lauren and start being the Marco-Lauren entity? Is it so unthinkable for me to want to interact with you sans boyfriend, or for Marco to have other things to do than be with me? I’m glad my friends get along fabulously with Marco, but sometimes I just want to be a girl with my girls and talk to them about things I don’t feel comfortable discussing around the menfolk. Why is it so unusual for me to show up without Marco that they have to wonder where he is?
There’s a reason why I’m quite adamant about establishing a social identity outside my relationship. Years after I broke up with my college ex, I learned that our mutual friends – the ones who didn’t hate me for leaving him, anyway – saw me as part of a “we” than as Lauren. I hung out with them nearly everyday but I didn’t realize then that most of the conversation was directed to him rather than me, and that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to others with him always there.
My ex was incredibly manipulative, and had total control over what I could wear and what friends I should have. One of the first things he did was make me end friendships because he thought they were too Christian or too slutty. He would also pick fights when I would get “too noisy” after a glass of wine, and for making statements that seemed harmless to me but was apparently offensive to him. So after all that, I guess I must have been too afraid to try to reach out and make friends with him around, because I might have said something inappropriate that would piss him off, which would start a fight where I end up crying and feeling shitty and sorry for being myself and saying whatever it was that offended him. Needless to say, it was not a healthy relationship, and this shit still kind of haunts me nearly ten years later.
Obviously Marco is nothing like this guy at all. He incredibly understanding and supportive, gives me tons of space when I need it, and has never tried to change me or force me to see things his way. (He is also 1000000000x more good-looking.) But I never, ever want to be seen by anyone as a “we” again. So every time a greeting is followed up by a “Where’s Marco?”, it kind of awakens old traumas. I get a knot in my stomach and I wonder if I’m disappearing into the Marco-Lauren Happy Couple Entity, and if my friends will ever recognize me as Lauren again.
I love my boyfriend with every under-toned muscle of my being, but I am not a “we”. I am Lauren and he is Marco and sometimes we like to do things and see people without the other.
Is this a normal thing to feel or am I overreacting? Do you feel the need to establish an identity outside of your relationship?Google+