Singled Out

Dear Helena,

Last night my wife and I had a couple we know over to dinner, and at the last minute we invited our friend “Ben,” who is single. It was a pleasant evening but a little flat, and everyone left early, including Ben. I think he had a good time—but not a great time. I’m wondering whether it’s because he felt like the fifth wheel. I would have invited another single, but no one seemed right for him, and anyway I don’t like trying to matchmake at dinner parties because I feel like it makes the people who are being set up feel self-conscious. If you want to have a really fun evening, should you invite more than one single? —Old Married Fogy

Dear Old Married Fogy,

Most singles probably are fine being the only solo guest. But, as I learned when I called around, they prefer not to be. Wendy Merrill, author of Falling into Manholes, a book about her dating life, says if she’s been “recently rejected,” it can be depressing to be surrounded by couples. She adds: “Women may be afraid I’m hitting on their man … especially if I have a little cleavage action going.” Alison Gerlach, a film producer in Chicago, says she sometimes feels self-conscious if she’s the only single guest. Lone singles may feel “like they’re there to tell stories of their adventures.”

So if you invite more than one single, they’ll likely have a better time. But here’s the thing: So will everyone else. This is because singles bring what I call “single person energy” (SPE). Most are on the lookout for a mate, so they often put more care into their personal appearance than attached people do. They make an effort to talk to strangers because they don’t have the crutch of a partner. And though it’s certainly not true across the board (there are plenty of singles who stay at home all the time and couples who have adventures), those without mates often lead more racy lives that make for better anecdotes. When people pair-bond, they can lose interest in their social lives—as if all that partying and doing shots was nothing more than a strategy to find a mate. “They just want to stay in and rent movies,” says Gerlach.

Single people often drink a little more, take risks, and stay out later, because there is no predestined end to their evening. They also encourage flirtation in others, which, if harmless, is never a bad thing for a party.

When I meet interesting single people, I always go out of my way to cultivate them so they can infuse my parties with SPE. As bay leaves are to gumbo, single people are to parties: You throw them in and let them simmer away, adding their savor. Just as you take out the bay leaves and put them on the side of your plate, so at the end of the party you put the singletons in taxis. Of course, occasionally two of your singletons may hook up. While happy for them, this is sad for you. Instead of infusing your parties with SPE, they may now prefer cuddling in front of Netflix.

Table Manners appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.