Joined at the Hip

Dear Helena,

My friend just got into a relationship after a two-year dry spell, and it really annoys me how he’s glued to his new girlfriend. Whenever I invite him to something, he brings her. When I see them at parties, they’re always standing side by side. Don’t you think it’s a bit lame for a couple to hang out together at a party, like the whole thing is just a backdrop for their date? —Suspicious of Codependent Romance

Dear Suspicious of Codependent Romance,

If one or both members of a couple don’t know anyone at a party, it’s OK for them to stick together (though not literally; a little PDA goes a long way). It’s not much fun to go to your partner’s office Christmas party and attempt to strike up conversations with strangers while he or she gossips with colleagues. But when both partners know people, they should split up when they mingle, at least for some of the evening. If the occasion is a dinner party, they might be seated separately anyway, as per traditional etiquette. In the absence of a seating plan, couples may consider sitting apart of their own accord.

Away from their lovers, people may unveil interesting new sides of themselves. I have a friend who lets her husband tell all their stories, gazing at him fondly as he talks. When not by her spouse’s side, she reveals a mordant wit. Alone, individuals may confide things they might not share in front of their partners. Recently at a party, another friend told me all about how her two-year-old keeps hitting her and shouting, “I want time out!” When she puts him in his playpen, he screams, “I don’t want time out!” The story gave me a fuller picture of parenthood than when she and her husband showed me pictures of their cherub on his cell phone.

In my view, singles always improve a party, providing a magic ingredient I call “single person energy” (SPE). When partners socialize separately, this unlocks their latent SPE. Like single people, they have to make more social effort because they can’t use their partner as a crutch. They can also indulge in harmless flirting, and a little sexual tension usually improves a party. (Caution: Not everyone is comfortable letting his or her partner flirt, however innocently. A quarrel will decidedly not improve the party.)

If couples drift apart during the evening, they should check back in from time to time to ward off feelings of insecurity or neglect. A kiss on the cheek and a warm “Are you having fun?” also lets potential suitors know that the person is attached.

At the end of the evening, the couple will be glad they managed to part for a while. They even may find each other sexier. Esther Perel, a marriage therapist and author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, says: “Every time you ask people, ‘When do you find yourself most drawn to your partner?’ it’s when they’re at a party or in a social situation. Looking at your partner as a separate person that other people may covet and find interesting is very regenerative.” At the very least, both halves of the couple have had a chance to gather anecdotes and gossip, giving them something new to talk about on the way home.

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