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Do Social Invitations Dwindle When You’re No Longer a Couple? 

How a change in partner status can affect friendships.

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illustration of woman walking dog looking through the window of a friends house where couples are gathering
Robert Samuel Hanson
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My first-marriage in-laws were bridge players. They spoke of people in pairs: Ed and Marge; Dave and Gwen. Their entire social life revolved around their couples’ friends. The 22-year-old me asked my mother-in-law what happened when someone was widowed and no longer had a bridge partner. Her answer—ever so blasé and with the flap of a hand—was, “Oh, the women never really fit in after that.”

Yikes! Did my mother-in-law dump her widowed friends? In a world of cosmic justice, she would have been widowed herself and cut out of bridge games; instead, she lived to 98, dying two years before my father-in-law, who made it to 100.When husband No. 2, Randy, and I first became a coupleI began getting dinner-party invitations for the first time in years. I’d thought dinner parties had gone out of style, that nobody was doing that sort of entertaining anymore. Then I realized that, no, they just weren’t inviting me, uncoupled divorcée Linda. I had stopped fitting in.

Randy and I have been together for over 25 years now. Without planning it this way, our social life is usually one of twosomes. We’re at the stage where unless we both get hit by a bus at the same time, one of us will outlive the other, with the odds in my favor. By age 85 and older, 70 percent of women are widowed—twice the number of widowed men at 85. I hate to admit how often I think about this. To reassure myself that things have improved, that uncoupling no longer means unfriending, I spoke with some of my favorite women, all of whom, in one way or another, are experts on the subject.

“I miss the couples who haven’t stayed in touch,” said Wilma Classen, 85, a lyricist and former therapist who’s been widowed three years. “People project onto you like you’ll be too needy and vulnerable, when you’re fine!”

“It never happens with the men,” added Bente Hirsch, 82, who was running a TV-commercial production company when she was widowed at age 47. “They can be a thousand years old, completely needy, and as long as they have a pulse, they get invited everywhere.”

Married for over 40 years, Le Lieu Browne, 87, and her husband lived out of suitcases around the globe while he worked as a foreign correspondent and she as a photojournalist for The New York Times. She misses the lively political discussions with all the associates who became friends but haven’t stayed in touch. And she isn’t comfortable contacting them. “They’re married,” she said. “I don’t want them thinking I want anything romantic.”

So far, this wasn’t too encouraging.

“People don’t like odd numbers,” said Debi Feinman, 65, who has spent most of her life single.

In the past three years, Jackie Taub’s husband has slipped into dementia. “We used to go out with friends several nights a week,” she said. “But now the nights are quiet—too quiet. Maybe it helps that the single men insist on paying their own way. Men are always feeling like they have to pay for the women, but then it becomes a thing and you aren’t included. My first widowed friend figured that out fast and won’t let anyone pick up her check.”

That night I asked Randy if he feels obligated to pick up checks for single women.

“No,” he said, “I like picking up checks for single women.” Which explains why he was dating half of New York when I first met him.

Le Lieu signed up for painting classes, where she’s made friends. Feinman is the queen of discovering fun activities—art fairs, food festivals, walking tours—and recruiting everyone. Classen decided to move to an independent living community closer to her son and daughter-in-law. She sees it as an opportunity to make friends in a place where everyone is new and looking for buddies.

“Younger friends keep you on your toes,” Bente said, adding, “and, hopefully, won’t die on you.” I laughed—right after I grimaced. I am Bente’s younger friend.

Unofficial survey complete, I regret to say that progress has been slow. I’m making double certain that I’m including my single friends in social outings. A change in partner status can affect friendships. But I’m prepared. I have a game plan: Don’t wait for invitations. Host dinners for all those insensitive couples. Pay your own restaurant check. Enroll in classes to meet new people. Build a social life around other single women, knowing that the pool of potential friends is growing daily.

Twenty years ago, my Aunt Dorothy, now 97, moved into a senior community in Florida after my uncle died. She wanted to play mah-jongg , but there were no openings at any of the games. The community clubhouse was charging for lessons, so Aunt Dorothy posted a notice on the bulletin board, FREE Mah-jongg Lessons. Aunt Dorothy made friends fast. She’s my future role model. And in the meantime, I’ll make sure Randy looks both ways before stepping into traffic.

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