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Are you in a loving relationship or are you just poor?

The cost of living crisis is impacting us all – but it’s even harder if you’re not splitting housing and food costs with a partner

At this point, it’s not novel to point out that we’re socialised from childhood to prize monogamous relationships above all else. It’s an idea deeply embedded in our culture, from books to films to music. But we seldom pause to consider the real extent to which this is baked into the very fabric of our society. It’s not just a cultural thing: it’s why one-bed flats are usually designed to accommodate two, with rent prices intended to be divided in half. It’s why seats on buses and trains come in pairs. It’s why packs of food so often ‘serve two’. It’s why gyms and Spotify offer discounted memberships for couples.

There are numerous material benefits to monogamy, such as the Married Couple’s Allowance, the option to take out a joint mortgage on a house, or the fact landlords are more likely to choose couples as tenants. As author and psychotherapist Sasha Roseneil writes in the Guardian, compulsory monogamy “operates through laws and policies that assume and privilege coupledom, with myriad economic impacts in terms of access to welfare benefits, pensions, inheritance and housing.”

Aaron, 21, has experienced this firsthand. “I used to live with my girlfriend, but we split up and she moved out which has made paying bills really stressful and hard for me,” he says, noting “food and subscriptions like Netflix and Spotify” as particularly costly expenses. “The cost of living crisis has made this even more difficult – especially with food shopping.” 

Essentially, society isn’t built for single people, and as a result it’s expensive to be single. Research backs this up: according to Ocean Finance, the UK’s singles spend on average £630 more per month than their coupled counterparts. On top of this, a 2019 report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that people living alone are more likely to be renting and feel less financially secure than childless couples.

The cost of being single has now been compounded by rising inflation and the ongoing cost of living crisis. Of course, the current crisis is impacting everyone – regardless of whether they’re in a relationship or not – and it’s unquestionably hitting the poor the hardest. But as an estimated 35 per cent of the UK’s population are single, this is an issue which affects millions of people.

24-year-old Sophie is in a similar situation to Aaron. She lists “rent, food, and bills” as the main costs she struggles to cover. “If you’re single you get a council tax discount, but it’s really not a lot at all. My council tax is still over £100 a month,” she says. “But the one thing that’s impacted me the most is my rent went up by quite a lot in April. It went up by over £100.”

She adds that she has to fork out nearly £400 a month to pay her building’s service charge. “Whether it’s one person in a flat or four people, you still have to pay the same service charge for building maintenance and stuff like that,” she says. “And I’m just one person.” According to Ocean Finance, housing is the most expensive outgoing for single people, with a single person paying an average of £674 a month on rent while a person in a couple pays £433.

“I have a full-time job and spend most of my free time doing freelance work just to make up the money,” Sophie adds.

The current cost of living crisis is even forcing some people to stay in relationships they’re unhappy in. “I’ve been with my partner for around two years and lived with him for just over a year. It’s been fairly up and down, as we realised around a year ago that it’s more platonic. We’re not really any more than friends, and that’s mutual,” Holly*, 26, tells me.

At present, Holly is living in a two-bed flat with her partner and a mutual friend of theirs. “I recently moved to a new job that has halved my previous salary, and it means that if he leaves the room I share with him then I can no longer afford the room,” she says. “The extra costs would be terrible. Bristol is incredibly expensive and my salary isn’t up to scratch. Splitting up would mean splitting everything in half would no longer be an option.”

“The couple norm continues to exert a strong and far from benign influence on people’s lives” – Sasha Roseneil

In her Guardian article, Roseneil stresses that “the couple norm continues to exert a strong and far from benign influence on people’s lives.” This much is clear from Aaron, Sophie, and Holly’s testimonies: evidently, despite the progress made by feminist and LGBTQ+ movements in recent years, we’re still penalised by society for living outside the couple norm.

Still – it’s worth noting that despite the financial benefits of being in a couple, Holly admits that it’s not worth the emotional strain when your relationship is on its last legs. “I’ve realised this isn’t healthy for either of us. It’s quite clear it’s getting to the end of the relationship,” she says. “I spoke to him about it last night, so the process of moving out is likely just around the corner.” However, this doesn’t negate the fact that being single is still a financial burden. Although Holly is keen to move on from her relationship, she’s still not sure how she’s going to afford to pay her rent.

Obviously, monogamous couples are not a social ill in and of themselves. But the ways in which compulsory monogamy is perpetuated in society evidently are a problem, and a problem which is being exacerbated by the ongoing cost of living crisis. Unfortunately, regulating rents or increasing taxes are actions beyond the power of most individuals – but that doesn’t mean we can’t challenge compulsory monogamy in our everyday lives. There’s so much to be gained by shelving the concept of ‘soulmates’ and nurturing other types of connection in our lives – whether you’re in a relationship or not. Ultimately, it’s only by chipping away at the status quo can we hope for a future where we’re all financially stable and independent.

*Name has been changed