Rethinking the ‘couples discount’

In this life there are big issues and there are small issues. There are also smallish issues with biggish implications, and this is one of them. I hate to quibble about a few dollars, but really, I’m tired of the couples discount. You know: you go to buy a ticket for a fund-raising event, a dance, or a church social evening, and find that the price for a single ticket is just a little bit more than the couples price split in half.

I realize this custom began in an era when “couple” probably meant a husband who had a paying job, a wife who didn’t, and maybe six kids to feed. But these days I wonder why I, a school teacher supporting a disabled son whose only income is SSI and food stamps, should be subsidizing a married couple when he’s a doctor and she’s a lawyer. I realize there are still couples who fit the aforementioned model, and I’m glad there are, but I suspect that even in the ’50s the poorest demographic wasn’t married couples but single mothers and elderly widows.

So I cringe a little each time I shell out my single ticket entry fee. And underneath the somewhat petty irritation of that extra dollar or two lies the very real awareness that our society tends to constantly send the message to single people that we are defective. It comes in snide comments and snarky guffaws about the never-married having something “wrong” with them. It comes in single people being left out of invitations for social events with their married or “coupled” friends. It comes in churches who constantly emphasize strengthening marriages or supporting families — worthy ideals indeed — but at the expense of leaving out a very large chunk of people who often need some ministering.

My sister once attended an outdoor camp meeting where the preacher ended his sermon by telling everyone to stand up and do a big group hug with their family. My sister stood there alone while families around her tearfully hugged. Ouch.

On one occasion I decided to stand up for what’s right and object to the couples discount. It was when my son was going to attend his senior prom by himself. I emailed the teacher in charge of organizing the prom to say it wasn’t fair for my son to have to pay more than students going to prom with a date. His answer was that perhaps my son could ask around and see if there was a friend who would like to buy a couples ticket with him so they could get the discount. Thinking that my autistic son would probably not feel comfortable doing that, I shut up and paid the extra money. I’ve continued to pay the extra money without complaint since then. And I’m tired of it.

Have a senior citizen discount. I’m fine with that. Have a discount for the disabled. That makes sense. Have a single mother discount. I think statistics say they are the group most likely to be living in poverty. But a couples discount? Why?

I suppose I could complain directly to the offending party every time this issue comes up, but sometimes I only have enough energy and time for the really big battles. I have plenty of those. So I’ve done my complaining on this issue here. Maybe someone planning next month’s dinner/auction/concert/whatever will read this and decide to bag the couples discount. If so, I will have made a smallish contribution to a biggish group of slightly miffed single people. You’re welcome.

Beverly Hoback lives in Arlington.

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