“It’s OK, your Prince Charming is out there!” I was told recently. Frozen smile on my face, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I knew it was said in kindness, as an encouragement and endearing thought. Yet I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Prince Charming is the last thing on my mind right now. I’m not too worried about him showing up anytime soon, and I’m also nowhere near being a damsel in distress.”
If you’re single, you are likely the recipient of a lot of unsolicited advice, encouragement and pep talks. People want to help, they have great intentions—yet they sometimes cross the line of “too far” and end up miles past “helpful.”
So, non-singles, please hear me: people who happen to be single are so much more than their relationship status, as (I hope) are most people. Any list, article, or how-to will never apply to every individual—so seek to personally get to know the people around you. Look past the generalizations. And, please, watch how you phrase your well-intentioned comments. Here are some things to avoid:
I’m always confused why my telling people I’m single gets the same response as sharing a cancer diagnosis. Sure, some people don’t enjoy being single, and the world has made it out to be comparable to a disease, but continually telling people you’re so very sorry about this horrible thing in their life assumes they’re currently unhappy and reinforces the unhealthy viewpoint that a relationship is the be-all, end-all.
Instead of apologizing, give your friend the freedom to express how they actually feel about their relationship status. Don’t assume they hate it, when they could be enjoying every second. Don’t suppose they love it, because they could be really struggling right now. Before you attempt to comfort, first attempt to understand.
“How Are You Still Single?”
This is meant as a compliment, but it can come off as somewhat offensive. Being surprised that someone great is single assumes that there is something inherently wrong with single people—that they somehow deserve the “punishment” of singleness. Wonderful people find themselves in relationships, the thinking seems to go. Crazy, messed up people find themselves single.
But of course, that’s not how the world works. Singleness isn’t necessarily the symptom of some big flaw, just as being in a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy.
”You Should Date [Name of Mutual Friend/Co-Worker/Cousin]”
Here’s the thing: friends ask friends before setting them up. So there’s no need to awkwardly hint at something, just ask before you start playing matchmaker. And allow people to say no. Sometimes, a single person is open to being set up with a mutual friend someone thinks they’ll hit it off with. Sometimes, the last thing a single needs is another awkward interaction with a stranger (we have dating apps for that).
“Wow, You Must Have So Much Free Time!”
This is usually an attempt to point out the silver lining. But this sometimes implies that your single friend’s schedule, and life, must be empty (and void of anything meaningful) when there isn’t a significant other in it. True, those of us who are single have just one person’s schedule to keep track of instead of two, but there are so many other important parts of our days that have nothing to do with our love lives.
“Use This Time to Better Yourself!”
I am a fan of increasing self awareness, of learning about yourself, of striving to be a better person. So much so that I believe everyone should constantly be bettering themselves—single, married, adolescent, senior citizen, whoever! Saying this “gift” of free time allows singles to become the best version of themselves sometimes comes off as claiming that people in relationships don’t need to do the same. Or, worse, that people need to reach some level of near perfection before they can be worthy of a relationship.
Instead of assuming your friend is waiting for someone else to spur their personal growth, celebrate what God is already doing in their life. Personally, the hardest part of being single is feeling like I don’t have a partner in ministry—a built-in encourager, prayer partner and someone who is journeying with me in the mess that can be the Christian walk. As Christian community, we’re called to recognize the Holy Spirit’s work in each other—with or without a ring on our finger.
“Marriage Is So Great!”
I’m not anti-marriage or anti-relationships. But non-singles need to realize that marriage is already portrayed as the ideal in so many facets of life—in movies, in pop culture, and especially the Church. We don’t need more voices telling us how perfect having a plus one makes your life.
I’m continually grateful for married friends who allow me to see the highs and the lows—walking through the good times and the bad with them grants me the truth that marriage is just as flawed and broken as the rest of our world is.
“…That’s Why You’re Single”
Unless you are a deep, personal friend of someone’s and feel called to to enter into a deep, vulnerable conversation with them, never say this, even if you’ve heard them joke about it from time to time. Reasons for being single are usually not up for discussion with mere acquaintances—they are typically very personal and unique to each person. Making a joke out of it does more harm than good.
“I Can’t Even Imagine Being Single. I Don’t Know How You Do It.”
Similar to the apology, this leaves your friend in the awkward position of having to justify why their current reality is not as horrible as you apparently think. Many people really enjoy being single, so your friend might not need you to commiserate with them.
Instead, ask some questions to find out what else is going on in your friend’s life. Relationships aside, life can be rough. School is stressful, work is never ending, family can drive you crazy. See what in particular your friend is struggling with, and offer to be what they need—it could be a listening ear, advice or simply a friend to eat ice cream with.