I was having drinks this weekend with Jen, a single friend of mine who is looking for a relationship. We got to talking about how some friends of hers keep tying their tongues while trying to help—offering backwards compliments and dated clichés about her search for companionship. In essence, “Married People Say the Darndest Things.” And I realized we could all use a briefing on what’s helpful and what’s hurtful to say to a friend like Jen who is being letdown by love.
I’m not, by the way, talking about that single friend who is thrilled to be solo and basking in the freedom of an independent life; I’m talking about the friend who is happy enough alone, but is looking to share his or her life with a partner. What do you say to keep them positive, propel them on? Because however much you love your friend and however well you mean, some words just aren’t helping. Here, the…10 Things Never to Say to a Single Person
by Amy Spencer
1. “Love only comes when you least expect it.” Sure, there’s some truth to the idea that when you finally do meet the right person, it smacks you upside the head so hard you don’t expect to fall quite that hard. But as for the love itself? Your friend should expect it. And expecting it isn’t going to curse him or her from finding it! So don’t tell him or her that wanting something is precisely the thing that’ll hold him or her back from getting it. Because as far as I’m concerned, the more a single person expects it, the faster it will come.
2. “You’ll meet him (or her) someday.” Someday, huh. Someday?! Someday is when you’ll win the lottery. Someday is when you’ll retire in a little house by the sea and garden for the rest of your life. A single person who is looking for love doesn’t want to wait until someday to meet the love of his or her life. They want to meet them tomorrow. And they very well might.
3. “But you’re so great at being single.” So…you’re telling me I’m not great at being in relationships? Gee, thanks. The fact is, they just haven’t found a relationship to be great in yet. And as soon as they find it, you’ll see what great can be.
4. “Don’t you think you’re being too…” You know, this is where you gently suggest they’re being too picky or too hard on people or too judgmental. But what does your friend think? Um, no, actually, I don’t think I’m being too anything. I know what I want and I’ll wait ‘til I get it. And he or she has the right to do just that while enjoying every second of their single life in the meantime, thank you very much.
5. “I know this woman who’s 74, and she just fell in love for the first time.” Aw, what a sweet, romantic story. Love never ages. Of course you’ve now set off a mind bomb like, Oh my God, you mean I might not find love until I’m old and wrinkly and the only one who’ll ever want me is the person at the end of the nursing home hall? Other peoples’ love stories are great; other peoples’ love stories from this era are even better.
6. “Relationships are no walk in the park, either, you know.” This is usually followed by a story of how your husband/wife/partner is being very stubborn about, say, which family’s house to visit on vacation. Poor you, your friend is thinking. You have someone to love you and spend vacations with and I don’t. If your single friend wants a relationship, let ‘em want it! Don’t try to undersell the goal.
7. “Sometimes I wish I was single.” Oh, right, “some” times. Which means eleven minutes one day a week. The other 10,069 minutes, you’re glad you’re not. There’s a way to rephrase this, which is, “There are things I miss about being single.” And then list them: The anticipation of a date. The first kiss. The talks until dawn. The total, utter freedom. Let your friend celebrate those things the way he or she should be!
8. “Why don’t I just set you up with that coworker of mine?” The key word here is “just.” This is likely the set-up your friend previously rejected because your coworker’s shiny two-toned suit pants were a turn-off the first three times they met. Digging up old possibilities implies that you think your single friend has lowered his or her standards by now…or that you think they should. And you don’t think they should…do you?
9. “Maybe you should be more… (flirtatious, kind, outgoing) or less… (sarcastic, abrasive, dull).” Sure, maybe there are things your friend could be doing better; being single for a long time sometimes puts you off your game. But trust me, they’ve made this list before, and they don’t need to hear more “flaws” from you. Don’t tell them what they “should” or “could” be, tell them how wonderful they are as is.
10. “You need to get out there.” Oh, right, your single friend hadn’t thought of that, but that’s where all the people who’ll love them are…out there! This is old news. If your friend wants to date, he or she’ll date. If they don’t feel like it, they shouldn’t have to. But keep in mind, if they want a relationship, their lack of a partner may not be for lack of trying. It won’t help to imply that folks like you think they’re not “doing” enough.
So…what do you say to your single friend? The truth. That they’re “a freaking catch.” That “it will happen.” That the guys or girls out there are obviously ding dongs for not realizing who they could be dating. And that in the meantime, your friend should probably live it up. As I told Jen, being single can be a total blast if you can remind yourself to enjoy it while it’s here. As soon as you’re snatched up (and it may be soon…) you’ll definitely wish you loved it while you lived it.
Those are my thoughts, anyway. If you think I’ve missed any backwardly insulting advice (or you think I’m way off on any I’ve put down), let me know what you think!
P.S. If you’re single and know of anyone who needs to be reminded of what not to say to you anytime soon, pass it on…