Sunday, August 26, 2012

What Not to Say to Single People

I have generally refrained from posting stuff like this because I am single, and I think that sometimes it sounds whiny when people post about something that directly relates to their own situation. I don't want to sound whiny because I am actually quite pleased with my singlehood currently. Not to say that I want to be single forever, but my point is that I am happy to be me.

But you see, sometimes I think people forget about other people who aren't in their own situation. People forget to put themselves in others' moccasins. So, really, the purpose of this post is to perhaps help people who want to be kind to everyone, even those that aren't in the same situation that they are in. If that isn't you and you don't actually care what these single people think, then I guess this list just isn't for you.

I hang out with a fair share of single people, so I compiled a list of things that you shouldn't say to them. Some of these come from actual experiences where it has been awkward or maybe has caused the person to feel embarrassed, belittled, or sad. It's not like these things will always cause people to feel badly, but they have a higher likelihood of doing so unless you tread very carefully.

1. "Why aren't you married?" I don't think this one always makes people feel badly, but I don't really think it's a necessary question. It's a hard one to answer, really, as there are probably a long list of reasons why a person is not married. Most people just haven't found the right person and situation for marriage, so it's not a very necessary question, anyway. The question also implies that there is something wrong or off about the person for not being married, and that's not a correct attitude to have about anyone. So, you should generally avoid this question.
2. "My grandson who lives in Palau is also single." Part I One time a really old dude told me that he had a grandson who was single. This grandson was substantially younger than me, and by his grandfather's account was a deadbeat, but somehow this was relevant to me. He said something like that I could bring the money into the relationship, since I am older and have a good job. Also, this young fellow didn't even live in my same state. This entire conversation was mind-boggling. Why would this old dude think I was in a state of needing to be matched with his deadbeat grandson? In what way is this complimentary to me? Answer: it wasn't. Trying to set people up purely because they are both single is not in any way complimentary to either party. It once again implies that there is something wrong with not being married and that people should do anything to get married. Not a correct principle AT ALL. If you don't have any idea that the person you are talking to would remotely like to be set up with another person, then by all means hold your tongue or ask appropriate questions such as "Do you like to be set up on blind dates?" to feel out the waters first.
3. "My grandson who lives in Palau is also single." Part II Sometimes when I first meet people and they find out I'm single, people just start telling me stories about someone else they know who is single. I think they bring it up because they're trying to relate to me or something. Well, guess what? It's weird to tell random stories about the other single person you know. And what? Do you really only know one other single person? Seriously? I think the current stats are that just under half of the U.S. adult population is unmarried. Surely you know other single people. If not, please, get out a little more and meet more people. Step out of your bubble.
4. "Are you gay?" I have racked my brain trying to come up with an appropriate time to ever ask someone this question, and I haven't come up with a single time when it's appropriate. It's certainly not appropriate in front of a large gathering of people or family dinners or the like. Even if you have a really good relationship with someone, I think it's better to let that person tell you when they're ready to tell you and not ask them straight up. My sister banana came up with one way in which it could possibly be an appropriate question to ask, and that would be if you are gay and you are wondering if someone is a potential for your dating pool. But still, it's not a smooth way to go about it in my opinion; although, I guess I don't really know.
5. "I wasn't a real person until I had kids." I read a blog post one time where the person said something to this effect, and I was like... what!? I felt really badly for this blogger because I felt like they were saying that they weren't an individual who had worth, you know? Individual worth? I'm sure that's not exactly what they meant, and they are certainly entitled to their own experiences, feelings, and opinions, but wow. Not a real person, eh? I've noticed that this kind of mentality is somewhat common in family-oriented social spheres (and sometimes people associate this with religion, even though I think it's more cultural than doctrinal). I get that having a family is good and positive (and depending on your religion, it is a commandment), but I think that this sort of mentality is damaging to society as a whole in that it asserts that a person who does not have a family is of lesser importance than those who do. That is a false idea. Each individual has an enormous worth and value. I can only imagine how a couple who is unable to have children would feel about someone who said that statement to them. And it probably doesn't help those women I know who vehemently hate Mother's Day because they are angry that they have never had children. I just don't feel like that statement builds good will, even if it is how the person feels.
6. "You should do _______ differently." Telling someone how they should change to become a more desirable mate isn't usually very helpful. If the person is struggling with self-esteem issues, then you have just made it worse. Also, when you think about it, you're not really telling the person how to become more datable, you are actually telling that person why YOU think they aren't datable. You are directly rejecting them for who they are, and that isn't very kind at all. Always remember that people are different. Something that you value highly may be of little worth to someone else and vice versa. When it comes down to it, what you think about them doesn't matter, unless you are interested in them, in which case you still shouldn't tell them how to change.
7. "This is what I did to get married. You should do that, too." I can't count how many times I've heard stories like this and have just ended up feeling badly for the person and their courtship/marriage. Again, we are all different. Unsolicited advice or telling people how to live their lives isn't very respectful of them. It is jumping to conclusions about their feelings, their desires, and even that they want to talk to you about their dating life at all.
8. "Why did you get a divorce?" This question is another one that you should just let people tell you when they are good and ready to do so. It's such a personal and frequently emotionally-charged topic that it's just more respectful to let them bring it up.
9. "What is wrong with you?" I would think that this question is self-explanatory, but I have heard people ask that question to others before. The fact that someone else has a different relationship status than you does not mean that they are broken or that something is wrong with them. And truly, nobody is perfect, so asking the person this question is really just super negative, as the likelihood of them knowing their own imperfections is high. There is no need to remind them of those imperfections.

Now, if the single person engages you in this type of conversation and actually asks your advice or opinion, feel free to give it to them as they ask. These are are just things that you shouldn't blurt out just because someone is single. The whole point is to be kind and respectful to people. No matter what someone's relationship status is, they are still people who probably have a bunch of things in common with you. Obsession over someone's relationship status doesn't really seem to be helpful at all. Just remember to put yourself in the other person's shoes and to remember that no matter who they are, they should be treated with kindness.

Discuss. And if you can think of others that I've missed, feel free to add them in the comments.


dub said...

Great list! I want to add one more (kind of similar to your #5) that I've noticed lately from some of my new female acquaintances. A lot of them say things like, "Oh, my sister isn't married yet." YET?!?! What is that supposed to mean? That someone is not complete "until" he/she gets married? That marriage is an inevitable or necessary stage in our human development? Maybe I'm overreacting -- after all, those women may just be trying to be optimistic or something -- but I do not think that "yet" is an appropriate word to use in that sentence. There are many people who will not get married in this life at all, and I believe that they are complete human beings with as much value as married people!

Anonymous said...

I like this post for two reasons.

(1) I have had many of these same thoughts and feelings, as a single person. The one that happened to me most often was #2 (or #3). I thought many times, "Please don't match me up with someone, because the only thing we have in common is our single-ness. That's not enough, thanks!" Also... I've never had anyone ask me if I was gay, but I did have someone ask if one of my very close friends was. Or, that she thought he was. I was so angry. What an assumption!! Especially considering the individuals involved.

(2) I am finding myself gradually shifting onto the other side of the "marriage veil of forgetfulness", so this post is a good reminder for me. In defense of the un-thinking, yet happily matched, folks who blurt out stupidly: sometimes it's hard to remember that my current thoughts and feelings are not always what they used to be. I hope I'm never as rude or unthinking as the folks you have described in your post, but I can see my mind-set shifting to a new reality. For myself. So, I guess that's the point.

Cash said...

Excellent list. May I add another one? I had a work supervisor once tell me not to move to a certain location because I wouldn't be able to get married there. There were about five insulting things he was insinuating with this comment (as you can probably imagine) but it had the strange effect of making me feel really sorry for him (instead of me).

julie said...

I always hated "Are you dating anyone?" It's not a horrible question, but I rarely was so I hated having to say no. Like you said about the gay issue, if someone IS dating someone, they'll eventually get around to sharing it. Or they won't and that's their business too. That said, I'm often tempted to ask this of my single friends only because I don't see them or talk to them as much as I'd like and it's something I would like to know. However, I don't ask it.

Like Sarah, I find myself shifting through the marriage veil, but I think it helps that I didn't get married until my mid 30s so can still remember what it was like to be single since I was for so long. I will always always always be grateful for my single years and wish I could impart their wonderfulness to people who are marrying at 18 or even 20. Ah well. They have different lives to live.

Good post. I especially like having something, anything!, to read from you. I miss you.

The Dawg, Lib-Dawg said...

Well said my friend! WELL SAID! (I hope it's okay, but I have quite a bit of family that I am going to refer to this blog post.)

Cardine said...

dub - Totally. 'Yet' does have an assumption with it. Thanks for understanding what I was trying to get across with this post!

Sarah - Yeah, sometimes people don't realize that setting people up takes real effort and having an idea about if they would be a match.

Cash - People are constantly telling me that I need to move to get married, but oddly enough, most of those people are single and later move. And it does irritate me for probably the same reasons that it did you.

Julie - I'm not currently dating anyone, in case you were to hesitant to ask! Also, I similarly wish people could get an idea of the awesomeness of the single years of life. I'm not quite sure why people think it's so sad.

Libby - Thanks. I hope many people learn from this blog post. I hope people can realize that sometimes what they say is really insensitive.

tearese said...

People say stupid stuff about all situations, don't they? I had an Institute teacher tell me once that boys would like me more if I wore makeup. I really liked my teacher, but I was SO offended at that point. Another one told me I shouldn't wear shoes that make me taller, because I'm already taller than some boys and it would make things awkward.
Thankfully, I married someone who is taller than me(and yes, it is awkward to be taller than a boy you're going out with) but I didn't think it was their place to make the suggestion to me. Sheesh!
There is a guy in my Branch who everyone is always trying to set up. Someone told him that if he got a nice new truck, he could probably get a girlfriend. He told them bluntly (but with a smile) I don't want a new truck, and I don't want a girlfriend. He's 50, and I would think he was probably tired of people always bringing up the subject. Oops. I just told you a story about another single person. Sorry.
Also, I can think of other situations now that I'm married where people say innapropriate things never ends. As you mentioned, there are things people say when a couple has no children that are very hurtful, or if they have too many children, or about a myriad of other choices people make.
I think I sometimes commit these faux pas too, but I really try to keep my mouth shut until I know someone's situation better. The end.

banana said...

Don't take this wrong, but sometimes I feel that I am not a real person now that I have kids. I mean, I feel that I don't know how to have normal conversations with people any more. ...unless we are talking volleyball. Kids are just so monopolizing of life. That's a good thing to me, though. So, sorry I am so focused on one thing.

Keith said...

I didn't know Rick had a grandson.

Cardine said...

tearese - Exactly. People say dumb things about so many situations that are just different than their own. I say dumb things, too, but maybe with a collective effort, eventually we all won't say so many dumb things.

It's always weird to me when people think makeup equals beauty. I don't see it that way at all. I also don't think it's really all that weird for the girl to be taller than the guy.

That 50 year old sounds cool.

Banana - You're just fine, even if you feel like the kids have consumed your life.

Keith - Funny!

Lisa said...

I love it! I wrote a blog post very similar to this.