There are a billion lists out there entitled “What NOT to say to your single friends.” Many entries on these lists are obvious. (For example: “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” Really?! If that’s the case, why haven’t I had a date in 6 months?) But many of the things people say to their single friends are actually true, or at least partially true. For example: “In order to find the right one, you have to be the right one.” Of course, if I want to marry a guy who is wholeheartedly pursuing the Lord, a man of upright character, I can’t expect him to be attracted to me if I am not a godly woman. However, the reason I pursue holiness should be a desire to please God, not a potential future mate. Neither should I allow what someone else is looking for shape my character or personality.
Singles: You are responsible for your heart. Even if your friend is insensitive and/or ignorant of how to relate to you or encourage you, assume the best about them. They want to help! They truly mean well. Don’t allow bitterness to take root in your heart just because others may not relate to you perfectly.
Married people: It’s more about your heart than about what you say, which of course is determined by what is in your heart.
1. Don’t assume anything. Just because you are married and happy doesn’t mean that I am miserable because I’m single. Being single doesn’t mean I’m lonely and desperately looking for a mate. And just because I was completely content last time I talked to you doesn’t mean I am today. My moods change with my hormones, how many wedding invitations I’ve received, and the health of my relationship with the Lord.
2. Do listen to what I am saying and believe me. Recently I had a conversation with a friend at church. She asked me how I was doing, and I told her I was fantastic. My business is thriving, I’ve got great friends, I love my life. I even told her that I love being single and have found great purpose in it. Her response was, “Don’t worry. You still have plenty of time. God has someone out there for you.” I walked away feeling belittled, as if my contentment was not valid. I felt that because she was happily married, she couldn’t believe that I could be single and equally happy and fulfilled. And I felt old; if someone feels the need to say that you still have time, you clearly are running out of it fast.
I wanted her to validate and affirm that the Lord was using me. I wanted her to be excited that I was learning so much, and living with purpose. Instead I felt as if she thought my life hadn’t actually begun yet.
Now let me give a caveat here. I understand that sometimes we singles put a brave face on, and say that we are alright when really we are not. Which brings me to my next “do”:
3. Do be discerning and do listen to the Holy Spirit. If you think that I might be lying to you about how I am doing, ask more questions. Be specific. Don’t say anything just because you think you need to say something. If you are unsure, be quiet. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what to ask, what to say, and how to minister to my needs, spoken or unspoken.
4. Do ask questions gently and in the appropriate context. But please only ask if you really care. One of the most compassionate moments I’ve experienced was with a Bible study leader. Three of us were talking, and my marital status came up. She turned to me and asked, with genuine interest in her voice, “Is this a source of heartbreak for you?” And I was able to respond and share with her honestly that sometimes, it is a source of great joy. But sometimes it is a source of equally as great despondency. Do ask questions like this that will help you understand what is going on with your friend.
5. Do treat us like adults, not children. I recently was speaking with a business contact, and in an attempt at small talk, she asked if I was married. When I responded, “No,” she said, “Oh. (Pregnant pause.) You’re a young lady.” I longed to say, “Actually, I’m a grown-up. I own a successful business, live alone and fully support myself, and direct a thriving ministry.” But I smiled politely and changed the subject. While it is true that many of us don’t have the responsibilities that a family brings, most of us are still adults contributing to society and the church. Keep in mind that while you may be responsible for more people in your household, you also have a mate to help you. Whether it’s decision-making, financial resources, household chores, or experiencing the joys and sorrows of life, you are doing it together. I’m doing it alone.
6. Do assume that whatever you may say to us, we are mentally responding: “That’s nice, but you get to have sex.” Let’s just be honest for a minute: Christian singles are obsessed with sex. Most of us have healthy sex drives, and we live in a culture that worships sexual fulfillment. And we aren’t getting any. Please don’t tell us, “It’s not like it is in the movies.” Or, “It’s really not all that great.” Doing that is like eating a huge piece of luscious chocolate cake slathered in ice cream in front of a diabetic and telling him that it doesn’t really taste very good and he’s not missing much.
7. Do ask if I want to be invited to events where the population will be predominantly married people. I don’t know if this is true for guys, but when married women get together, they have absolutely no filter. I was once at a girls’ night where there was only one other single gal. I do not exaggerate when I say that 75% of the conversation revolved around how they got pregnant, how they found out they were pregnant, and sharing incredibly graphic childbirth stories. The other 25% of the conversation involved trying to figure out why the two of us were still single.
Now I fully understand that sometimes moms don’t always have the opportunity to talk with other women. I understand that sharing these stories is a rite of passage. But it is incredibly uncomfortable for single women to hear how you timed sex so that you could get pregnant. Please be sensitive to us when you are in mixed company!
Recently my friend approached me with great sensitivity. She was putting together a weekend getaway, but she knew I would be the only single woman there. She asked if I wanted to go, and expressed her desire that I be there. But she only wanted me to come if I felt comfortable. I was so thankful for her sensitivity but I declined her invitation because I knew that I couldn’t handle it. I was able to do so without bitterness or regret because she had been so gracious to me.
8. Do think about clichés before you utter them. As I mentioned before I started my list, there are many things you may want to say to us that are true, or have some measure of truth. But we may not be able to hear it coming from you. No single person ever wants to hear, “Singleness is a gift!” or “It must be nice to have so much free time.” Please consider the implication in the phrase, “It’s when you are content being single that God will bring someone into your life.”
9. Don’t treat us as a problem to be fixed. I once had a lengthy conversation with a pastor’s wife about the great need for effective ministry to singles. I expressed my contentment with singlehood and how passionately I desire to see other singles live with purpose, passion, and joy. She asked no less than 5 times throughout the conversation, “Have you met so-and-so?”
Please listen and take the time to try and understand our needs, especially if we express them. Ultimately, our greatest need is to be pointed, in the most compassionate way possible, back to Jesus.
10. Do/Don’t set us up. This is a tricky one. I am a firm believer in the efficacy of being set up by a mutual friend who knows both of you well. I have in fact asked my married friends whose judgment I trust to set me up with a complementary person. I know multiple happily married couples who were connected by friends who thought, “Whenever I see you, I think of this guy I know…” However, I have also had friends say, and I quote, “You’re tall, and he’s tall. I think you should go out.”
Refer to #9. If you want to set us up just because I’m nice and he’s nice and we are both the only singles you know, or because you are happily married and you want everyone else to be, pause a moment and pray and reflect before you say or do anything. Ask your friend if they are open to being set up.
Please take into account mutual interests and the spiritual maturity level of the people you want to set up. Just because you like both of us doesn’t mean that we are a good match. But if both people involved are going in similar directions in life and are open to the idea of being set up, then by all means, set the wheels in motion.
I know it might seem difficult to believe that some of these conversations have actually happened. But they are all true. I’ve heard all of these things and more, many from godly people whom I greatly admire. I know that those who figure in my stories are genuinely well-meaning and concerned for me. I cannot ask you with greater fervency to consider carefully what you say and how you say it. Measure everything against Scripture, and speak the truth in love.
You have the opportunity to become a source of encouragement and strength to your single friends, or a source of awkwardness, belittling, and despondency. Please treat us with sensitivity and respect.