While in grad school, I had the opportunity to study the experience young adults are having being single in today’s world. I had particular interest in the topic given that I myself am single and work with single people regularly in my therapy practice. After a year of study and research, I was asked to share what I learned at a regional mental health conference.
Early on in my presentation, a man in the audience (probably mid 50’s) raised his hand and asked, ”so why aren’t you married?” Thinking it was a joke, I chuckled and quipped back with something to the effect of, “That’s a great question, and I’d love to know the answer when you figure it out!” Everyone in the room laughed except for this gentleman. After clearly not answering his question, he fired back more intently: “No really, what’s wrong with all of these single people today? What’s keeping you guys from getting married?” By the looks on the faces of the audience members (a mix of single and married individuals), it was safe to say that the majority of us were taken aback by the question. Realizing that he wasn’t trying to be funny, I did my best to address his question as professionally as possible without becoming emotionally reactive. However, inside I was thinking, “how dare he ask me to defend/expose one of my greatest insecurities in front of this audience?” Another part was able to look past the abrasiveness of the delivery and focus on the underlying issue at hand. Which is, because relationships (or the lack thereof) are so personal, sometimes it’s hard for us to know how to talk about them.
Ironically, the core message of my presentation focused on understanding the experience, pressures, and judgement young single adults face in today’s society. I genuinely believe that my new friend had no malicious intent. Rather, he used poor tact when asking an honest question.
So, in hopes that we can promote more safety/support and less judgement in our conversations, here are 10 suggestions of “things no to” and “things to” say to your single friends:
10 Things NOT To Say To A Single Person
1. You are such a catch! I’m surprised you aren’t married yet.
2. What about ______? They’re single too!
3. I wish I was single again. Life was so much easier.
4. Maybe you’re just being too picky.
5. Don’t worry, there are always more fish in the sea.
6. Maybe you’re just not putting yourself out there enough.
7. You need to hurry and get married or you won’t be able to have kids.
8. Look aren’t everything-they will change after you’re married.
9. Your time will come. I just know it.
10. You’re probably having too much fun being single, huh?
10 Things TO Say To A Single Person
1. You are such a catch.
2. Let me know if you like being set up. I know some really good people.
3. Do you want to talk about dating? Or would you rather not?
4. I think you’re great. You deserve to find someone you think is great too.
5. You really seemed to like _______. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out.
6. I’ve noticed that you’ve been doing _________. How is that going?
8. I would really love for you to find someone you’re compatible with.
9. What do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to?
10. I’m headed to ________. Would you like to join me?
If you haven’t heard of Dr. Brene Brown that likely means that you are not a psycho therapist. She has become a ROCK STAR in profession therapy circles and I have become an ABSOLUTE Brene Brown JUNKIE!! I have read and re-read every book she has written; listened and re-listened to those same books; high-lighted, outlined and committed to memory her main premises because her research findings are revolutionary and understanding and then applying them holds the key to what she would term a “whole hearted” life.
What exactly does Dr. Brown study, you might ask. Promise yourself that you won’t lose interest and stop reading when I tell you because as unappealing as the main emphasis of her research might seem on the surface, it is essential to understanding how to develop, among other things, a sense of worthiness, the ability to feel loved and the experience of feeling that we have a place where we belong in this big bad world.
Dr. Brown studies SHAME, which is, as she puts it is “the thing that gets in the way of our sense of worthiness.” Shame is defined as, “The belief that we are not enough,” that we are somehow flawed, imperfect, less than, don’t measure up, inherently bad, that we are a mistake. We use all kinds of ineffective and downright damaging tactics to try to avoid feeling shame such as trying to be perfect so that we can avoid the judgement of others; numbing our feelings through any of a number of methods including, but not limited to, drugs, alcohol, food, television, social media, work (anything that will allow us, for a time, to escape from uncomfortable emotions); and, of all things, attempting to protect ourselves from feelings of loss by what Dr. Brown calls “foreboding joy” which is an ineffective tactic designed to diminish the experience of loss by not fully embracing the joyful moments that life has to offer – the thinking being that if we don’t fully embrace some aspect of our lives, when it’s gone, we haven’t lost anything because we had nothing to lose.