What Not to Say to People You Actually Want to Meet in Person

*taps mic* Is this thing on?

Well, hello! It’s been awhile. How are all of you doing?

Today’s post is directed to other (hopefully – although not always – see below) single people who are looking to mingle, and the place they’ve chosen to start is on an online dating site. I was cleaning out my email folders* this morning, and I ran across my responses to several people who had expressed interest. My responses were very polite yet firm, for I was declining the request to continue the conversations.

Digging a little deeper into related archives on the old blog, I ran into the responses I wanted to give.

They were not as polite.

I remember now why I took down my online dating profiles.


Dear Foot Fetish Fella,

I am an interesting person. We can talk about more than my feet. Books? Oh. You don’t read. Movies? Oh. You don’t watch movies. TV? Oh. You don’t watch TV either, unless there is a character who has a sexy shoe collection. So let me get this straight – the only thing you want to discuss are the various slimy things you can do to my adorable, precious feet? This conversation was only five lines long, but it seemed so much longer. Sorry, fella. My feet and I are not interested.


Dear Married But Separated Fella,

I will admit – I don’t really get the whole separated-but-still-living-together thing. I don’t think that I could live in the house with someone I hadn’t been romantically involved with in eight years, just to stay together for the kids. I support your choice to do so, though. Sometimes you just do the best you can with whatever crappy situation you are in, and this is how you’ve chosen to handle it. Great for you, and I wish you the best.

But the mere fact that you were honest about it does not in any way obligate me to go along with a friends-with-benefits situation that you have admitted (up front…I know…I get it…HONEST… but go ahead – keep selling it) is what you are looking for. Also, if you had taken the time to read my profile, you would have certainly noticed that such a situation is not at all what I’m looking for. Now that you’ve gotten the honesty thing down, maybe you could work on your listening skills.

Your honesty, while appreciated, is expected, not extraordinary. You won’t be getting a medal (or anything else) for it from me.


Dear Cant spel wurth shit fela

Wut teh hil is ur problim? Iz enewun rily that bad a spelr? I shud not haf to red ur riten ot loud in ordr tu git wat u r sain.


I know people who have met other people on online dating sites who paid attention and responded in positive ways, but they must have been looking in other places, because I have yet to run across anyone who is the magical combination of interested, interesting,observant, and literate.

Have you had experience with online dating (good or bad)? What were some of those experiences?

*I know.  Gmail has an archive feature. The problem with archiving is that you have to remember what you’re looking for. Thus…folders.

I Need Flashcards

One thing that is exhausting about being single is coming up with a positive, life-giving, affirmation-exuding response to other people’s desire to help. I would love to say that I have a balanced, kind, relationship-enriching response to everything that is ever said to me.

Being human, however, I recognize that this is probably never going to be reality. I try to hear people’s intention over their actual words, and I try to presume the most positive intention until proven wrong.

But.

Most of the time, I wish I had a set of flashcards with snarky quips answering common comments. That’s right.  I’m beyond even wanting to take the time to vocalize them.  It’s not about what I wish I could say.  It’s about alleviating the utter exhaustion associated with even having to be bothered with having to say something.  I just want to give this look, and hold up a card, maybe with responses like the ones in this article. Ah, catharsis.

What are some of the flashcards you’d like to have in your back pocket?

To My Newly Single Friend

An old friend recently asked me, “What do you think about my divorce? Do you think I made the right decision?”

I enjoy it when people ask me for my opinion. I have a very high opinion of my opinion. You see, I’m quite smart, and I get to reap the benefit of my intelligence all the time. It’s only right to share it with others. It seems selfish to keep all of that wisdom bottled up inside. Giving my opinion is a public service, really.

But this time, all I wanted to do was hug her and offer her a home-cooked meal or a comforting beverage. This time, my gut reaction was to do a whole lot of shutting up and listening.

She persisted. She wanted to know what I thought.

So here’s my answer.

Dear Newly Single Friend,

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I wanted to take your question seriously, because I can see that you’re serious about it, so I put a lot of thought into my response.

First, I talked to God about your divorce. Unfortunately, God was utterly uninterested in discussing your issues with me. God did, however, seem eager to discuss a few of my own problems. I resisted, of course, because I was trying to focus on you, but alas, I’m not very good at resisting God. I do have to admit that after our talk, I came away humbled and at peace, which made me want to help you even more. I want peace for you, too.

Second, I went to the Bible, which is where I always go when I want clear, straightforward answers [for those of you who are new here, this is sarcasm]. I broke out Strong’s Exhausting Concordance and studied every passage where divorce was mentioned. After a long and fruitful search, I must report that the Bible does seem to project, with a few exceptions, a negative view of divorce. It seems to treat divorce like sin. So the Biblical answer is probably, “In most cases, don’t. But when you do…” To most people, this might seem inconclusive, but to me, it’s consolation. There is a way through any door that you choose. There is a way.

Third, I reflected on our relationship and your character. You are one of the most generous people I know. You give your everything to your relationships. You jump in with both feet. I know, because you do that with our friendship. I don’t know his side of the story, so I’m biased, but I do know that losing you would be no small thing. And I suspect that if he were giving to you even a fraction of what you give, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I suspect he doesn’t deserve you, and you don’t deserve that.

Finally, drawing from my vast experience of being married to your ex – an experience of exactly zero minutes – and my vast experience of being married at all (also zero minutes), I can conclude that I know nothing. I know you, but I don’t know your life. I have exactly zero advice to give you on the subject of marriage, much less divorce. If I could go back in time, I guess I could tell you to avoid getting married in the first place, but I’m not sure that I would. I really love your kids. The world would be worse if they weren’t in it.

So, to sum up, my answer is…

I don’t know.

I’m sorry you’re hurting.

I love you.

Here, have a comforting beverage.

Love,
Your friend

(I did send this to her first.  She approves this message.)

 

Disclaimers (for the book)

In the course of discussing this topic, I will probably say something that will piss you off.  Particularly if you are married.  Particularly if you have ever said any of these things to anyone with the very best of intentions.

So…basically if you’re a human who talks.  You will be offended by something here.

My flippant gut reaction is this: Too damn bad.

The larger, rational side of my personality, however, desiring to explore all caveats and exceptions and let people be heard, demands that there be disclaimers.

So here goes.

1.  I recognize that saying any of these things does not automatically make you a bad person, a bad friend, utterly unhelpful, dumb, clueless, or insert-your-negative-adjective-of-choice-here. I realize that this is all a process.  I am merely presenting how these statements could be (read: have been) taken and giving you an opportunity to see what might be a better choice to make when you are presented with the choice in the future.

Spoiler alert – in general, my favorite choice in these situations will look a whole lot like saying nothing. I know.  It’s hard.  But can you change your grieving friend’s situation with your words? I mean, actually change it.  That is, you say things, and *poof* there’s a partner? Probably not (and if you can, you need to become a consultant of some kind, because I will pay for that service and provide you with gobs of free advertising). So why do it?  So I can feel better about my situation? I can’t speak for all single people, but I can speak for me. And I don’t want to feel better about being single.  I want to not be single.  And until that happens, I will occasionally need to vent my struggles, and all I require is someone to listen. Not advise.  Not buoy my spirits.  Just.  Listen. Which is actually good news for you, because once you push past the need to fix it, you will find that just listening is pretty much the easiest thing ever.  Particularly if there is pie involved.  You can just focus on stuffing your face with pie and not have to pause to say things.  And you will still come out of it having been a good, understanding, trustworthy friend.

2. I recognize that my experience is not everyone’s experience.

Some people are happy being single. That is a state that exists.  I know, because I lived there for a few years.  It was awesome.  You will probably see some residual joy left over from those years in some of the chapters.

That is not where I live now, though, and it has not been where I’ve lived for quite some time.  So most of the information you are about to read will be from the perspective of a person who is single but does not want to be.

It also comes from the perspective of a person who is single and also female, white, Christian, liberal (both politically and theologically, but not necessarily behaviorally.  For example, I am militantly pro-choice, not because I like abortion or would ever consider having one myself or would ever advise others to do so, but because I believe that legal choice gives a person freedom to explore all options and in doing so, will actually result in fewer abortions than silencing it and shoving it underground – read: not actually stopping it, just making it even more difficult to talk about – by making it illegal, which results not in fewer abortions, but rather a higher percentage of skeezy, back alley, unreported abortions. Dissenters – I challenge you to name one instance in history where prohibition of an action actually solved the moral and social problem of that action.  Name one.  Bet you can’t. So it’s confusing to me why people who are concerned with the lives of unborn children would think that simply slapping a law on it would ever be an effective way to solve the problem. Ultimately, giving freedom of choice will result in better choices.  One might even argue that that’s why God gave us free will, if one’s theology will allow for that, of course.  Good works are better when you choose them instead of having them forced upon you. /rant), idealist (clearly), moderately well-educated, feminist (second wave, but grateful/respectful to the first wave, and supportive of third wave.  Basically, I am the annoying feminist who loves all the voices, even the ones with which she does not agree/identify, but that does not mean I will automatically sign up to fight for your cause, because there are only so many hours in a day, and I am particular as hell.), Southern on the edges but Texan at heart (and yes, there’s a difference), introvert but hospitable, intuitive but logical, quick decision-maker but moody, and discerning but open to alternative viewpoints.

Whew.  That was exhausting, I know.  But I’m going somewhere with this.

The point is that unless the single person you are talking to fits within that very specific realm of experience (and maybe even if s/he does), her/his experience as a single person will probably be different from mine. It logically follows, then, that his/her viewpoint and what s/he needs as means of support from friends will probably differ as well.

Ultimately, my goal is to answer some of this wild variance of experience and opinion by handing the mic to other single people.  I can tell my story well, but entertaining as that might be, it’s not helpful in the way that I hope for this book to be.  I don’t want to hand you a manual of how to talk to me, because a) while I am ridiculously self-involved, I am not quite THAT person, and b) only people who know me would buy it. So I want to open the floor up to a variety of voices and experiences, many of whom might flat out disagree with what I say.

But that’s so confusing, you say.  How will I ever know what I can or can’t say to avoid the emotional minefield that is the single experience if you can’t give me a clear list of phrases to avoid? The same way you always have – by talking to people and getting to know them before you try to go all unpaid-therapist on their problems. It’s amazing what getting to know someone will accomplish in terms of understanding their needs and preferences. And by “amazing,” I do mean “resembling basic human communication skills.”

In similar vein…

3.  I recognize that some of the things that I find hurtful might be the thing that keeps some other lonely single soul from crying him/herself to sleep at night.  The idealist in me wants to believe that the reason most of us have heard these statements ad nauseum is because someone, somewhere heard them and found them helpful while in the midst of their angst.  For example, in general, it’s probably a bad idea to use the “Jesus will be your husband” line with someone over the age of 12 who has heard of sex and that it is a common benefit of marriage.  And if you say it to me personally, I can guarantee that I will be fantasizing about punching you in the throat.  I probably won’t even be able to come up with a nice response.  The best you can hope for is for me to walk away, shaking my head and practicing my deep breathing. But I have a close friend for whom that concept is her saving grace.  And you know what?  That’s okay. In fact, that’s better than okay.  It’s good.  It’s good to find something that works for you and embrace it.  It doesn’t have to be what works for anyone else.  It just has to work for you.

And finally,

4.  If you see something in these pages, and you think I’m talking about you, let me save you some time –

I’m not.*

*Well, maybe I am.  Sort of.  But not really.  Let me explain.

All the friends/acquaintances/random passersby mentioned in this book are a conglomerate mesh of various people. They’re archetypes, if you will.  No one person has been called out here. I will call a few people by name, but you will notice that every one of the people who are named are the heroes of the story.  

Part of the reason for that is that there are just so many of them.  If I catalogued every conversation and situation where this topic has come up, this book would be ten thousand pages long.  No one has time for that.

Another part of the reason is that I have had the same conversation – sometimes almost verbatim – with several different people.  So it’s never JUST you.  It’s like some of my friends have a manual of how to deal with their prickly single friend.  A badly written manual.  Full of fallacies and pitfalls and terrible ideas.  And badness.  

The main reason, though, is that my friends are good people.  Everyone to whom I vaguely refer here – even those mentioned in the harshest of lights – are in my life because they bring joy to me.  Maybe not in that one particular circumstance I’m mentioning, but in general.  Also, they’re not here to defend themselves, so giving them need to do so would just be mean. So I just don’t have the heart to call them out specifically and make them into monsters, because they’re not.  

This is not a story of how they’ve wronged me.  This is simply a story about improving communication, and I hope that’s what it accomplishes.  

“Maybe you’re just too picky.”

Like “You’ve just got to put yourself out there,” this is another version of the blame game.  This statement might come with the desire to help, but I must confess – I have a hard time hearing good intention in these particular words. It most often comes from Happily Married Lady whose relationship story (or at least the one she tells) is impossibly easy and “just happened for her.”  She doesn’t understand, therefore, why it didn’t just happen for me. She wants me to consider that maybe it’s not them – it’s me. Me and my absurd need to have someone to whom I am actually attracted and with whom I actually feel a connection – that is the only thing that is keeping me single. If I would just settle for any old chump who would have me, all my dreams of getting married would come true.

I think there has been a misunderstanding. 

I don’t want to get married just for the hell of it. I want to be married to someone I love and want to make a life with. I don’t think that this makes me too picky. I think that it makes me sane.

This little gem of advice usually follows Happily Married Lady’s failed attempt to set me up with a nice guy with whom I have very little in common. The big draw? “He’s your age – and single!” That’s her greatest selling point. She expects it to work, and she gets very riled up when it doesn’t. 

Don’t get me wrong – he and I are friends. In a group setting, we get along splendidly. We are kickass spades partners. We laugh at each other’s jokes and everything. But there are a lot of other people to help keep conversations going in a group setting. Put us alone together in a room, and the sound of crickets chirping is deafening. I think I even saw a tumbleweed roll lazily across the floor. Longest hour of my life. I’ve had more fun at the DMV. 

Is it really being too picky to want someone I want to stay up all night talking to? Happily Married Lady has that. In fact, that’s one of her favorite stories – how the first night she met her would-be husband, they just talked and talked and looked at the clock and behold – four hours had passed. They didn’t even realize it. Sweet story. I want sweet stories, too. Not just “we were single and no one else would have us.”

Other times, this statement follows my confession that someone is interested in me, but I’m not interested in him. One of these days, I’m going to learn to keep these things to myself. Why do I even mention it? I know where it will lead. After an awkward pause, my friend will turn to me and say, “Honey, you’re being too picky. Maybe you should give him a chance. You never know.” 

And then I’ll be forced to imagine her slow death while screeching, “I think I do know. I know he’s got completely different beliefs than I do. I know he is completely disinterested in most of what I have to say – he’s really just waiting on me to stop talking so that he can talk more about himself and his boring hobbies. He is vehemently disdainful of and disinterested in everything that I hold most dear. But sure. Just let me jump right on board with this absurd idea.” 

I have to pause for a second and ask a question. Is there some point in pre-marital counseling where the counselor smiles serenely and announces, “Congratulations. You now know everything that there is to know about human interaction. Furthermore, you get to lord this knowledge over single people, who clearly know nothing or they’d have a spouse.” Is there a certificate involved? Does it have a nice, shiny seal? I ask because you would not believe how often I have had perfectly sane and respectful friends get married and then immediately turn into insufferable know-it-alls who treat me like I’m still a bumbling, awkward ten-year-old whose only requirement for liking a boy is that he says “Hello,” or has a neat Trapper Keeper. Let the record show that I am actually a thirty-nine-year-old, grown ass woman with a Master’s degree in Communication. I may miss a subtle nuance now and again, but overall, I’m pretty skilled, both verbally and nonverbally. When he can’t stay on topic, that means that either he isn’t paying attention, or he needs to talk to his doctor about getting his medication straightened out so that he can. When he stares blankly into space every time I speak, that usually means that he doesn’t give a shit about what I’m saying or, by extension, about me. That’s not being picky; that’s called picking up on fairly obvious context clues.

The most startling use of this lovely phrase, however, is when it comes from friends who did settle. People who are either divorced or unhappily married because of it. They are painfully aware of the dangers of not being particular, and yet that is exactly their sage advice to me. Stop being picky. Settle for anyone. Have the dissatisfying home life that I have. And you, my friends, would want this for me why? 

I guess misery loves company.

On missing someone

I have a friend whose husband is gone on a business trip.  These are usually stressful times for her, so I make a special effort to stock up on wine and make a batch or two of cookies in preparation of the nights when she’ll just need another person around.  I have also readied several seasons of The West Wing.  Pulling out the big guns.

The first evening he’s gone, she came over, and we caught up, skating right over the uncomfortable truth that we only hang out when he’s not around – when she doesn’t have better plans.  We poured the wine, we gorged ourselves on cookies, and we chanted “Bartlet for America!”

She talked about missing her husband.  

I listened sympathetically.  I know it’s hard to miss someone.

Then she said, “I’m sorry.  I know you don’t want to listen to this.  I know you don’t really know what it’s like to miss your husband.  You must think I’m a mess.”

Ahem.

First, I do want to listen.  I bought extra wine and made cookies especially for this occasion. I not only want to listen – I actively prepared to do so.

Second, I don’t think she’s a mess.  I think she’s a human who misses someone, and I think she’s acting completely normal for someone under those circumstances.

Third, I know what it’s like to miss a husband.  You don’t have to have a husband to know this.  Sure, it’s not an abrupt change in my day-to-day schedule to be without him, so maybe I don’t identify with that specific aspect of missing him, but I miss him.

I miss him every day.

I miss him when I wake up and he’s never there.

I miss him when I have to RSVP for me…just me…no plus one.  Because I’m not going to scrounge up a date just so I don’t have to sit alone.  

I miss him when there are errands that I put off doing because I hate them.  Oil change and grocery store, I’m looking at you.

I miss him when there is a death in the family, and I’m the comforter but never the comforted.

I miss him when I want to go out for breakfast or to the farmer’s market or to the movies, and I end up staying home, because sometimes those things are less fun if you do them alone.

I don’t miss him because I hate being alone.  I do enjoy solitude immensely.  I would just rather enjoy it as a choice instead of the default.  

I miss him when friends unknowingly shut me out of their pain, because my singleness is too foreign or other for them to expect that I could empathize.

“You just have to put yourself out there.”

This is the mantra of all of those people who have forgotten how clumsily and accidentally they fell into their own marriages. They didn’t find love by putting themselves out there. They met at work, where they were getting paid to be. Or they met at church, where single people are paired up and mated like show dogs.  Or they met in high school, where they were legally required to be, and got married early because there was an unplanned baby on the way, and her daddy owned a gun.  Or they met at the bar, where he only ended up making out with her because he was drunk and bored and sad that the girl he actually wanted wasn’t paying any attention to him.

My point is that they didn’t plan this, even though they would be happy for me to forget that I actually knew them B.M. (which stands for “before marriage,” because sometimes it’s a shitty place to be) and thus know exactly how little effort on their part went into making it happen. It just happened for them, and it happened for some of them when they were doing all the things that they, from their now married (implied: successful) position, tell us single (implied: unsuccessful) people NOT to do.

But they are convinced that I am entirely to blame for my current relationship status. I am not denying that there is an element of choice involved.  After all, I am the master of my fate, the decider of my destiny, etc.  I have RSVP-ed “no,” simply because the event took place on Friday night, and having met me, I knew that by that time of the week, I just wouldn’t be able to be bothered to wear shoes one second longer.  I have turned down a date with someone, because a night at home watching DVDs of The West Wing sounded more exciting.  And I stand by that decision, because a) The West Wing was just that awesome, and b) I would have spent the whole date wishing that I were hanging out with some of my favorite fictional friends rather than trying to fake interest in his long, dull stories.  Just thinking about those stories makes me want to nap.

My unsolicited advisers, though, seem to think that that’s all I do (avoid people to watch TV – not nap).  They believe that I am alone because I’m not trying hard enough or because I am not trying at all. They believe that my one-time choice is my typical choice.   They forget the social lives that they had before they were married and wonder how, without a family and thus a life, I could possibly turn down a chance to change my sad state of no affairs.  They imagine me sitting pathetically at home, night after night, making myself fatter and less desirable by crying into the pint of ice cream that I am wolfing down.

OK, I’m not going to lie. That ice cream scenario does happen from time to time. Well, the eating of the ice cream happens.  I try not to cry into it, because then it just gets salty and melts too fast.  But those nights are few and far between. I have a life. I have friends and plans. I might have one or two nights a week that I actually get to stay home, and when that happens, I usually spend it cleaning and getting the apartment ready for the guests I’m having over in a couple of days, which I do on almost a weekly basis.  I’m not stuffing my face and feeling sorry for myself.

I go out. I talk to people. I probably meet more new people than the average person, because I have two jobs, one in customer service and one in teaching, which mean I get more than my fair share of meeting and talking to people. I go out to coffee shops, the community market, and various other places where people tend to congregate and chat.  I even go dancing occasionally.  I go out.

I have also registered with several online dating sites.   I think that I make a better impression in writing than I do in person, and I spend a lot of my day at a computer anyway, so it seemed to make sense for me to do this.  I have had not-great experiences with this, though.  Lots of people will respond, and we’ll pass a couple of emails back and forth, but it doesn’t often go beyond that.  I hold on to the hope that there are a lot of great people my age who are still single, but I know for certain that there are many, many people my age who are single for a reason. And those are the ones who seem to want to chat me up on the intrawebs.

So if I bought into the idea that putting myself out there more was the magic ticket, I would be pretty disappointed with life, the universe, and God right about now.  Because I do put myself out there, dammit. It’s just that I’m not in my early twenties anymore, like my married friends with all the great advice were the last time they were available, and what’s out there waiting for me that is anywhere near my age bracket is getting to be pretty slim pickings.  What’s out there is exactly what has been left out there.  The ones who have the good sense to use their one free night of the week to stay home, cook a simple but delicious supper, and watch reruns of quality programming are the ones for me, and I will eventually meet them like most of my happily married friends ended up meeting their spouses – not through some calculated effort, but by living my life and meeting the people who intersect with it.

Those few married friends who did put themselves out there like this little nugget of wisdom suggests that I should – who endured the horrors of speed-dating and e-dating and blind dates only to end up marrying someone whom they met at church or work or the bar – would never give this advice. They know what a waste of time it can be.  They would never want me to have to go through the same thing, because they’ve seen what’s out there, lurking in these places. And it’s not very promising. In fact, it makes that pint of ice cream look like a pretty great alternative.