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