A Note to Married People: What Not to Say to Your Single Friends

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Hello!

If you are reading this, there is a good chance you are married and friends with a single girl. (She may have passed this list your way.) Basically, I’m going to spell out all the things she wishes she could say to you but is too worried about hurting your feelings. I emailed my single friends to help compile a list of what really gets under our skin, at best, and sends us into the bathroom at couples’ parties crying, at worst.

Please feel free to both take my advice and be really, really annoyed with me.

XOXO,

Cindy

1. Don’t talk crap on your single friends’ exes.  Here’s the deal: We loved them. Even when they were terrible guys. Just like you love your husband, the guy we would never talk bad about even when he messes up. There is a time and place for your real opinion. We’ll let you know when that is.

2. Don’t tell your single friends it’s about being content. Most of the world gets married. You got married. Especially in Christian American circles, marriage starts fairly young and as hard as it is to go without it at times, it’s much worse when someone makes you feel guilty for wanting it.

Please be careful not to imply that we should feel content with God either. All we take away is that in addition to being single, we are also doing a terrible job following Jesus.

There is room in the Christian life to be sad. There is room to be frustrated. We are often so quick to rush people into being okay that we make them feel it’s wrong to be anything short of content.

3. Don’t compare your single friends’ adult relationships to your high school or college ones.  We understand you dated him for four-plus years. We’re sure it was meaningful.

No one is saying it’s not. But adult relationships and teenage ones are different ball games. Adult relationships typically start out on a serious foot. If we break up, it isn’t just about taking down a few sorority dance pictures; we are breaking up with an entire future. The wedding, the house, and the growing old together that we most likely talked about with our ex will never come to pass. Nearly every friend I’ve walked through an adult breakup with has turned to me at some point and said, “I feel like I’m going through a divorce.”

4. Please don’t complain in front of your single friends about having to have sex with your husband.  Save that for your married friends. One friend wrote, “If you want to have an honest conversation about how your expectations for sex have changed, by all means, share. We absolutely care about that. But don’t make flippant comments on how put out you are by your active sex life. Some of us are holding on by the skin of our teeth here!”

5. Don’t call your single friends at 10:00 a.m. and ask them if they’re awake yet.  We’re single, not children. Please don’t forget to ask us for advice on finances or business. We still have life experience outside of relationship experience.

Also, don’t always give us the back seat or the pullout couch on vacation while the marrieds take the beds. We all like a good mattress. And you know it.

6. Remember that you don’t understand what it’s like to be alone at this age.  If we come to you hurting, venting, or complaining, please don’t find a way to work in the fact that you think we should be happy. (Unless we’ve done it a hundred times and need to snap out of it. We need a good kick every once in awhile too.) Doing everything by ourselves that we thought we’d do with a spouse can be rough at times.

A lady at my church asked me once if she could pray for me. I had just ended my relationship with Jake and quit my job (because I thought I would be moving to where he was).

I tried to explain to her that I had no idea how to rebuild my life at this point. I had no direction and no one to tie me down somewhere. She listened and began her prayer this way: “Lord, please help Cindy to see the beauty in her opportunity and independence. Help her to see that people would kill for her freedom and to be thankful.”

At that time, I’d had enough freedom. I wanted to settle down with someone. Being single doesn’t always feel like opportunity. Some days it feels like being lost and behind. Even with a full social life of friends and family, the truth is we eat most meals alone. We drive alone, come home to an empty house, and put our suitcases in the overhead storage compartment all by ourselves. If you’re married, you most likely don’t live that way.

I know there are busy moms who would kill for some alone time. There are married people who would love the luxury of a trip with girlfriends. I get (in theory) that having kids and a spouse is stressful, hard work, and a ton of responsibility. It’s probably good and bad depending on the day. The same goes for being single. It isn’t perfect on either side.

7. Don’t set two single Christian friends up just because they are both Christian.

If our only common denominators are single and religion, stop yourself. Please use some judgment when orchestrating these setups.

8. Don’t forget to set your single friends up.  Married friends will often say, “I know someone you have to meet! You would be perfect together.” And then that’s the last anyone ever hears of it. Don’t be fooled; we are totally reliant on you to get that ball rolling. Make the phone call, organize the BBQ, send them the number! If it’s someone you truly think is a good fit, we’ll be grateful. And even toast you at the wedding… if  you actually come through.

9a. Don’t make your single friends’ love life, or lack thereof, the most pressing thing to inquire about every time you see them.  (As though everything else in our lives is subpar.) One friend wrote, “I often get random, little encouraging cards from my married friends saying, ‘I don’t know why you haven’t found someone, but know that I’m praying for Mr. Right to come soon.’ I don’t really appreciate this. I mean, thank you for praying, but I’m also concerned with finding a career, mentoring high school girls, and navigating healthy relationships with my crazy retired parents who may kill each other if I don’t check in on them every week! Since you’re already praying, could you add those to the top of the list?”

When our married friends make our dating lives the center of attention, we sense pity. We wonder why the other parts of our lives don’t matter as much as this one area we can’t control.

I imagine it would feel the same if we asked only about your baby and never about you. Yes, the baby is taking up most of your attention, but you are still valuable in other ways.

9b. Don’t ask your single friends for detailed updates about their relationships and not be honest about your marriage.

For some reason, everyone and their mother feels they can ask about my dating life. If I have a boyfriend at the time, they immediately want to know how it’s going and when we are getting married. Look, if I’m not telling you I’m engaged, it’s probably something he and I are carefully sorting through. I’d prefer not to go around blabbing about it. And unfortunately it would be wildly inappropriate for me to return the inquiry with, “How’s your marriage going?” I may as well ask, “How are your finances? How’s your diet? How often are you two having sex?” Off limits.

Sharing details communicates a level of friendship and trust. With our close married friends, single people want to be confided in with equal vulnerability. If you aren’t going to ante up, don’t ask us to just so you can be in the loop or give us your two cents. I’ve had converations that look like this:

Married friend presses for details. I provide details. Married friend gives advice. I listen and try to think of how to explain my side without being rude. Married friend continues with advice. I’m quiet and hopefully polite. Conversation ends.

Whether they’ve been married exactly thirteen days or this is their first serious relationship and my fifth, I’m always the student in the situation. It’s not a great climate for growing a friendship, as you can imagine.

10. Don’t count your single friends out as aunties!  We may not have the baby skills on lockdown, but we do care. We do want to be at important milestones, buy baby clothes, and one day tell your kids college stories about you that you’d prefer we didn’t share. We do want to have dinner at your house with the family (and then grab a drink after you put them to bed).

11. Don’t assume every single person is looking for a relationship.  I would argue that deep down, 97 percent are looking. (This is not a real statistic; I completely made it up on my own.) Still, the 3 percent who don’t want a relationship do matter, and it’s important to know where a friend stands. Don’t be quick to put your expectations on them.

Equally as important: don’t assume someone who wants to get married someday is always  looking. I’ve gone through several phases in my adult singleness. There are times I really want to meet someone and times I’m very glad to be on my own. There are seasons when I’m open to dating and seasons when I say no because I’m excited about investing in other things. It’s best to ask where we are as opposed to jumping to your own conclusion.

A friend of mine wrote this, “Since I’m at a super-content phase, I don’t like people assuming I want to be set up. Some of my coworkers said yesterday, ‘Oh, you’re single; we’re looking for the perfect man for you!’ Meanwhile, I’m looking for the perfect sewing machine and yoga class and maybe a new church; I am not  looking for a man. If I happen upon a man on my way to yoga and he’s not an idiot, I may stop and talk to him, but I’m for sure not going there to look.”

In summation, all people, married and single, want to feel like their stage of life is okay. We all want to feel like we are on the right track. It can hurt to feel like everyone is waiting, prodding, expecting, or feeling bad about the way your life is going. This tends to come out in the way we talk to each other. It’s important for both sides to listen and to kindly choose our words carefully.

I really hope my own married friends don’t think this section is all about things they’ve done, because it is not. Please still talk to me.

Watch the Who’s Picking Me Up from the Airport? Video

Excerpted with permission from Who’s Picking Me Up from the Airport? by Cindy Johnson, copyright Zondervan, 2015.

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Your Turn

OK, the truth now. How many of us have broken these single friend no-no’s? How do you support and love your single friends, and single women, how would you like to be supported? Come join the conversation on our blog! We’d love to hear from you your additional ideas about what not to say to your single friends and about having grace and compassion for each other in completely different life circumstances!

Cindy Johnson

Cindy Johnson is a vibrant and active single living in Orange County, California. Growing up as a pastor’s daughter, working at Christian camps, and attending Biola University have all given her great insight into the ins and outs of her audience’s culture. She works for Young Life so she is relationally connected to young single women all over Southern California and beyond. An experienced writer and speaker, Cindy engages biblical truths with her generation’s questions using wit, authenticity, and in-depth reflection.

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