What Not To Say To Your Single Friend (And What To Say Instead)
It seems the most face-palm inducing statements can be made to singles, and often times Christian culture is the biggest culprit of making them. I can’t tell you the number of frustrated sighs I’ve heard from single friends after they’ve been told some of these things or worse, the subtle sense of guilt I watch seep in as they begin to believe them. Fortunately, the people I invite to speak into my life don’t respond to my singleness with these sentiments, but that’s not to say I haven’t heard them more broadly. Singleness is a complex topic, and while some are happy as a clam to be flying solo, it is a source of deep pain and longing for many others. When it comes down to it, some things are helpful to hear, and some things simply are not.
In an effort to help people in all different seasons understand and love one another better, I decided to round up some of the most unhelpful things I believe a single person can hear. (Singles—chime in down in the comments with any I may have missed). But I didn’t want to leave it at only what isn’t helpful, because who would that help? Accordingly, I’ve included helpful alternatives to each unhelpful phrase listed below, and these stem from some of the most helpful things I’ve heard personally throughout my own journey. Married people—I advocate for you in all of this too, so singles and marrieds alike, make sure to read through to the end so you don’t miss it. Let’s get started. 😊
WHAT NOT TO SAY TO YOUR SINGLE FRIEND (AND WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD)
1. MAYBE YOU'RE NOT READY FOR A RELATIONSHIP YET
Unless you are incredibly close to the friend you’re saying this to, this one probably isn’t going to go over well. Even if there is truth to it. More often than not, it comes off as “you’re just not quite there yet, maybe one day you’ll be where the rest of us are.” It’s not helpful. I also don’t think it’s true in most cases. While I do believe it’s best to know who you are as a person before entering a long-term relationship, I don’t believe a lack in this area is the reason many single people are still single. Simply because I know plenty of married people who are still figuring that out, and many single people who have figured it out more than most, yet remain single. Telling your single friend God hasn’t brought her a relationship yet because she still needs to work on herself positions a relationship as something it isn’t. It makes a relationship out to be some grand prize for achieving ultimate holiness. But in reality, God uses relationships—whether friendships or romantic—as part of the process of making us holy as He is holy. Yes, we should be continually looking to grow as single people, but this remains true at every stage of life, regardless of relationship status. It’s not a box we check to get to “I do.”
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD...
Instead of assuming the reason God hasn’t brought your friend a match yet is that she has some growing to do, why not recognize that regardless of “why” any of us is in the season we’re in, God is faithful to use it to teach us. Ask her about it. What are some things you’re learning while you wait on God? How is He showing Himself to you through this process? Also, give her a realistic picture of what the next season looks like by being open about yours. Maybe she won’t have certain freedoms once she’s married. More responsibilities. Less time to pursue passions. This isn’t a way of trying to appease her or psych her into being happy where she’s at. Her longing for a relationship is still 100% valid. It’s also not a way of bashing marriage or trying to make it sound less appealing. It’s simply a way of reminding her that ALL seasons hold both pros and cons. When we romanticize the next one by focusing only on it’s highlights, we set ourselves up for discontentment, and we also miss the gift of now. Help her see the gift in her now, so she can embrace it while she’s able. When I’ve had friends do this for me while also still validating my desire for a relationship, it helps me see PURPOSE in where God has me. That there’s a reason for it—God didn’t forget, something didn’t go wrong and not happen when it was supposed to. It helps me see that God has my good in mind, and is FOR me. It allows me to see His character correctly even in the midst of an unfulfilled desire, and seeing God for who He truly is lifts a heavy, heavy burden.
2. I KNOW SO AND SO WHO IS SINGLE
Hear me on this one, set ups are welcome—IF you’re suggesting one because you know the two people you’re trying to set up, and you genuinely think they'd be a good fit. But don’t suggest setting your friend up with your mom’s friend’s sixth cousin five times removed when they clearly aren’t a good fit, simply because they’re both single and have a pulse. For myself and most single people I know, the issue isn’t that we don’t go on dates, it’s that we haven’t found the person we want to take it beyond that with. If we wanted to be in a relationship simply to be in a relationship, we would. But we want to find a good fit. A best friend and companion, who yes, will be far from perfect, who we will fight with, but who we want to tackle all the messy imperfections of relationships with—like what you have with your boo thang. Suggesting a set-up simply because “you know someone who’s single” makes your singe friend feel like she’ll have to choose someone not because they’re right for her, but because they’re available. On the other hand, setting up a friend because you’ve put some thought into it will, I promise, be appreciated. In fact, you might not know how much your friend will appreciate you helping to make that happen—even if it doesn’t work out in the end. The intentionality in it will make her feel seen, known, and loved. But back to what not to do. Don’t go all “love is choice not a feeling” on your friend and make her feel like if she wants a relationship, she’s got to just pick someone who doesn’t make sense for her, and make it work. Yes, love is a choice. It is a commitment. But it’s not a very good one to make if there isn’t also compatibility and interest to start with.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD...
Encourage her to be open. Encourage her to go on the date even when she doesn’t think she sees something with the guy. I have received this advice from a few friends, and I’m thankful I did. I needed it. Even if going on a couple dates hasn’t changed my mind in the end, in most cases I’m so glad I did. At the very least, it’s made me more comfortable with dating, and it’s taught me things about myself. That being said, encourage your friend to be open but also don’t put pressure on her to make something work if it simply isn’t there. Do ask her questions about why she didn’t see anything—again, this will help her learn. Recently a friend of mine asked me how I know I don’t see something with a guy, and I appreciated that because it gave me an opportunity to explain my heart and feel understood. That feels a lot better than someone assuming you aren’t giving it a chance or that you have crazy unrealistic standards just because you haven’t met your match yet. So encourage her to be open, but stand behind her once she's given it a shot and made her decision. Affirm her—because marriage is hard, and it’s going to be a heck of a lot harder if she was never sure about the person to begin with. It’s better to be single and lonely than married and lonely—one at least has the potential to be temporary, but the other is ’til death do you part. Ask your friend what she is looking for in a husband, too. Tell her what kind of person you envision her with if she asks, as this will help her envision something that’s might feel hard to see in the moment.
3. IT WILL HAPPEN WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT
Other variations of this include—find your fulfillment in God or just try not to focus on it so much, maybe that’s why it’s not happening. Or, you really need to just trust God (thank you, person, for suddenly making me feel like I’m not). The problem with “it will happen when you least expect it,” is that it makes your friend feel guilty for wanting it. And how crazy is that—God created us with a desire for relationship! Maybe for some, a relationship did happen when they least expected it. But for plenty others, it happened when they were actively seeking it out. We can’t make our personal experiences the rule for how it’s supposed to happen for everyone else. Guess what? There have been plenty of times I’ve neither expected nor wanted it. Did it happen then? No. Contentment isn’t something we arrive, it’s something we move toward daily. It ebbs and flows—and that’s okay. If people had to arrive at some nirvana state of complete and perfect contentment where they never thought about marriage in order to get married, I’m pretty sure we’d all be going to our graves without a ring on it. Marriage isn’t a reward for contentment. The journey to the altar is simply one of life’s many opportunities to practice it.
WHAT TO SAY INSTEAD...
Maybe it will happen when you’re doing great and don’t expect it, or maybe it will happen on a day the waiting hurts and it’s all you see. Both days are okay to have. When you do meet someone, it will be a day like any other. Not some special, super human day that you’ve earned through all your hard work. In the meantime, call me crying when you’re having a hard day, and know I’m going to sit there and listen to you as long as you need while you feel all the feels. I’m going to encourage you, love you, and make an extra conscious effort of you when all our friends go out and you’re the only one not sitting there without a boyfriend or husband. But I’m also going to call you up to your potential. I’m going to remind you of the work God is doing in and through you RIGHT NOW, and try to help you not get stuck in self-pity. In same way you shouldn’t assume your friend should be “trying not to focus on it,” also don’t assume she should be doing more to make it happen—that may not be where God has her right now. Ask her where she’s at. Don’t get me started on this, though—I could do a whole blog post or YouTube video on this topic—on whether we should be “waiting on God” or “taking initiative.” Oh wait, I already did. 😉
Bottom line is, the best thing you can do for you single friend is the same best thing you can do for anyone else: LOVE her. In all the “what to say instead” descriptions, you may have noticed a commonality: they all include questions. For anyone, in any situation, I think it’s always best NOT to assume you know what the other person else needs to do or hear without first seeking to understand where they’re at better.
In doing so, you may learn something new about your friend. More importantly, you’ll make her feel heard and known—and that’s all any of us want in any of the things we go through anyway: to know we aren’t alone in it. Your friend needs to know life isn’t a game of musical chairs where she’s the last one standing. She needs to know she has her people surrounding her. The very best thing you can do for her is to listen to her, pray for her, and show her through your words and actions that you’re there for her, and you’re not going anywhere.
SINGLES—at the end of the day, know that even the people who say the unhelpful things listed above, are well-meaning. More likely than not, they are uncomfortable seeing you without something you long for and not being able to do anything about it. They don’t know what to say, but feel like they need to say something, and probably because they’ve heard it before, they figure those things are good. Give grace. The reality is, sometimes throwing out a cliché is easier than sitting with someone in whatever they’re walking through and trying to understand it more. It’s less uncomfortable.
Plus, it truly is hard to identify with a struggle if you haven’t personally been in it. The friend who started dating her now husband at 15 has no idea what it’s like to navigate dating in her twenties, or to take on adulting solo. That’s okay. That’s not the story God had for her, and it’s not her fault she doesn’t understand exactly what it’s like to be in your shoes. Don’t fault her. See that she's trying to help, and help her understand how she can best do that. In the same way, you don’t know the unique struggles that went along with her story or experience, so don’t assume it was all kicks and giggles for her either, or that she doesn’t have the credibility to speak valuable insight into your situation. She does.
Ultimately, that’s what life is anyway—each of us with different experiences, learning to perspective-take and love each other even in situations we personally may not understand. On all sides, we need to refrain from knee-jerk responses and instead learn how to listen well. All that to say, next time you hear someone say one of these unhelpful things, don’t freak out on them. Understand their heart truly is to help. See their good intentions. Give grace.
Then, send them a link to this blog post. 😉
P.S. I just launched an online devotional for singles! I myself am single, and for all the days that’s not a huge focus for me, there are days here and there it’s all I see—and on those days, I wish God’s timing looked more like my own. In this devotional, I’m sharing personal stories, lessons I’ve learned along my own journey, and the encouragement my own heart has needed to hear on those hard days. If you’re watching all your friends get married, wondering when it will be your turn, or simply having a hard time waiting on God’s timing, this devotional is for you!