Single Friends: A User’s Guide

It’s February and that can only mean that love is in the air! You know, between bouts of snow, at least for those of us who live in the colder regions. And when I realized that Valentine’s Day was fast approaching I thought, why not take the month to look at stories that I like which tackle romantic love? So that’s what we’re doing.

Except for this week. This week there is a public service announcement.

Let’s start our romp through romance by addressing the elephant in the room. Let’s talk about the single people. Everybody knows at least one, probably more, whether they’ve just never had a significant other or whether they’re getting over yet another break-up, we know them and, at this time of year especially, we can find them feeling more than a little down. A good friend will probably feel the urge to try and help them cheer up and will sit down with them and offer a few words of advice or encouragement. To these helpful friends I offer this thought:

Don’t.

I’m not trying to be cavalier or anything here. I’m seriously saying, the things you’re thinking of saying are probably not going to help. I’ve been a single man for a little over thirty years, trust me, I’ve heard all the stock phrases offered to single people. Let’s take a look at a few of them, shall we?

  • When are you going to go out and get a boyfriend/girlfriend? Most people who say this think their friends just need a little push in the right direction to find someone. Usually it’s said to someone who’s been single for a longer than average period of time. And when single people hear it? Odds are they’re going to think, “Wow. This person has no idea what my priorities are.” You see, most people who are single for a long period of time are single for one of two reasons – either they haven’t found a person who they think matches what they need from a relationship or they are busy with activities that preclude the usual methods of building a relationship and will require something out of the ordinary for romance to blossom. Either way, when you ask this question of a single person, you don’t help them or prod them. You make them feel like their friends don’t understand them.
  • I’m sure you’ll find a nice person out there somewhere/eventually. No, you’re not. You’re not omniscient. You’re not sure. Maybe you think that, and I’m not dumping on optimism because I think it’s a bad character trait. Far from it. But when you say this you’re offering an empty promise. You know it. The person you say it to knows it. When you offer this kind of empty platitude you don’t help. You make someone feel like they’re not worth the effort. In the end, the only one who feels better about the situation will be you.
  • You’re not the only one – there are lots of lonely people out there. I’m not sure how to say this but, “You’re not alone, there are other lonely people” is kinda contradictory. Again, single people are usually single because they cannot do all the things they feel called to do in life – engage their community, use their talents, stay in touch with family, enjoy time with friends and find a fulfilling romantic relationship. Many things go into a complete life and a romantic relationship is just one of them. People who wind up single are probably single because they’ve found ways to fulfill their other needs but not balance them against their need for romance. That’s hard to deal with on a day to day basis, trust me. The fact that so many other people struggle to with it as well won’t really make us feel any better.
  • If they don’t appreciate you then they aren’t worth your time. Why do you think insulting the people your friends care about is helpful? Seriously, this is another case of something that makes you feel better but doesn’t really do anything to help your friend.

There’s more, but these are some of the most common platitudes handed out to single people. These, along with many of the other things singles tend to hear, ignore the basic problem most single people face: A need to balance their desire to not be single with the rest of their life. Friends of a single person need to acknowledge not only that their friend is single, and so probably not living an ideal life (a fact we single people are aware of) but also that singleness is a difficulty that isn’t solved. It is endured.

Think of a single person like a person who’s lost a kidney. It’s not exactly healthy for them, but the rest of the body can compensate for it by working a little harder to keep things clean. Being single is much like that – it’s not exactly healthy but if everything else performs well it’s not going to slow them down either. There’s also only one fix you can offer the situation, so unless you’re planning to ask your single friend out this Valentine’s Day, settle for doing the best you can as a friend and leave the single part alone.

Here is what the situation boils down to. When your single friend is having a rough time of it and you hand them a platitude, you’re showing them you desire to have the situation dealt with so you can stop feeling bad about it. That may be fine for you but it does nothing to help them. It probably makes them feel worse.

Single people are rough to deal with. We can be cranky, dissatisfied and frankly unpleasant. What we need from you is simple. We need you to be our friend in spite of that.

Take your single friends out to dinner. Go to a ball game or a movie with them. Have them over and play board games. Do whatever it is you usually do, except make sure they know you appreciate all they do to make your life better. That’s how you be a friend to a single person – just like you’re a friend to anyone else. Simple right? Not always easy, but simple.

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