How to not be an accidental jerk to your single friends

The world is basically a minefield of accidental offence these days, which probably means that you're sick of hearing about another way you have to be sensitive to other peoples' feelings.  Well, guess what? I don't care!  As a person who has been what I like to call a "long term single" most of her life (I have been in relationships for a total of 25 months out of my total 371 months of life), I have some observations!  Plus, I have a blog, so I'm going to share them!  Publicly!

Most of these boil down to what I like to call "duonormativity".  This is a term I invented, because when you're pointing out a problem in society, you have to give it a name.  First, it sounds way more official.  Second, it makes it way easier to accuse other people of doing it, and then you get to make them feel bad in two ways: for doing the hurtful thing and for not being up to date on the latest sensitivity-training-lingo.

With that in mind, duonormativity is the assumption that everyone is, should be, and/or wants to be, in a relationship.  It expects that the normal arrangement for people is to be coupled, and that anything outside of that needs to be fixed.

While it might be a statistical norm that most people are (or want to be) walking two-by-two, like all statistical norms, it quickly becomes dangerous to plant that it, and its related expectations, on individuals.

Before I get into it, full disclosure: I am not actually single anymore.  However, I have only been in my current relationship for 8 months and my overall time spent in relationships so far makes up just over 6% of my time spent on earth, so I feel like I am still allowed to talk about this.  Besides, I never felt like I could write this post while I was single, lest I be some kind of angry, oversensitive single person.  Now I feel that I am in the perfect safety zone: I am coupled, and thus not a bitter singleton, yet haven't been in my relationship so long that I've forgotten the finer details of single life.

For simplicity's sake, I'm using the first person plural here when referring to the single folk.  This is not a hint that I'm trying to get out of my relationship, it's just easier.

Of course, the personal experience disclaimer applies - I can't speak for all single people, but this is what I observed both in my own life and that of my other long-term single friends.

Don't Pretend You Aren't in a Relationship

Just because we are single doesn't mean we think you should be or are thrown into a pit of despair every time you mention your partner.  Avoiding talking about them doesn't "protect our feelings", it's just awkward.

Don't Pretend We're Not Single

Single is not a bad word.  If it comes up for some reason, you don't have to dance around the word or try to avoid mentioning the fact that there is one of me and two of you.  It's fine.  Sure, you don't need to go out of your way to bring it up, but you also don't need to act like it's some unmentionable disease.  If it comes up in the conversation, feel free to acknowledge our un-partnered status.

Invite Us Along

Don't "protect" us from being a third (or fifth) wheel by not inviting us to something.  Especially if you're one of our closest friends.  We can decide if we are not feeling like being around couples right now, but chances are, as a long-term single, this is just a part of life.  We would rather share life with our friends than permanently avoid couples.

A side note of this is that it would be nice to not only hang out when you want to get away from your partner.  As I got older and more and more of my friends paired off, I noticed that almost every time we hung out it was a "girls night".

I get it, you live with a guy (if you're a lady and straight), and so a night with just the girls is a fun novelty for you.  It is not a novelty for me, it is my life.  I like hanging out with guys sometimes too, and it makes me really sad that people seem to think that the only reason to hang out with the opposite sex (when they are straight) is if you are either already sleeping with them or hoping to sleep with them.  Can't we just enjoy each others' company and not be shunted to one corner of your lives?

Set Ups Are Great

TV shows and movies have made it out that single people just HATE being set up by their coupled friends.  Maybe this is true in New York or LA where the people who make entertainment tend to live, but personally, I would have loved it.  The main reason I was single was that I hardly ever met eligible dudes, so if a friend of mine actually knew a guy who could be a good match for me, I wanted to meet him!

There are so many ways to do it, too!  Have a party and invite us both, ask me to meet you at your office and introduce us, or heck, throw the silly we-just-met-by-accident-isn't-fate-crazy?  song and dance aside and be a grown up and introduce us by email!  (Maybe ask our permission first.)

Of course there is a caveat: just because two people are single doesn't mean they should date, nor does the fact that you think the other person should be single and that maybe we will lure them away from their partner.  No thanks.

Don't Freak Out When We Get Real

There is a fine balance that needs to be struck if you're a long-term single who isn't a spring chicken but still wants to find someone: you have to be open-hearted, available to possibilities, and flexible, while still building the life you want and enjoying it for what it is.  You need to pursue your goals, nurture the relationships you already have, and avoid relying on mental timelines or expectations of when love might happen while being open to finding it lest you accidentally slam the door of your well-planned life in love's face.

Unfortunately, as time moves on it becomes super obvious that there is no way to know or control when you will meet a person you can partner with.  It could be tomorrow, but it could also be ten or twenty years from now.  It could even be never: some people, despite being truly excellent human beings, never find a partner.

So when we make comments about being single for decades, freezing our eggs, or whatever, we're not necessarily hopeless and in despair and in need of some "stick with it" pep talk.  We might just be preparing ourselves for the actual fact that we don't know when or if we will meet a romantic partner, and setting up the life we want to live in the meantime.  This is not a tragedy unless you make it one.

Let Us Be Where We're At

Along the same vein, being a long-term single has its ups and downs, and it doesn't help if our friends try to convince us we should be feeling differently than we are.

Sometimes we will feel hopeless and desperate and terribly lonely and just want to cry about the fact that we'll never find anyone.  Sometimes we'll feel optimistic and hopeful and happy to wait for the love we deserve.  Sometimes we'll decide that we are ready to seize life by the junk and make it our own, finding joy, meaning, and love in other realms than romance.  Sometimes we're just kind of blasé about the whole thing.

There is no "right" way to feel about being single, nor is there a "right" way to approach finding a partner.  If we're happy to be single, don't try to convince us we are missing out on family-style bliss and should be out looking.  If we're feeling helpless and lonely, don't try to convince us that we're better off being single because being in a relationship is "so hard".

(Side note: telling single people they're lucky to be single because of the sacrifices you have to make in a relationship is kind of belittling and ridiculous - if you really didn't want to make those sacrifices, you would leave your partner.  Obviously you like life better with them, so please, don't patronize us.)

Let's make a deal: you be there for us where we're at, and we'll do the same for you, whether you are unspeakably angry at or desperately in love with your partner.

Sorry, You Don't Know What It's Like

You are perfectly welcome to give advice to your single friends.  Just bear in mind that their experience of being single is different than yours was.  Sure, you might remember what it was like to be single - when you were just finished university and had the world at your fingertips, with the retrospective goggles of how your life turned out since then.  My experience of being single at 23 was completely different than it was when I was 26 or 30, and if I'm single at 35 or 40 or 62, that will be different too.

Advice is best when it's situation-specific: if I just went on a date with someone and don't know if I should bother going on a second, feel free to weigh in.  If you want to give some super-generalized commentary on how I should expect my finding-of-love to turn out how yours did, then, well, go for it, but know you aren't being helpful.

I know it's hard to see a friend in some level of despair.  You just want to say anything to help them feel better, but let me tell you, it has NEVER made me feel better to hear my coupled friend say that they sometimes wish they were single, or that they would rather join a convent than Tinder, or that it's okay because they met their partner after a major break up that left them heartbroken, so maybe I will too.  In fact, they usually made me feel worse.

Sometimes, You Gotta Be Our Partner

One of the benefits of having a partner is having someone to help take care of some of the more practical aspects of life.  Sure, we can take care of ourselves (long-term singles have been doing so for years), but that doesn't mean we won't feel so much better about life if you bring us soup and kleenex when we're sick, help pack up our home when we're moving, offer to host our next birthday party, or try to decipher Ikea instructions with us.

This is the thing that single people just don't get to have: a person to do things for us when we need an extra hand and to accompany us to parties where we don't know anyone but have to go anyways.

You might not be able to deflect your long-term single friend's family from asking when they're going to "settle down", but heck, you can rail with them afterwards about how ridiculous it is for anyone to expect a person to be able to just decide when they will find a person to marry, right?  Which is, of course, the best thing you could actually do.

1 comment:

  1. Nice one, Andrea! I liked what you said about set ups and how we're not necessarily meant for one another simply because we both share the trait of being single.
    And girls night! I can't stand girl's night with people who are in relationships. Like you said, it's not a novelty and I like the company of men; I don't feel the need to get away from them. Also, we end up spending the whole night tucked in a corner talking about our lives. Which is nice, but if we're going bother donning the lipstick and uncomfortable shoes, then can we mingle, and flirt with the gentlemen in the expensive cocktail establishment? Can I get a wing woman, please??
    Finally, thank you for saying it: You don't know what it's like. There are two kinds of people out there: those who know what it is to be truly single, and those who have relationship interludes. That time you were single at age 26 for 8 months does not mean that you understand.