We know you mean well, we really do, which is why you won’t hear people bringing this up, but many married people simply don’t know how to encourage a single person. This is a loving open letter from all us single people to all of our married friends asking for you to think about these statements from our perspective, but more importantly, offering an alternative for you to try out instead.
Don’t Say “It’ll happen eventually”
We know you’re trying to sound encouraging, but this one is simply a statement you can not back up. It might happen. It might not. Either way you don’t know. I’ve heard of Christian singles picking out their wedding date despite not having met anyone – because of people saying things like this. (It didn’t work out by the way.) Statements like this can come off as patronizing to any single person. To someone who is really struggling with loneliness, though it can almost feel like you’re mocking them, especially if the person speaking is happily married. Also, what if the person you’re talking to is going to be single the rest of their life and do great things because of the availability that comes with being single? Don’t assume just because you like them, or because they want to get married, they must therefore eventually find someone with whom they are compatible or that their highest calling is marriage.
Do say: “It seems like someone as great as you would make a great husband/wife, I hope it happens for you.”
This is what you really mean anyway. You can’t possibly know that someone is going to get married, but you can see that they have the qualities that would make a good spouse and most of us can accept that compliment more easily. Also it doesn’t set you up as some sort of marriage clairvoyant who, because of your own marriage, has secret marriage knowledge and is able to divine these things for other people.
Don’t say: “You should take (only eligible person around) on a date!”
I know in the movies it’s a common plot device that the guy or girl suddenly notices the girl or guy that he or she’s seen every day and realizes that she or he is who he or she’s needed in his or her life all along. But this is a far less common story in real life. In real life, if there are two single people who are around each other and they’re not dating, there is probably a good reason, the most common one being that at least one of them isn’t attracted to the other. That’s ok. Don’t freak out on “Bill” because he isn’t attracted to that super awesome cute “Linda”. There’s probably some guy like “John” out there who is having the exact same conversation elsewhere that is the right person for “Linda”. And likewise there might be another super awesome “Alice” out there for “Bill.” Don’t flippantly doll out matches, unless you’re prepared to do the counseling.
Assuming you have a healthy marriage, consider this: Imagine you had never met your spouse. Now look at the closest single person around and ask yourself if you’d date that person. It takes more than proximity to create a match.
Do Say: “How can I pray for you?”
People don’t say this often enough to each other period, but keep in mind that single people may not have anyone who says it to them on a regular basis. If you’re close enough to suggest a date, you’re close enough to pray. They may ask you to pray for them about taking “Linda” on a date. Or they may just say thanks.
Update: Had a person say to me they don’t like it when people ask this because it sounds condescending. Yes, out of the clear blue sky it can be, so let me add this: don’t be condescending. Sit and listen a while before you ask this and don’t make a big show over asking it – say it with the same inflection you might say “so what’s going on in your life?”
Don’t Say: “How do you feel about blind dates?”
I can answer that question now: they pretty much suck. Few people get excited about blind dates. The immediate emphasis is on appearance, which may not always be a person’s best selling point.
Do Say: “We’re having a party at our home on Friday, why don’t you come?”
If you want your single friends to meet, let them do it in a casual environment. Also, single people, especially in the church, are often left out of the gatherings of married people. How else can we see what a good marriage looks like if we’re not around them? Invite single people to events because they might need some time with a family to recoup and feel encouraged.
Don’t Say: “It happens when you least expect it/when you’re ready/God wants you to work on you/once you’ve found your identity in Christ then the right person will come along.”
None of these are true. I know many people who were expecting to get married in college and guess what? They did. I know a few older folks who never expected to get married and low and behold, they never have. I also know some single people that are more ready for marriage than some people who have been married for years.
Just because someone is single doesn’t mean that there is a deep spiritual cause for their singleness and that it must mean that God wants them to learn something and reach some sort of spiritual “next level” before they can unlock the “marriage achievement.” This isn’t a video game. Marriage is not some higher plane of existence that you can get to if you just try harder. Not everyone in a God-ordained marriage was “ready” when they tied the knot, and it certainly doesn’t mean that single people are automatically less spiritually mature. Again, we know you’re trying to be helpful, but these are not true.
Do say: “God loves you, spend time with him.”
because he does and everyone should. Single people do need to lean into God in a way that they might not always be challenged to do so. I’ve heard the question “What if marriage wasn’t meant to make you happy, but to make you holy?” I think that’s a great question as long as we believe that being single should offer the same challenge.
While this sounds cliché, it also has the benefit of being true.
Don’t say: “Enjoy being single because once you’re married and have children, you won’t know what you did with all your time.”
Maybe that was true for you. Maybe when you were single you sat around and did nothing all day. Me? I’m working 40-60 hours a week at my main job, taking freelance jobs and occasionally teaching as an adjunct professor locally. In my “free” time I’m working on an MFA in film and writing a series of novels for the fun of it. I also own a home that I maintain. I lead a small group. I cook. I blog. I train in mixed martial arts every week. I have a dog that I take on walks in the park. And yes, I do hang out with my friends a couple of nights a week and I watch TV. I do get to sleep in past seven a.m. many days and I have quiet dinners at home. But just because my life has luxuries that parents don’t have time for doesn’t mean I’m wasting all my time.
Do say: “You’d make a great mom/dad”
Personally I think this is one of the highest compliments you can give a person. I’ve often said that a person can’t pass on what they don’t have. To say someone would make a good parent is paying so many compliments at once – it says you’re a hard worker, that you’re selfless, mature, disciplined, principled, yet patient, humble, & wise. Also it might be God’s calling for that single person to get involved in a a mentor relationship with a kid who has an absentee parent, and you might be the person to encourage them to do that.
Update: I had some female singles say that this really depresses them to hear, so I’ll make an amendment: For single women who you really think would make a good mother, ask them if they have considered foster care. It may sound crazy, but if caring for children is something they’re passionate about, they might just be called to it and frankly it’s fulfilling the call of James 1:27 to care for the widow and orphan.
Don’t say: “You’re single, (therefore) you like to/don’t want to ________”
Every single person is different. Some single people hate being around little kids, but many are glad to help a young family out. Some single men don’t know how to cook, others are amateur chefs. At least once I’ve heard about a gathering of some married acquaintances to which I was not invited. When I asked about it I was told “You’re single, you don’t want to be around a bunch of kids.” Why would single people automatically hate children?
I’ve had several young fathers act as if it would be torturous for me to be around their kids. We don’t all hate children. Spending time with people at every stage of life is one of the easiest ways to get out of yourself and learn valuable life lessons. We can’t, as Christians, say that Children are gifts from God and the rearing and teaching of them as a part of a family and Christian community is of the utmost importance – and then say in the next breath that Children are a hindrance to Christian community. Maybe there are some single people who don’t like kids, but even if there are, I’d still invite them to hang out in hopes that they’d get outside of their own head.
Do say: “So hey, what do you like to do?”
Single folks who are new in town need friends. Couples at least have each other. Singles are, well single. Try to connect with us, make friends, find out what we’re passionate about. Invest in us and we’ll invest back. A single friend who is loyal is very valuable; they often do have more free time than friends who are married and they might even help you move next time you have to, just because they want the company.
Don’t say: “When you are married/have kids then you’ll understand.”
For one thing, they may never get married, and if they do they might not have children. For another thing, just because there was something in your life that you didn’t understand until marriage doesn’t mean that’s the case for all of humanity. Mother Theresa never married or had children, but she understood more about children and selflessness than most of us will. The Apostle Paul wrote over half of the New Testament. He never married; could you picture saying that to him? I’ve even had someone tell me that manhood doesn’t start until you have your first child. I think that must be true for some men who choose not to grow up until absolutely necessary, but if you believe that to be universally true, then you’ll have to explain to me how Jesus Christ managed to get through life without getting married and having children, yet we’re told he is our example of how to be human.
Do say: “Here’s what I wish I’d known when I was single…”
If you had some maturing moments early in you marriage or shortly after becoming a parent, then feel free to share them, we want to garner wisdom from wherever it comes, but don’t be shocked if maybe we’ve already learned the lesson you had to learn through marriage. God uses marriage to make us holy, but it’s not the only thing he uses. So share your knowledge, share your experience, but please be humble and don’t act as if it’s impossible that we know things that you don’t. I had a married couple with whom I’m close send me a link to a sermon series about being single and they said they’d wished they heard it before getting married. It was not only helpful to me, it was helpful in my relating to them as I realized what challenges they had overcome in their relationship.
Don’t Say: “Never get married/be glad you’re single”
The grass is always greener. Marriage is tough. So is being single. A healthy marriage will have it’s challenges, but if you have serious issues you shouldn’t be complaining randomly to anyone – you should be seeking counsel. Don’t assume that the single person you’re talking to is having fun all the time. Don’t assume that if they were to get married, their marriage will do the same as yours. Don’t mouth off about your lousy marriage. Get help. Yes marriage is hard work, but would you give it up? If so, you don’t need to be talking to us, you need to be talking to a counselor. Very few single people think marriage is perfect. Don’t forget, most of us had parents; it’s not like we’ve never seen a marriage up close.
Do Say: “I see God using you.”
This is a hugely affirming thing to say to anyone, but if you can highlight it for a single person it can be even more so. For spouses, and even more so for parents, there is a clarity of purpose that comes with the office. If you’re a husband your job is to love your wife as Christ loved the church. If you’re a mother your job is to bring up your children in the way that they should go. While these are hard tasks, you at least know what your tasks are. As a single person, we don’t have that kind of clarity automatically, so we’re often searching for it and searching for affirmation when we think we’ve found it. It’s easier to deal with the occasional loneliness of being single if we feel like God is using our marital status for his good. If someone else sees it, then it reinforces that feeling and is the kind of encouragement that allows us to keep on doing that thing. By this same token if you see a single person who isn’t serving God in a fruitful way, it might be for you to challenge them in a loving way to do something to get outside of themselves and search for that calling.
Brilliantly and compassionately written! This is definitely a piece I will refer other to! Thank you!
Since I didn’t marry until age 30 I had many of these thoughts from comments of well meaning people in my life. It’s a good reminder since I have a single son in his late 20s and a couple of single nephews about that age also. Advice from where I sit now that I wish I had understood then is to spend more time with God, seek what he would have you do and do it in every season of your life, whether married or not. I spent too much emotional energy waiting for a life with marriage and children. I’ve learned that God has many seasons for our lives in which the activities and responsibilities will vary greatly. All can be fulfilling if we are walking with God.
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