I was at a women’s event at church when it happened.
Sitting at a round table topped with a crisp white tablecloth and spring flowers, the women around me were making small talk as we sipped tea and nibbled on scones. Actually, the other ladies were nibbling. I downed two scones in the first five minutes of sitting down, but let’s not split hairs.
As I was brushing crumbs from my chin, the middle-aged woman next to me asked mildly, “So, are you married? Do you have children?”
“No, I’m single. No kids.” I replied.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Do you want to be married?”
“Yeah, I’ve always wanted to be married.”
“Well, you hang in there. Sometimes it takes a while. I didn’t marry my husband until I was 25.”
My 38-year-old self stared at her blankly, wondering if she was trying to be funny.
This woman apparently thought 25 was pushing spinsterhood. Thank goodness her husband rescued her before she hit 26, accumulated 12 cats, and retreated to her apartment to die—alone and unwanted.
If you’re a single woman, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of awkward, flippant, misguided, and even downright hurtful comments about your single status. If you’re not single, maybe you’ve been guilty of dishing out such comments. Or maybe you’re so afraid of saying something wrong that you choose to say nothing at all.
Don’t despair. Sometimes we single women can be too sensitive about our singleness. And, almost always, even the worst comments are made with good intentions. That said, here are a few of the “repeat offenders”—statements that tend to do more harm than good and are better avoided altogether in conversation with us singletons.
1. "Stop Thinking About Marriage, and When You Least Expect It, It'll Happen."
Naturally, you want your single girlfriends to be happy. And if thinking about marriage (and their lack of it) makes them sad, the best solution is to stop thinking about it, right?
Not really. If I desire to be married someday, telling me to stop thinking about marriage is like telling me to stop thinking about cream-filled donuts. The more I will myself to forget them, the more they pop into my mind. And the more they pop into my mind, the more I want to eat one (or seven). It’s just going to happen.
Besides, marriage is a good thing. It’s for most people. Plus, it was designed by God himself, and he’s a big fan of it. I don’t think God wants any of us to stop thinking about marriage. In fact, Hebrews 13:4 says that “marriage is to be honored by all.” That includes singles.
2. "I Need My Husband to Hurry up and Help Me with _____ [Insert Task, Chore, or Project Here]."
Griping about the things your husband isn’t doing around the house or the things you’re afraid to do without him is really annoying for single women. Hey, our husbands aren’t doing them either because guess what? We don’t have husbands.
Being single is hard, especially when it comes to the everyday tasks of life. I’m responsible for all of my home and car maintenance, bills, travel, safety and security, taxes, and more. This is in addition to holding a full-time job, maintaining relationships, and serving in my church. It’s overwhelming on most days.
You can see why your venting about taking the trash out or putting gas in your car, or your feeling afraid during your husband’s overnight business trip, is hard for a single woman to hear. We long for a partner in life, and your frustrations and seeming sense of helplessness is salt in our wounds. So is chirping about how much freedom and free time we have, as though our lives are filled with nothing but yoga classes, manicures, and Hawaiian vacations. That’s just not true. Our lives are filled with home and car maintenance, bills, work, taxes, and so on, just like yours. Except we do it all by ourselves. You get the picture.
3. "Better to Be Single and Wish You Were Married than Married and Wish You Were Single."
This is just depressing. Of course it’s true, but single women already know this. What a hopeless and disorienting view of marriage! Sadly, I hear this statement within the church from the women I would most expect to be the biggest champions of marriage. Many of them downplay or even regret their own marriages.
What’s more, singleness isn’t a death sentence. For many (hopefully most) of us, we’re maximizing our single season even if we hope to marry someday. Some single women are completely content being single and are even uniquely called to it, and they deserve to be celebrated too. Offering the doom-and-gloom “marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be” speech helps no one but divorce lawyers.
4. "Are You Sure You're Putting Yourself out There?"
Gaaah. We single women have plenty on our to-do lists (see point number two) without worrying about managing our own dating public relations campaign. As I say in my new book, The Dating Manifesto, unless we’re complete recluses or impossibly socially awkward, we’re in the same circles as everyone else. We go to church, work, school, the bank, Costco, and beyond. I host an international radio show for singles, for goodness’ sake, and I’m still single. Being “out there” is not my problem.
There’s always room for us to mix up our game, of course, and to darken the doors of the same places over and over won’t benefit us in the long run. But insinuating that our potential for marital success is entirely on our shoulders and that the solution is simply to work harder at it is frustrating and demoralizing.
5. "Remember, You Have Jesus. He's All You Need."
Yes, I have Jesus. And in light of eternity, he is all I need. But don’t forget: he’s all you need too. In fact, he’s the only sure thing any of us have. All the other things of life (our money, jobs, houses, health, kids—even husbands) come with no guarantees. They can walk away or be taken away from us in an instant.
Practically speaking though, Jesus has never helped me refinance my home or fix my tire. He hasn’t taken me to the movies or held my hand on a walk through the park. And for many single women, that longing to be someone’s “other half” is a big deal. That partner in life, that heart that cherishes you above all others, that protective presence when things go bump in the night—these are no small things. Don’t underestimate them.
6. "Don't Worry. You'll Get Married Someday."
This is one of the most common statements I hear from married women. It’s also one of the most dangerous. Why? Because it is a lie.
You have no idea if I’ll get married someday. You hope I will, and I appreciate that. But to promise marriage to me is to give me false hope and set me up for eventual heartache when God doesn’t deliver on my timeline and in accordance with my expectations.
Marriage isn’t promised to anyone—nor is happiness in marriage, for that matter. What is promised is God’s sovereignty and love for every step of our journey.
What to Say
Married friends, the above statements and my summary of them are just things to keep in mind. In case you feel utterly defeated and are now determined to never again speak to a single woman (or perhaps just me—fair enough), let me encourage you: we single women need you.
We need your friendship, your wisdom, your prayer, your interest, your love, and so much more. Want to start a conversation with a single woman? Ask her how you can pray for her. Let her share as much or as little as she’d like. Share about your own marriage, the ups and the downs. Ask her questions about her life: her job, her church, her hopes, and her dreams.
Finally, invite her into your life and your struggles. Show her that her opinions and experiences are valued. Establish a relationship on equal footing with the intention to hang with her for the long haul, and you just may have a friend for life.
Lisa Anderson is director of young adults and Boundless.org at Focus on the Family, and she hosts The Boundless Show radio program and podcast. She is also the author of The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose (David C Cook, August 2015).