Greatest Hits: How NOT to Give Advice to Single People

(Originally Posted October 27, 2008)

Since I won’t be writing much while I’m on Spring break this week, I’ll be posting some of my previous articles.   I’ll be back at it on Monday, March 29th.

So the other day, I met a really nice couple. The husband was friendly and asked me a lot of questions about my life. We chatted about travel, and I told them about my trip to Europe with my family.

“Husband and kids?” he asked.

“No, parents and brother. I’m single,” I replied.

And then… such a speech. Here’s what he advised me to do.

1. Make a specific list of everything you’re looking for in a husband. This advice was accompanied by a lot of questions. Have you thought about what kind of things you’re looking for? Really? Specifically? In detail? What about things you don’t want? Really? Specifically? In detail?

2. Realize that that man exists. Pray specifically for him. He is the only man for you.

3. Recruit other people to pray for that specific man (who, remember, is the only man for you). Don’t forget about the parable of the unjust judge. Pester God until he brings your husband along.

4. Remain under your father’s authority.

5. If that doesn’t work, join eHarmony.

I definitely wished I could have made the whole conversation just STOP, for the love of heaven and all its angels, STOP!! It basically sums up all the bad advice I’ve gotten about singleness — not just the advice itself, but the context in which it was offered.

So here (as revenge) is MY advice to married people who feel tempted to say any of the above things:

1. Don’t give advice to single people you just met. Relationship advice should be given in the context of — surprise!! — relationships. Most people would never give marital advice to a couple they just met, but the rules somehow go out the window when talking to single folks.

2. Think about your attitude before you offer advice. As Christians, we have to recognize that the problem of humans is sin, and the solution is the Gospel. Singleness is NOT a problem to be solved. Do I want to get married? DUH. But please don’t see my life as something you can “fix” with some pithy tips.

3. Keep in mind that every person’s situation is different. Again, folks get this ordinarily. But with singles, it seems like people are so much more tempted to say, “Well, such-and-such worked for _____, so it’ll definitely work for you.” It’s not that your advice is necessarily wrong, but… for example, I have ZERO problem with online dating services. And the courtship model makes sense for younger singles who live near or with their parents. And I wish more of my married friends would be bold enough to set me up with some dudes. But not all of those things is right for every person. For crying out loud, one of my dearest friends emailed a guy from halfway around the world because he read her blog and jokingly called her a feminist and she didn’t like it and then they started talking and fell in love and now they’re married and she’s pregnant with their first child. Good GRIEF. PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT. Ok. Rant over.

4. Please, please, please, don’t perpetuate the idea that there’s one ideal man out there for every single woman, and she’ll never be happy until she finds him. The Prince Charming Myth has disillusioned and embittered countless young women, clinging to their “lists” while overlooking godly men all around them. Yes, in the grand scheme of God’s sovereign plan, he knows and chose who I’ll marry. But in my time-bound perspective, there are any number of godly, ministry-minded men with whom I could have a good, happy, sanctifying, Gospel-centered marriage.

OK, single peeps, any other advice for our married friends? 😉


6 thoughts on “Greatest Hits: How NOT to Give Advice to Single People

  1. Personally, the one I hear the most goes along these lines: “Would you truly be happy with being single for the rest of your life? If not, you may need to look at that. As soon as you have peace in your singleness [insert advice to stop looking for a life partner] that’s when God sees you really love Him first and he’ll bring the right one into your life.” The singles I know have heard 1,001 recycled versions of that.

  2. Laura,
    Just found your blog – it’s great! What do you say in response when you get one of these “speeches?” Recently, I got one nearly exactly like this from someone I’d just met, and I was so appalled, I didn’t know what to say. She was coming from the perspective of being newly married, in her 40s, and trying to encourage me that “my time would come, get on eharmony, it worked for me, blah, blah, blah.” I so wanted to just cut her off and say something like “I know you’re trying to be encouraging, but you are really making me uncomfortable.” I think I know how I’d address it if it were a friend saying that to me, but how do you respond to that if it is someone you’ve just met, or a casual acquaintance?

    • Hey, AAG! Thanks for the comment! I think you have a couple options. One is just to smile and nod, knowing that if you speak out, she probably won’t hear it because she’s really not talking about you at all — she’s talking about herself. If they’re being really offensive, I think a Carolyn Hax patented “Wow.” is a good way to go.

      But ultimately, it depends on the person’s demeanor — if they really are trying to be helpful and gracious and just screwing it up, I might say, “Hey, I really appreciate your encouragement, but can I say one quick thing? It can be really hurtful to unmarried people to say XYZ because ABC. My feelings aren’t hurt, but I know you wouldn’t want to cause offense to someone else.”

      • Good thoughts. Yes, I am kind of a Carolyn Hax fan too, and her “wow” is classic. And I totally agree that she was really talking about herself, she wasn’t talking to me. It never ceases to amaze me how some women who have been single for a long time can (finally) can get married and then instantly lose their sensitivity to single women. It’s like they have amnesia! Sigh…

        • It’s so true — isn’t that strange? I mean, I know a ton of it is natural — it’s just enthusiasm bubbling over in a slightly unfortunate way. I hope that if the Lord grants me the blessing of marriage someday that I won’t forget what it was like to be unmarried.

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