I was going to write an essay for June about singleness. In my head its title was “What I would tell my single self,” a list of advice and anecdotes, thoughts on friendship, living a good life, staying present and doing the next thing. I asked a question on my Facebook page in preparation for writing this essay: “Single friends, what’s the most annoying/offensive thing married [people] say to you?” I was hoping their answers would help me erase any “tone deafness” from my writing, but something else happened.
As their comments started to roll in, I couldn’t shake this feeling: Our tables, our communities are not a safe place for single men and women. It is a place where they are considered less than because somehow their life and experiences don’t matter until marriage. They face criticisms of their dating methods and their appearance. They receive unwanted advice, like their lives are somehow the property of others.
The more I read their responses, I knew I would be writing an essay based on the single years in my 20s. I haven’t been single for eight years, a perspective I cannot escape, but I left that conversation on Facebook with a heightened awareness of my own blind spots. These are three (among many) thoughts about how I want to live differently with the single people in my life now.
Beware of assumptions
Single people have struggles, fears, disappointments, and they may have nothing to do with what we think they should be. Don’t expect that your single friends are only struggling with not having a relationship, maybe they are struggling with work, frustrated by the weather, trying to decide on a paint colour for their wall. Maybe they aren’t struggling at all. Our assumption that somehow at the root of every single person’s life is their question about a partner makes them one-dimensional people, interested in one thing only, impacted by one narrative. We miss out on their lives when we interact with them solely on this narrow ground. In the same way, presuming that marriage and family is the only ground from which I can interact with anyone limits me in my relationships. We have more to give each other.
When a single person tells you about the stress in their life, it is not a comment about the lack of stress in yours. My life is not harder because I have a family. My time isn’t more valuable because I’m married. When a single friend shares with you their particular issues, don’t respond with a story about how much more overwhelmed you are because of your family. Receive their story, acknowledge their difficulty, be present in the conversation and don’t make it about your life. Perhaps most importantly, dare to lay down the assumption in your mind that your life as a married person is inherently more difficult or complicated. It is different, but different doesn’t mean harder.
Invest in rich friendships
Perhaps the most damaging thing to a friendship with a single person is the assumption that we are further along, more mature, their mentors for a future marriage or their personal matchmakers. No. A good friend is an indispensable part of life, and a person’s relationship status has nothing to do with their ability to be a good friend. If we truly believe that as a married person we are somehow wiser or more mature, our relationships with single people will always be imbalanced. (A caveat here, mentoring relationships are an indispensable part of life, I’m grateful for the married women who mentored me in marriage and family life when I was single, but it is a false assumption that as a married woman now, all my relationships with singles are somehow “mentoring” just because I am married.)
Marriage gives me a unique set of circumstances that impact my life. All I need to be able to share that life is trust and a good connection. A single woman has her own unique set of experiences, these experiences make her human, not superior or inferior to anyone else. Friendships are possible between married and single people when our common ground is our humanity and the language is empathy. Of course it will involve conversations about relationships, but we are not confined to this territory. Most singles I know desire meaningful, mutual friendships with married people where life is shared, wine is poured and laughter is abundant.
When it comes to our circumstances, there is often very little we can change. But I can always change the way I see other people, I can choose to make my home a safe place for everyone who enters it, I can choose how I see my single friends, and I can choose how to walk with them. There is more to our lives than the tight boundaries we draw around ourselves and other people. By relegating single people into the narrow confines of loneliness, relationships, or mentoring, we are all missing out on a depth of relationship and community.
What could you do to make your life and your home a safe place for the single people in your community? What assumptions do you need to lay down?