Sunday, 23 February 2014

10 things single people wish married people wouldn't say... (Part 1)

In my book Single Minded (published last June by Monarch - still available in all good bookshops etc etc!), I decided to write a list of things single people wish married people wouldn't say. It was borne out of experience - all the things on the list are actual things which actual people have actually said to me (and there are some that I've heard many times!). If you're single I bet you've heard a fair few of them yourself (and no doubt a few other corkers too!). If you're married then the chances are you've said one or two of them in your time! (If you can recall saying them to me, then it's probably you I'm quoting ;-) ).

The list is written, and I hope will also be read, in good humour, and with a smile. (I wrote on this same subject over on the wonderful page and some people there seemed to have had a sense of humour bypass about the whole thing...). I am making a serious-ish point in a light hearted way. It's ok to laugh (in fact, please do). However, the sentiment that, as single people, we would rather not hear these things, is true. Please don't read it as a bitter and twisted rant though - it is anything but! As I hope is clear, from here, and from the book, and elsewhere, I love my married friends very much and mostly they're wonderful and supportive and fabulous. Obviously they sometimes say fabulously inappropriate things about my singleness (as I have no doubt I do too, about all sorts of things that I know nothing about and misjudge horribly!). Sometimes the comments were made not by friends, but by random strangers, which makes them a little harder to swallow, as that person hasn't yet earnt the right to be daft! But hey ho - we've all been there!

So, here is Part 1 - the first 5 things on the list, as I describe them in the book. If you like them, please let me know. If they've been said to you, do share (kindly and anonymously, please!). If you want to take issue with any of them, feel free - but again, do remember the spirit of the thing! In the book I also give married people a chance to say the things they'd like to say to the singles, so it's all fair!

1. You're so lovely, why are you still single?

This is quite a favourite, it seems, as I have lost count of the number of people who have said it to me, or about others in my hearing. On the face of it you might wonder what’s wrong with it – surely it’s meant as a compliment? Well, yes, I’m sure that it is meant as a compliment. The problem is that when that sentence is spoken, this is what we hear – “You seem lovely, but there must be something wrong with you, otherwise you’d be married. You can’t be quite as lovely as all the lovely married people around you. If you were only a bit more lovely, you’d be married in no time.” I know, I know, that’s not what you meant at all – but unfortunately that is what we heard.

2. Don't worry, you're still so young.

This is another tricky one because on the face of it it’s complimentary, and it seems to offer consolation and hope. But to be brutally honest, when you say this sentence I simply cannot hear you over the sound of my biological clock ticking. I have known people aged 16 and aged 60 who felt exactly the same about their desire to be married (and of course I have also known people at both of those ages, and everywhere in between, who had no desire whatsoever to be married). At the moment when singleness feels like a struggle, whatever age you are, you don’t ever feel young enough to not worry about it!

3. Do you have a family?

I wish I had a pat reply to this question which worked every time but sadly, for some reason, no matter how many times I get asked it, I still stumble over my response. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the questions ‘are you married?’ or ‘have you got children?’ – those are questions seeking information which are perfectly valid in a conversation, and to which I’m quite happy to reply. But the question above isn’t the same as those questions. The question above means ‘are you married with children?’ but that isn’t what it asks, and so we find ourselves thrown by it. I find it hard to answer because the answer is yes, I do have a family, I have parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. But I know that’s not what you’re really asking. If I reply in that way you might think I’m being deliberately obtuse and that’s not what I want to do. And yet I don’t want to say ‘no’ because that isn’t the right answer to the question you have asked, even if it is the right answer to the question that you meant. Can you see why it’s confusing?!

4. If you get your relationship with God sorted, then he'll send you a spouse.

This is clearly nonsense! What more needs to be said...?! So presumably absolutely every married Christian person has a perfectly healthy, mature relationship with God then, do they? No, that’s what I thought...

5. I was single till the age of X so I know exactly how you feel.

I’m sorry, but you simply don’t. It’s obviously true that while not everyone is married at some point in their lives, everyone is single at some point. But you don’t know how I feel. You may of course be able to remember how being single felt for you, at that time, but that is not the same as how it feels for me, now. In the same way, I don’t know how anyone else feels – even another 34 year old single female vicar. (This doesn’t mean that you can’t empathise, or sympathise, or be involved in my life – of course it doesn’t! But you really don’t know how I feel!)

 Part 2 will follow soon...


  1. Oh yes, I've heard all of those! I am wondering how long people will go on saying no.2? Given the average age of those who tend to say it, it could be quite a while!

    The one I get that just baffles me is "A young man came into church the other day", said without preamble or context, usually by well-meaning older ladies. It's as if they feel the need to alert me every time a potential partner sets foot in the building! (And when they say "young"...)

  2. 1 and 4 are the most damaging, I think - as though the things God gives and takes away are somehow based on how lovely/unlovely we are. Of course that's not what people intend to communicate but we need to make sure we're not distorting the gospel even when we're trying to be nice!

    I have a dear friend who has written on this topic too, and reading this reminded me of this post of hers: ("When I saw Jamie’s topic suggestion for this post I almost died with excitement: how can married women can serve single women better? Uh. I’m sorry, did you just say: Fabs, can you write a blog post about how your life is so hard and how you’re constantly misunderstood? Why, yes. Yes, Jamie I can." - haha!)

    She also has a great series on 'The Blessings of Singleness' which I think are well worth a read:

    Thanks for talking about it!

  3. I get #3 lots: I tried replying with "Of course I have a family. I didn't spring Venus-like from a clam/oyster shell" but people just don't get the reference.
    I haven't yet come up with another response that I'm happy to give. Everything I've tried so far either sounds like I'm apologizing for "still" being single, or makes me sound hard because I'm tired of trying to answer this question. Like you, I don't mind "Are you married?" or "Do you have children?" but this "Do you have a family?" is the wrong way of asking this, in my opinion.

  4. I know what you mean, anonymous! I've tried "I'm not married, if that's what you mean" and "well, I have 2 parents" but I worry that both make me sound chippy! That's the whole problem, because neither "yes" nor "no" can actually be the right answer!

  5. Recently, a single woman I know very well decided to have a baby by donor. She's really the kind of girl I would want to be with, it is just amazing that she didn't find someone. I know she was seeking someone. Terrible, terrible luck, I think. It just happened that the year I was single, she was abroad for studies, if not, I think I could easily have fallen for her. So, how about this:

    "You're so lovely, what's wrong with the guys?"

    I mean this quite seriously, though I never asked her, there must have been something seriously wrong somewhere, not with her, because I know her well, but something with the guys she was hanging out with.