The next time you’re tempted to advise single friends, bite your tongue. “You may believe you’re empathizing, but intrusive comments may offend your friend,” says Helen Friedman, PhD, a clinical psychologist in St. Louis who specializes in relationships.
“Before you open your mouth, ask yourself what’s more important: your opinion or your friendship?” Here’s what to avoid saying to your single friends, what you can sometimes say or do instead and when to simply zip your lips.
1. “Why aren’t you married?”
This question almost universally pushes single people’s buttons. “Perhaps the answer is ‘none of your business,’” says *Grace from Detroit. In fact, it’s rude to assume singles are looking for a relationship. “This question presumes that the single person is unhappily single,” saysBella DePaulo, PhD, author of Singled Outand Singlism who blogs about singles. “Many unattached people live their best, most authentic lives as singles.” So stay away from this question and its variations—“Don’t you want to be married?” “Have you ever been married?”
2. “Have you tried online dating?”
True, people find relationships online. But this assumes your friend is clueless and hasn’t thought of it herself. “I can’t tell you how many people have suggested online dating like it’s never been suggested before,” says *Idora from Boston. “The truth is the ratio of disappointing dates is the same online as it is offline.’” Furthermore, avoid sharing details about people you know who’ve found someone online; it has zero bearing on your friend’s life. Finally, remember that offering dating advice implies there’s something wrong with being single, says Dr. Friedman.
3. “Stop being so picky.”
“Avoid name-calling. This comment basically slaps your friend’s wrists and accuses her of faulty judgment, as if she can’t trust her own wants and needs,” says Dr. Friedman. If she brings up being frustrated with the dating pool, a better approach is to respond with, “It’s challenging to find the right person for you,” which acknowledges the realities of dating without criticizing her. And while it’s OK to ask about what qualities she’s looking for in a mate, don’t add what she should be seeking.
4. “You’ll find the perfect guy when you’re not looking.”
This is a lose-lose comment. On one hand, this assumes your friend is on the hunt when she may be content with single life. On the other hand, “This comment is disempowering if your friend actually is seeking a relationship,” says Dr. Friedman. “It’s the equivalent of saying, ‘Just sit and wait for someone.’” Instead, affirm how much you care for your friend by continuing to do things you both love together and inviting her to events because you enjoy her company—not because you feel sorry for her.
5. “What ever happened with [insert ex’s name here]?”
This is one of the worst things you can say to your friend, according to experts. “When a relationship ends, there’s usually some degree of sadness, even if your friend is the one who initiated the breakup,” says Diana Kirschner, PhD, author of Find Your Soulmate Online in Six Simple Steps. “Dredging everything back up is hurtful.” Skip this question; if she wants to talk about it, she’ll bring it up on her own.
6. “You’re so lucky to be single!”
Even if you’re reminiscing about your own carefree days of singledom, no one wants to hear this. “Just because I’ve never experienced marriage doesn’t mean I don’t miss that experience or think of what it might mean to me,” says Grace. “I’m sure people in a relationship think the independence of being single is preferable at times. Yet singles have all the responsibilities of life without someone to share them.” How you can help: “Be cognizant of the fact that singles don’t have a partner to do something with 24/7 and may need someone occasionally,” says Idora. So offer her a ride to the airport, help moving and whatever else she could use.
7. “If you’d get out there, you’d find someone.”
“This rubs me the wrong way because you have no idea what I’ve tried or how aggressive or passive I might be,” says Grace. “Maybe I’m shy and it isn’t my personality to be the pursuer. Or maybe my workplace doesn’t put me in contact with many other singles.” Still, there’s no harm in seeing if she’s open to meeting someone you know. “Just don’t spring it on her,” says Dr. Kirschner. “Say something like, ‘So-and-so is coming to the party on Sunday and he’s funny and nice. You might enjoy talking to him.” And leave it at that.
8. “You should smile more/flirt more/wear your hair differently/wear more makeup.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone finding these useful, but singles say they frequently hear these rude suggestions. “It’s smug to think that because I’m single, I clearly am doing something wrong,” says Idora. Most of all, “This assumes that you’re the all-knowing superior person who can diagnose the ‘problem’ and dole out advice about how to fix it,” says Dr. DePaulo. “Plenty of single people don’t think they need to be fixed. And they’re right. Even singles who want to be coupled don’t always welcome unsolicited advice.” Refrain from all attempts to teach your friend how to act or look, and respect and love her for her unique self.
9. “You’re still young. You’ll find someone.”
You’re probably trying to make her feel good about herself, but this kind of remark usually backfires. “She may think: ‘I must look old. Why else would she feel the need to reassure me?’” says Dr. Kirschner. Besides, age has no bearing on one’s ability to love or be loved, so don’t spout platitudes that only perpetuate this myth.
10. “Maybe you’re meant to be single.”
You don’t have a crystal ball any more than your friend does. “I want to share my life with someone; I don’t need to,” says *Nicola in New York City. “But I’m not giving up on lasting love simply because it hasn’t happened yet—same as I wouldn’t tell someone to give up on her dream at any age to go to college or start her own business or see the world. How dare anyone tell me to?” With that bit of common sense, this is one thought that should never be said aloud.