How NOT to Give Advice to Single People

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. 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? ;)


Anonymous said...

I like what you have to say about singleness not being a problem to be solved. Particularly in this culture where marriage is being undermined, we rightly want to emphasize the goodness of marriage. Praise God for marriage, it is a GOOD gift! Yet so often it feels that for single people the application of that truth is... therefore get married.

But I think it is SO much bigger than that. We miss what it looks like to honor marriage as a single person - something I suspect we don't think about nearly enough! Plus we can be tempted to undermine the goodness of singleness, which is also a gift. Please encourage us to be concerned about the Lord's affairs; to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit (1 Corinthians 7:34). You can safely assume enough other people are lining up to give us dating tips!

Angus said...

Another tip: Don't forget what it was like when you were single and people gave you advice. You didn't enjoy it. If you got married at 18 and can't remember being single... you should probably keep quiet. You don't have any useful advice on this particular topic.


Please do not mistake some slight romantic feelings between a couple just getting to know each other for an invitation to ask them about MARRIAGE. Or make comments about how cute their kids will be. Or whether they would prefer a Summer or Spring wedding. Putting that sort of pressure on a fledgling relationship is disastrous.

Good post, Laura!

Cabernet Leather said...

What irritates me most about all that is the fact that 'advice' was given just because you said you were single! There's nothing wrong with being single!!

And yeah, I think the assumption that God has created one perfect husband/wife for you to find is a load of crap and very unhelpful.

Radagast said...

You've given the world some good posts on "It's a blog", but this one is awesome.

Erica said...

Great post Laura! You poor thing for having to go through that conversation. Good observations and advice for married people :)

And thanks for a good laugh *whilst* studying for exams!

Laura said...

Anon. -- I think it requires a fine balance. I want to encourage single people to do what they can to get married, and I think churches ought to encourage young men to be bold and counter-cultural in seeking a mate. 95% of us will marry eventually, and the church ought to help singles marry well. But we don't want to depict marriage as the be-all and end-all of life! Sanctification, not marriage, is that ultimate goal.

Good point, Angus. I agree that there is far too much pressure on Christian couples to get serious after just a handful of dates. On the other hand... (playing Devil's advocate here), if some guy is just faffing around for many months without moving the relationship in any marriage-investigative direction, that's not the godliest or best, is it?

Pryderi, you are correct, sir. On all counts.

Thanks, Radagast! *blushes*

Erica, I could have used that sympathy on Saturday!! I felt a bit like a cornered animal. Ugh.

John Dekker said...

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

Heh. I guess you always needs a backup plan.

But the ultimate I-can't-remember-what-it-was-like-to-be-single comment comes from Mark Driscoll:

Single people, like Jesus and Paul, should be in high-risk of death ministry.

John Dekker said...

The worst comment I've received personally was (and I paraphrase), "What are you doing here? This is a family camp."

BTW, Laura, did you read Julie Neidlinger's article Why I walked out of church?

Laura said...

JD -- I don't think that Driscoll's saying that everyone who is single should be in a high-risk-of-death ministry, just that they shouldn't plant churches alone. Don't take Gordo's VERY brief summary as a direct quote or an inexorable command.

And that comment you got is just AWFUL!!! UGH! What did you say?!?

Also, I read that article. Thought it was great.

John Dekker said...

I don't think that Driscoll's saying that everyone who is single should be in a high-risk-of-death ministry

But that's one of the points in all this surely - it's not just what married people are saying, it's what single people are hearing. At best it's thoughtless, at worst it's mean.

mike said...

Just quietly I thought you should have punched them in the face.

Sherrin said...

There are, of course, any number of things NOT to say to single people - depending entirely upon the single person in question :). Some of the advice Mr. friendly gave you would have been reasonable to me as a single (aside from "perfect partner" ideas) in the context of relationship.

One commenter's suggestion that people encourage singles to consider singleness a gift is actually a personal least-favourite-comment of mine as a single. Why? I just don't think every single person has the gift of singleness. Sorry.

Hope none of my recent courtship matters posts were not desperately offensive to every single reader :). I've been married over a year now, and it may have made me REALLY obnoxious.

Alan said...

Hehe Laura, do you find it amusing that all of your named commenters are Australian, and almost all linked to Tasmania?
I really appreciated this post. I found it a bit funny, but also so true.

Coming from a family where every sibling and my parents found their future husband/wife in college (yr 11/12) my family all think I'm odd for not finding someone by the end of my degree, heck they were all married by this point! But they all encourage me, and despite their views respect the fact that I don't think I can be in a relationship right now. And this comes from them being in relationship with me, and knowing my situation.

Your comment about relationship advice in context of relationship is true, yet as Christians we sometimes think that because we're all one body we can say what we like..

Laura said...

JD -- I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you take one person's notes of another person's talk and find the underlying attitude (wherever it may be) offensive... well, that seems like your own issues at work!! ;)

Mike, he was a really nice guy, though!

Sherrin -- I think we can say that God is gracious to give us opportunities in the TIME of singleness. I really detest that "gift of singleness" business too, but I didn't think that's what Anon. was saying. And I agree about the relational context -- I wouldn't reject one of those bits of advice if it were given to me by a friend who knew and loved me!

Alan -- I'm used to it. None of my friends here comment!

One Salient Oversight said...

Phil Jensen - Australian Evangelical "pope' - had this advice for Christians marrying:

1) The person you marry has to be single.
2) The person you marry has to be of the opposite gender.
3) The person you marry must be a believer.

And that was it. No idealism whatsoever. Moreover, his advice is pretty much what the bible says, in a nutshell.

Laura said...

Awesome, Neil. I've given that advice to people -- if you're a believer and he's a believer, there's no objective reason you can't get married. Subjectively it's a little more complicated than that, I think (should you marry someone who physically repulses you? Probably not), but I think Jensen is dead on.

Emily said...

Good post, I liked it.

What I hate most is the feeling that, when I say I'm thirty and yes, single, I feel this intense need to justify that. I'm never sure if the other person is thinking 'why the hell aren't you married by now?' or if it is just me being paranoid. And there's nothing I can say to explain it. I can't say 'oh, I was in this really intense, long-term relationship and I'm just coming out of it and I really need to find myself before I go out with anyone, so I'm saying no to people at the moment'.

It's more like, yes I'm single, no, I've never been in a long term relationship, and no, I don't know why.

There's not much to say to that!

Alan, what are you implying? That we're all single and lonely cos we live in Tassie? Gosh!!

Laura said...

Emily... I know the feeling! I had to chuckle as I read your comment, because I feel like that's my exact experience whenever a person I've just met finds out I'm single.

The underlying thing with this advice (and, frankly, a LOT of the advice I've been given about singleness) is that it assumes that I am doing something WRONG -- that if I were doing things the "right" way, I would be married. B.S.

Kristen@thefrugalgirl said...

Have you ever checked our Carolyn McCulley's stuff(from Sovereign Grace ministries)? She's a single woman and she talks/writes about singleness a lot. I think she'd agree with your post. :)

I can't believe people are so insensitive to you.

joy vezey said...

Laura laura laura! AMEN! Gracious sakes alive, can we please write a book on the "Not Problem of Being Single"? Thank you for voicing the opinion of thousands of Christian singles everywhere who won't really say that this is what they're thinking or don't know that what they're thinking is really what you're saying! Fabulous! I can sleep as a satisfied fellow woman of God knowing there are others fighting the fight and embracing the not problem of being single.

Laura said...

Kristen -- I have, but to be honest, I tend to stay away from her stuff for a purely emotional reason, namely that I don't want to be reminded that it's possible to be a godly, smart, theologically-minded woman and STILL be single into your 30s... and 40s... AUGH!!

Joy -- thanks for commenting!!! You and I need to have a coffee date when I come home for Christmas.