February 5th, 2013

Dumb Things People Say to Single Women

I’ve been married nearly 6 months now, and apparently starting to lose my single-girl cred. When I try to empathize with or add to stories of single life, I’ve been getting some as-if-you-know eye-rolls. This sucks, because I lived alone for 10 years, so I know a little about that lifestyle. Plus, when I actually was single, I tried to avoid too much complaining about weird comments people made to me. I didn’t want it to come off as  sour grapes. It wasn’t–by and large I enjoyed my life then, but not some of the commentary folks offered thereof. Now I wish I’d spouted off more when it was appropriate. Our society seems to give some sort of craziness license when it comes to talking to single women–you can say whatever you want to them, apparently, without worrying about coming across as mean, stupid, or a lunatic. Here is a small sampling of things said to me *in a friendly manner* when I was uncoupled:

Why don’t you have a boyfriend?
What do you eat?
How are you going to get home?
Don’t you want to get married?
You miss out on so much when you don’t have a partner–movies, parties, dinners…
It’s so hard to fall asleep alone, isn’t it?
You must hate weddings.

Oh, my gosh–I’m annoyed just typing. But I do understand that no one (almost) meant to me feel like a loser/zoo animal with these questions, so in case you are someone who wondered these things, I’ll try to answer below. And in case you are someone who gets these sorts of queries/comments, I’ll offer the best answers I came up with in my many single years–though honestly, I’m still at a loss for some of these.

Why don’t you have a boyfriend?
If I knew, don’t you think I would’ve worked on that issue? Hahaha! I know mainly folks meant the question rhetorically, as in, “You are so great, so what’s going on here?” But they did leave an awkward awkward non-rhetorical pause after the question mark, leaving me to suspect that beneath their so-called praise they suspected I was secretly spitting on my dates or poking them sticks or swearing celibacy or something else deliberate to drive them away. There is NO good answer to this question most of the time, and even when there is, it’s usually too personal to answer at a dinner party (eg., you’re not supposed to date in the first months of sobriety). But…
Best answer for someone you like: “Well, some people win the lottery a little earlier than others.”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “I guess there’s something really wrong with me.” or “I prefer sleeping around, actually.”

What do you eat?
This question and its variants is surprisingly popular, which lead me, in harsh moments, to believe that many people equate being uncoupled in adulthood with being brain-damaged. Seriously, I know lots of people live in the ideal recipe-size of 4-person households, but surely people don’t ask this questions of childless couples, families of 3 or 5, etc? Do they really think lack of romance makes one unable to do fractions? Or order in? Or make a salad? Or eat leftovers?
Best answer for someone you like: “Whatever I want!”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “I usually just have a fistful of cereal and cry myself to sleep in the bathtub.”

How are you going to get home?
Most of the questions here are just silly and don’t bug me, but this one, I’m still holding a grudge about in a couple cases. As a single female dependent on public transit, I considered myself responsible for myself, and I never made plans I knew I couldn’t get home from safely. I knew TTC routes, and whether I could afford a cab. If I understood the situation to be unavoidably dangerous (very very rare in Toronto) I simply didn’t attend. People casually asking if I knew how I was getting home–fine, that’s just thoughtful. Asking more than once, looking doubtful, implying that I don’t know how to transport myself safely around town–problematic.

I get more het up about this question when the asker implies I’m unsafe AND s/he is not going to do anything about it. For some, single women deserve to be unsafe, apparently. My brother always walks me to my streetcar stop and waits with me if it’s late, behaviour I find unnecessary but very sweet. It’s less sweet to make a fuss about me walking alone and then shut the door behind me! “Too bad you’re going to get mugged” seems to be the message there. Sob story: once I was walking home with a guy I thought was a friend and as we approached Carre St-Louis, he told me how unsafe he thought it was and how he always arranged his schedule to walk his girlfriend home through it if she was working late. I thought this was a long preamble to offering to walk to the far side of the park with me, but he simply bade me good night on the near side and walked off. After all these years, I’ve forgiven him, but barely.
Best answer for someone you like: “I know my way around; I’m pretty smart, you know.”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “I have no idea. Could you walk/drive me?”

Don’t you hate weddings/talking about weddings/happy couples?
Seriously, the single woman=psycho shrew construction could not be more offensive. Even if said in a sympathetic tone of voice, this question still implies that to be single is to be so unhappy as to despise the happiness of others: nice. Yes, it’s classy to not talk *constantly* about one’s wedding planning to those who aren’t super-interested (how’d I do on that front, friends? I really tried!) But still, not being able to muster up a little proxy joy for dear friends’ celebrations seems awfully cold.
Best answer for someone you like: “Of course not. If I care about you, I want to hear about what makes you happy.”
Best answer for someone you don’t like: “Absolutely. Let’s just sit in silence for a while.”

Wow, this post is over 1000 words–guess I have some pent-up rage there… I didn’t even get through all my questions. I should try to put this stuff behind me, but not entirely–I think forgetting how it feels is where a lot of these dunderheaded comments come from. Empathy, people–it’s the only way!

Anyone got any single-girl (or guy) crazy comments you’d care to share?

14 Responses to “Dumb Things People Say to Single Women”

  • alexis says:

    Rebecca,

    I came to your post via a tweet by Kerry Clare. I have also been asked why I have never been married, and been told I am too picky. Relatives have asked if I cook.

    I was once told, “Well, you can be single, because you know how to be alone.”

    I was once asked if I felt that life was just passing me by.

    People are really horrible to single women.


  • alexis says:

    Oh, and I go to more weddings than most people. I’ve been invited to 11 weddings in 6 years and attended nine of them.

    I love my friends and family, but I would really like a registry for myself now.


  • Drea says:

    During a chance encounter with an old school pal, I was asked if I was married.

    When I responded in the negative, she did a once over on me and replied:

    “And you were always so pretty. That’s too bad”

    As in
    a) My looks were a thing of the past now that I was a late 20 something single woman
    b) That because I was single at that age, all hope of marriage was lost

    This was one of the more memorable comments I have received over the years. But yes, I think I have probably heard them all by now.


  • Kerry says:

    “Don’t you mind being alone?” is a thing I had to once witness someone saying to a single woman. It was so so terrible.


  • Drea says:

    The best line ever: “It’s not too late. It will happen for you one day”

    And “Don’t give up. He’s out there.”
    Which I like to respond with: “Is he? I wouldn’t know. I’m not looking for him.”


  • Rebecca says:

    Snrgh, these are hilarious and really awful simultaneously, you guys. People are nuts.

    Alexis, “you’re too picky” is one of the most insane comments I’d heard (and yes, I’ve heard it before!) What does it even mean–I should start throwing myself at strangers that slow down nearby? My favourite retort is “Just picky enough!”

    Drea, I hate the cheerleading comments, too. It’s like people are trying to make you more miserable than we are, so they can then point out the bright side!

    Kerry, yours is pretty bad too. That sort of statement often preceeds retch-worth uses of the word “brave.” “You’re so brave to keep on dating…it must be so hard.” Gag.


  • Dorothy Palmer says:

    I’m lame. I use a crutch. Can I respectfully please ask you not to use “lame” except correctly/ medically, not to mean weird or inappropriate? I have stayed in the closet on this word for a long time, tried to ignore it he way my lesbian friends say they initially tried to ignore, another similar nasty bit of slang: “that’s so gay!” But I will not be a catch-all synonym for anything derogatory. Using “lame” that way is hurtful and albleist. It is paricularly ironic to me as a single woman, to find the word used in a column that shows such feminist sensitivity to words used as weapons against women. I hope you’ll appreciate that this was difficult to write and that I submit it to you with sincere respect.


  • Rebecca says:

    Thanks for making the point, Dorothy–sometimes words get so deeply embedded in culture that we forget what they really mean. I’ll edit the title, and I apologize.


  • Dorothy Palmer says:

    Thank you so much! And you’re so right. Fully half of my high school stdents had no clue that lame meant mobility challenged. They only knew the word as it had become embedded in their own language. Thank you for your approach and understanding!


  • Jeanie Keogh says:

    Famous ones:

    You’re really independent.
    I want you to find someone really special.
    What about ______? Look him up again. Is he still single?
    No one could put up with you.
    Don’t worry, having kids isn’t for everyone. (My favourite)
    Try talking less about yourself on dates.

    My favourite responses to people I don’t like:
    Being single is better for my figure.
    So, what was your last fight about?
    (The super nasty one:)
    Is undergoing fertility treatment a code word for you aren’t having sex any more?


  • Classie says:

    OMG… I love this. I totaly hate it when people as me “Why are you single?”… I guess I should say that I am single because I want to be… Because I want to spend the rest of my life alone, going to the movies alone, eating dinner alone and waking up to every Christmas, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s (since that holiday is near… lol…) ALONE… wow I guess I just said a mouth full… So please don’t ask me that dumb question, Why are you single?, because I just don’t know why… LOL…


  • Rebecca says:

    Jeanie, suggestions to talk to some random guy and other fix-ups are a whole other insanity. People never buy that both being single does not qualify as “something in common.”

    Classie, I feel you. If you dare, you might try responding to those questions without words, by just looking sad. Really sad. Way sadder than you actually are. Like you might cry, even. Let them take the awkwardness–bet they won’t ask such insensitive questions again.


  • AMT says:

    BLARGH. Oh my lord what is wrong with people.

    As you know, I was single for many many years. … And do you know, I never ever got any of these, or rather maybe only once or twice? I almost wonder if I wasn’t hearing them — because if not, how was I not getting this? I hear them said to other women for sure…

    Anyway, your best responses to people you don’t like are fantastic. I am going to start answering insane questions in faculty meetings from now on with “Absolutely. Let’s just sit in silence for a while.”


  • Rebecca says:

    AMT, maybe this is just grass-is-greener syndrome, but I always imagined people are a little less het up about the “ideal life path” in academia. Like I know it’s still a theme, but less wailing and gnashing of teeth if you aren’t doing *exactly* what the path is supposed to entail?

    Any truth to that?


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