Take what you need, leave what you don't

Waiting for that special someone to come along can be a difficult, lonely, frustrating, and even painful road. And what sometimes adds to the loneliness is that it can feel like others don’t really understand what it’s like to be in your shoes. Loved ones often try to offer you comfort by sharing their two cents on the matter, which at times can leave you feeling more frustrated, lonely, or confused than before. You know them all too well—the unsolicited advice or comments from well-meaning family members or married friends about your state of singleness. These loved ones are usually genuinely trying to help. But, from my single and married life as well as my experience as a marriage and family therapist, I’ve learned that there are a few pieces of advice and comments you can safely ignore.

01. “It’ll happen when you least expect it.”

I’ve heard this cliche offered to single women far too often—in fact, I’m probably guilty of saying it myself to friends. Whether this statement is actually true or not doesn’t really matter—it’s still not very helpful, because it’s basically impossible to put into practice. How exactly are you supposed to “not expect” to meet someone? Essentially what this advice is implying is that you should stop thinking about or actively trying to find a partner. This is difficult to do if you would like to get married someday, particularly if you’re at a time in life when your Instagram feed is cluttered with engagements and birth announcements, and you’re attending five weddings this year.

The other problem with this advice is that your grandma, best friend, or checkout lady at Trader Joe’s cannot guarantee that marriage will definitely happen. While marriage is a likely eventual outcome for those who hope to be married someday, the hard truth is that, unfortunately, it doesn’t happen to everyone who wants it to. Most loved ones who offer these words intend them to be comforting or to take the pressure off meeting a partner, but often these words just feel invalidating. The fact is, sometimes what you might need as a single person is just an acknowledgment that your pain is valid (and it is)—not a quick fix or reassurance that everything will work out. Right now, it’s okay to just want somebody to listen to how frustrating and painful the waiting can be.

02. “You’re so young, don’t worry about it!”

Whether you are 20 or 45, you don’t have to take this advice to heart. Often, this advice implies that fear of not being able to have children is at the root of a singleton’s frustration at waiting. While, again, this advice is surely meant to be kind, it fails to take into account that the sadness singleness can cause may be about more than having children. Of course, the desire to have children is absolutely a valid concern for single women. But a woman may want to meet someone because she also desires companionship and romance—and that is a longing she can have at any age and stage of life. Even young women who aren’t yet at a stage of life in which they hope to marry or have children (such as in college) can still feel lonely in their singleness and desire a relationship—particularly if many of their friends are coupled.

Moreover, this advice also suggests there is a timeline or expiration date to when you can meet a partner—that one can be too old to meet someone. It only reinforces the idea that you need to couple by a certain age, which would likely increase one’s worry about meeting someone, rather than decrease it. While there is an average age people get married and have children in our society, you can meet someone and marry at any age. Certainly, this doesn’t take away the frustration or suffering of hoping to meet a potential spouse at a young age, but to imply that older people can’t or won’t find love is also inaccurate.

03. “I have this friend who met her future spouse . . .”

Again, while these words are surely meant to provide a sense of hope to a single person, they usually end up just feeling invalidating. As a single woman, you don’t have to take someone else’s story as a rubric for how to find a spouse. Each person is different and couples meet in all sorts of ways, on all sorts of timelines. What “worked” for one person or how her singlehood ended may or may not be how things work out for you. This well-meaning “advice” also diverts the focus of the conversation from you and your waiting to a third party whose story may be irrelevant or even unhelpful to you.

Unfortunately, stories like this also may instill a false idea that if you just do this, wear that, or were just more “worthy” in some way, then you would find a partner. This could not be further from the truth—yet it is such an easy lie to believe. As humans, we are meaning-making creatures, so we often can’t help but think that there must be a reason that we are still single, so we come up with a list of reasons we think we are unworthy of love. Because of this, single people are often vulnerable to the fear that they just aren't trying hard enough or aren’t (fill in the blank) enough. The fact is that their singleness is not their fault. Of course, friends and family don’t mean to imply that you’re not “worthy” of love, but it can be easy to hear it that way. Thus, “Just do what she did” is advice you do not have to take to heart.

04. “They’re just intimidated by you!”

Let me first say that I believe people genuinely mean this as a compliment—it’s usually said in an upbeat, complimentary tone from loved ones trying to be flattering. A loved one—usually an older family member—often says this because they look at all the wonderful traits about you and can’t possibly imagine how you are still single. The conclusion they come to, or at least what they think can provide a sense of comfort to you, is that your potential suitors must be intimidated by all your impressive traits and thus don’t think they would be worthy of dating you. While meant to be a compliment, such comments don’t provide any help or comfort in finding a partner. Should you be less impressive or wonderful so that you come off less “intimidating”? Of course not! When someone wants to pursue you, your wonderful traits will attract them, not scare them off—and you shouldn't settle for anything less. This well-intentioned but somewhat awkward comment is definitely okay to ignore.

These comments are all attempts by loved ones to try to help or make you feel better because they know how truly incredible you are and hate seeing you in a hard season of waiting. They genuinely want to help and try to take away any discomfort your singleness causes you. But in doing so, they might make comments that leave you feeling like your struggle being single is not well understood. As awkward or difficult as it may seem, it is okay to respond to these comments by letting your loved ones know that they are not helpful. Kindly let them know that it’s okay if they don’t know what to say or do. You can tell them that you will ask them if you want specific advice in dating, but otherwise, they can ask how you’re doing and just listen. While you’re in this season of waiting, just remember that you are worthy of love, whether or not it feels that way. And the frustration, loneliness, and even pain that you may experience in this season of life is valid—whether others understand it or not.