On Unsolicited Advice and the Single Life
Hello. My name is Dianna Anderson, and I’m single.
Nice to meet you.
I’ve had one boyfriend in my life, one brief fling, and can still count the number of dates I’ve had on one hand. I have tried online dating. I have tried giving my number to the cute boy in a coffee shop (thus the “fling”), and dating people from my friend group. The last turned into my first and only relationship, which lasted all of 2 months, 2 weeks, and five days. We were just a few days short of a three month benchmark when he decided that he couldn’t do long distance.
Prior to that relationship, I’d had one (blind) date with a guy, and had been asked out a total of two times.
My experience is not outside the norm.
Nice to meet you: I am a representative single person in the church.
Here’s the deal: A lot of us are getting tired of “the look.”
You know the one: when you tell someone in your church or your social circle that you’re single, and they give you this pitiful-I-wish-you-could-be-married-like-me-because-marriage-is-awesome-and-now-I’m-reviewing-all-the-single-people-I-know-to-possibly-set-you-up look. Marrieds may not even realize that they’re giving this look – they’ve been married so long that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be on the receiving end, and they probably don’t even realize they’re doing it.
But oh, what a look it is.
And following the look comes the advice. You know, it’s been a while since they’ve been out of the dating pool, but they managed to find someone, so this advice probably still works, right? Nevermind that they met their husband when they were 19 and sat next to each other in a class, and you're 26 and out of school. Nevermind that their wife was part of their friend group for a number of years before he asked her out, and your local friend group consists of married coworkers. Nevermind that they’ve never gone on a blind date, had to play the dating game, or given their number to a stranger in hopes that they won’t end up dead later.
And we all know the advice.
The advice that says, “When you stop looking, you’ll find someone!”
The advice that tells you to “dance with Jesus, and he’ll let the right man cut in!”
The advice that says be passive, wait, it’ll happen when it happens, don’t try too hard, don’t go looking for love, wait for the other person to act.
This? Is terrible advice for the current crop of singles in the church.
Being passive may work when you’re on a college campus surrounded by single people. Stopping looking may work when you’re surrounded by tons of eligible single people.
None of this works when you’re in your mid-twenties, still single, and the only single person in your current social circle. None of the advice that the church gave me in order to “protect my heart” actually helps me to be proactive in finding a relationship. It has, in fact, equipped me to make bad decisions because I have no idea how to handle a casual dating relationship, and can’t navigate the “do I text him first or does he text me or do we do phone calls or whatever how do I even get out of a bad date?”
The church that has “kissed dating goodbye” is now attempting to welcome it back with a barrage of late night texts made after downing an entire bottle of wine. The church, as an institution, has place such an emphasis on the marriage relationship being "what a Christian does," that it no longer knows what to do with actual single people who are dating, especially if these single people are older than college age.
And I mean actual dating, not “Hey, I asked you out, we went out once, and now you’re my partner for all of time.” That’s a relationship. Dating is meeting a guy for coffee in the hopes that you’ll spark some sort of connection and explore the possibility of a relationship in the future. And the church, in particular, has done a really bad job of equipping men and women for such situations.
Here’s the thing: Dating isn’t passive. Dating requires that you continually examine yourself – not just so you can play the game, but so you can make decisions about who you want to spend your time on. It requires you to be deliberate and open about your intentions, and to decide how you want to present yourself to the world. It requires you to put yourself out there, knowing you could get hurt, and to develop strategies for dealing with heartbreak - not merely avoiding heartbreak altogether. Dating forces you to wrestle with and improve your own interpersonal skills, and recognize your own limits. It compels you to look at yourself and examine how you connect with people – a lot of different people! – and learn all the little ways in which people have different quirks and tendencies. It teaches you to develop radar for red flags and dealbreakers. It gives you an appreciation for a vast swath of human experience – and yes, introduces you to some real…bozos.*
And it gives you a hell of a lot of great stories.**
Basically, my point is this: the singles in your life and in your church know you have good intentions for them. We do; we understand. And if you feel that there is a specific situation for which your advice as a married person would work, then by all means, speak into that situation. But if we’re not asking, don’t be telling.
Actually listen to what the single people in your life are telling you. I assure you, if we are looking for advice, we will say that we are, usually with an “I don’t know what to do,” or, more pointedly, “What do you think I should do?” Let us make mistakes, let us make bad decisions, let us do things you would not have done, because that’s how we learn and gain experience. And trust us when we say something’s not working – if I’m not attracted to a guy, I’m not going to continue to date him in the hopes that “something could develop.”***
Allow us to be real people, apart from the search for a partner, and understand that we live different lives than you who are married.
And for pete’s sake, stop saying that “maybe you’re meant to be single!” No one wants to hear that. Ever.
*Yes, I'm aware that many of these traits can apply to marriage, but there's a difference between figuring out who you are as you grow with one person, and who you are as you meet and get to know a vast swath of people.
**Ask me sometime about my worst date experience, I dare you.
***Puh-leeze stop telling me this. I know very quickly if I'm attracted to a guy, and no amount of getting to know him and spending time with him is going to change the gut reaction.
(One last note: I'm not blaming the church for the fact that I'm still single, as for much of my earlier twenties, I wasn't in a position to have a relationship. But now that I am dating and exploring my options, I'm finding myself having to ignore so much of what the church taught me about dating because it's just plain wrong. We need serious rethinking on this issue.).