Four ways to love your single friends better
How to actually support, not judge or condemn
I could see her bite her bottom lip ever so slightly, like the words she wanted to say were on the tip of her tongue, but she was not letting them out for fear of my response.
‘Go on, just say it.’ I said.
‘Well, people find you intimidating. You’re very strong, and maybe that’s why you can’t find a guy. You’re too strong.’
That single sentence, spoken to me by my well-intentioned-but-blunt friend pushed me over into a pit of despair.
So, I am the problem. Who I am is not good enough; or rather, who I am is too much. I need to change. Strength is not an attractive quality. I need to stop being strong.
As despair filled my spirit I thought ‘How do I do that?’
As if dealing with the array of emotions single people feel is not enough, they also have to navigate the turbulent waters of advice from well-meaning friends and family.
In Single Me: Learning to Love the Unwanted Path of Singleness, I share some of the unhelpful comments I’ve heard over the years. Questions and advice like:
• Why are you single? (If I knew why, I wouldn’t be single now, would I?)
• Are you putting yourself out there enough? (If I put myself out there any more, you’ll be asking me if I have put too much of myself out there!)
• Do you think that maybe you’re too independent? (So, I should sit at home and wait for someone to call?)
• Have you prayed about it? (Only every moment of every day of my life. How about you?)
• What’s wrong with people? You’re amazing. (Thanks, but yet another question I can’t answer and can’t do anything about.)
• When you stop looking, he will just appear. (*shuts eyes* Is he here yet?)
• Don’t be too picky, you’re not getting any younger. (Thanks, I’d forgotten about the biological clock that ticks and gongs incessantly every time a friend announces they are expecting.)
• God is just preparing you, you’re still a work in progress. (I didn’t realise we needed to make it to a certain level of humanity before we were suitable for marriage.)
• Change churches if you’re not meeting anyone (Because finding a husband is the only reason I attend my church …)
• Focus on being a Proverbs 31 woman. (What even is flax?)
The desire to provide a single friend with a list of suggestions and how-to’s usually stems from wanting them to know that they are not alone. But it can actually have the opposite effect.
I used to think that asking married couples ‘When are you going to have kids?’ was a well-thought-out question, until close friends of mine struggled to fall pregnant.
It took a while, but I started to realise how hurtful a question like that could be. Because the issue wasn’t about having kids; it was the wound that would get pressed on every time ‘when’ was used. They didn’t have the answer. They didn’t know when. They were hopeful but – as many couples have experienced – there’s no guarantee.
Asking ‘why’ a person is single is not the best place to start. Nor is asking what someone is doing about it.
I have never once asked my married friends who say they want kids, ‘Well what are you doing about it?’ partly because I don’t want to know, but mainly because it’s none of my business. Should they choose to share their struggle, then I can listen and encourage.
I’ve had some amazing opportunities to share my book in a variety of interviews. So far, without fail, I am always asked what Churches and married people can do in order to support the single people in their world. It’s a valid question and I can understand why they’re asking it.
Rather than trying to fix us or our situation, sit with us.
But the truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all response to such a question because the reasons for singleness are not one-size-fits-all. I don’t believe the answer is to just hold a conference or devote one sermon out of 52 to singleness, or get a guest speaker, or do a study on it – although all those things are good and a start.
As I’ve reflected on it, I believe the journey towards a solution begins, as all change does, with a conversation.
Here are some suggestions on how you can support the single people in your world:
1. Be aware of their particular vulnerabilities (loneliness, rejection, despair, worthlessness) and ask them how you can love them well. Don’t assume or anticipate, just ask. Commit to loving them that way, then actively do it. Your single friend will love you back for it.
2. Check in and get consent before trying to set up your single friends. There are a number of reasons why someone is single, so seeking consent means you’ll find out if they’re ready for a relationship. If you do promise to set them up, turn around and deliver on it! Building up false hope is hurtful, not just to them but to your friendship.
3. Show them that you benefit from their company, that they are more than a great backup babysitter or someone you only touch base with after church on Sunday. Show them that you love their friendship, that you feel challenged by them and their friendship means something to you.
4. If you’re a pastor, realise this isn’t a topic just for the young adults. Make time to meet with, and listen to, the single people in your congregation. Ask them what support from their church community looks like. They might not have a clear answer but acknowledging it and talking about it is a good way to start.
A bit of thought and sensitivity can go a long way in cultivating meaningful relationships and communities with us, your single friends.
Rather than trying to fix us or our situation, sit with us. Commiserate with us, be joyful with us, believe with us, and above all encourage us to walk out our unique journey when it comes to navigating this area of our lives.
Neri Morris is an inquisitive author and an accidental entrepreneur. Story-telling runs through her veins along with a lot of coffee and a love of the ocean. Her first book Single Me: Learning to Love the Unwanted Path of Singleness is an insightful, funny and challenging look at singleness in the modern day Christian context. FORTIFIED is Neri’s first fiction novel and is due for release in early 2021. Click here for a free sample excerpt from FORTIFIED.