Dear Sara: A few months ago I was out for drinks with two of my friends. Both are married to guys they met in university, so between them they’ve been single for about seven seconds. I was dating more actively then, and I was telling them how I felt like I wasn’t really getting anywhere—lots of messaging back and forth with potential matches that never seemed to turn into actual dates. And they responded to that by telling me I need to stop trying so hard, that love finds people when they least expect it and that maybe I should stop looking. Fast forward to last night, and I’m out again with the same two friends. Except now I’m on a break from dating (by my own choice, not because of the advice they gave before), and what do they say this time? That I’m never going to find someone if I don’t make an effort to put myself out there. Ugghhh! Sometimes you just can’t win! – M
Dear M: There is a weird belief in our culture that anyone who is married is necessarily a dating expert–even if they haven’t dated since Boy George was at the top of the charts (and we still said things like “top of the charts”). It’s maddening, and you have every right to be annoyed. But, as I’m sure you know, expressing your irritation will only give them another way to blame you for your situation—sooo negative.
Your friends’ intentions are probably good. They want you to be happy. They want you to find a partner. And they are also probably a bit uncomfortable with the fact that something that came so easily to them has been such a challenge for you. So to defuse the awkwardness, they offer advice, not realizing how disrespectful it is.
The first line of defense is to avoid the subject entirely. You don’t owe them an explanation, and even if you gave them one they probably wouldn’t accept it anyway. So saying something quick—“My dating life? Oh, you know it has its ups and downs. Hey, I’ve been renovating my kitchen and I found this great designer. Have you heard of ….”
If they insist on returning to the topic, then I would suggest a cheerful reprimand, something along the lines of:
“Ladies, I know you love me, and it’s awesome that you care so much. But you’ve both been out of the dating pool for liiiittle while, and things are a bit different now, so you’ll have to take my word for it that I’m doing my best, and that I’m fine.”
“I really appreciate your concern, and these questions that you raise in our conversations—when should you be actively looking? When should you relax and be open to what life brings you?—are ones I contemplate a lot. So I hope you’ll respect that I’m aware of the challenge of finding that balance.”
Or, if they have a decent sense of humor, you could jovially call them out on their dumb clichés. But it must be said in a super-cheerful, jokey voice:
“Really?! I need to get out there? Wait, let me write this down! The other day, someone told me ‘It always happens when you’re not looking,’ and I was like Whoa! How do you guys come up with this stuff?!”
Of course, even the most well-crafted zinger is not necessarily going to wake your friends out of their cluelessness. They may never get it. But if you can express yourself with dignity and gentleness, you may find that their response isn’t quite as important as it once seemed.
Sara Eckel is the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her questions here.