“So…how’s the love life?” I ask an old college friend on the phone — words flowing out as fast as I regret them.
“Oh, um, fine,” she awkwardly pauses. “Had a couple of mediocre Tinder dates… you know how those go.”
“Yeah… I guess I do,” I lie. I can imagine what bad Tinder dates are like, but honestly, I don’t actually know. I met the man who became my husband without the benefit (or burden?) of dating apps, that modern-day crutch for romance.
So without thinking, I reaffirmed the tired narrative that romance is the most important thing in our lives, and if you don’t have it, you’re just not living. I had put my friend in a corner, instead of allowing dating to come up naturally — on her terms. After all, when there’s no romantic drama to speak of, single folk can quickly feel like something is wrong with them. In today’s society, to be single is to date, correct?
You know how it goes: to be single must mean that we’re searching for that proverbial someone — that person whom we’ve been wishing for, praying for, yearning for. That person who makes us finally come alive, whose very presence starts our life. After all, aren’t we all ultimately fated for a mate — happily ever after, etc.?
Here’s the short answer: No.
And we should stop talking to single people like their romantic status is intrinsically connected to their happiness.
The soulmate thing is a lie
Despite the romantic soulmate narrative that has infiltrated our songs, literature, and cultural expectations the past few centuries, single people can lead joyful, meaningful lives completely on their own. Not one, single person in this entire world can complete anyone. In fact, believing that it’s your partners’ duty to complete you — and your duty to complete your partner — is a sure way to set you up for disappointment and failure. Why? Because it’s absolutely impossible.
Many single people might intellectually know this information, but it’s still hard to fight the unconscious backstory we’ve all been taught in the movies. So instead of unintentionally pushing this narrative on your single friends, it’s important to talk about what they’re excited about. What makes them tick, outside of love interests (or the lack thereof). And if they can’t think of anything — how can you help them discover it?
Being in a relationship doesn’t cure loneliness
We’re social creatures. Often single people can feel like the odd one out if they don’t have a plus-one to a party as everyone happily couples up. But here’s the thing: we need all kinds of relationships to thrive. While sharing a bed with your spouse every night sounds like the ideal slumber party, it’s no replacement for actual community. In fact, putting all your social needs and expectations on one person is both unhealthy and exhausting, for both you and your partner.
So if your single friend confides in you about their loneliness, be careful of pushing the idea that one single relationship would solve it. Ultimately, that notion is only a distraction that masks a bigger problem. Instead of scheming how they can improve their Tinder profile, talk about how they can use their time to get involved in things that matter to them — or point to where their skills could be better leveraged in their community. Maybe there’s a basketball team that needs to be coached, or a garden that needs to be grown.
Don’t idealize marriage
Of course, happy relationships are great, and strong marriages should be totally celebrated! But let’s be clear — the married or in-relationship state shouldn’t be idealized. Single people need to be told that they’re loved and admired just as they are, wholly unattached.
Coupling up might be awesome, but finding that someone shouldn’t be anyone’s main focus if they’re trying to live a joyful life. Rather, we need to remind single people that their lives can be filled with just as much purpose, joy, and — yes, even selfless sacrifice — as their in-relationship counterparts.
Sure, we can talk to them about dating, but we needn’t push it on them. Perhaps they’re looking for a partner, but maybe they’re not. Either way, their singleness isn’t a waiting room for leveling-up to sharing life with someone else. They are living life, itself, right now — and probably doing just fine with that. Remind them that, as a friend, you’re in it with them.
Like all married people, I was once single. And to be entirely transparent, I had no idea what a gift — yes, a gift — the entire single experience could have been because I totally squandered it. I was always on the lookout for that someone and hyper-aware of my interactions with certain members of the opposite sex. I poured all too much time, energy, and thought into making relationships work that didn’t have a chance. Somehow, unconsciously, I had gotten it into my head that my life wouldn’t start until I met that someone. Using this limited lens, I missed out on a lot of potential joy.
And now that I’m married to that someone (who is amazing, I grant), I see how I could have spent so much more of my single years living life instead of stressing out if marriage would ever happen. And in doing this, I could have been a better, fuller person for my spouse.
So maybe your single friends will meet someone — and statistically, that is very likely. But maybe they won’t. And if they don’t, we need to realize that it’s not some sort of tragedy we need to fix with their dating app of choice, but an opportunity to live in a way that inspires joy in all people — no matter their relationship status.