Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Advice Q&A: How to Answer "Why Are You Single?"

Recently, a Singletude reader wrote in with some questions about how to answer those matrimaniacs who can't fathom why you haven't yet partaken of their particular brand of crazy. Ami, a single, child-free thirtysomething, is looking for appropriate responses--or, better yet, snappy comebacks--to a number of questions that make singles cringe. We'll address one of those questions today, the dreaded "Why are you single?"

Q: I am single by choice and circumstance. Quite simply, I would be thrilled to meet a man who is like-minded and up to my personal standards. These are standards I set for myself, for the most part. I have not met him, and I refuse to settle for less than I deserve. I am happy living alone and enjoy time to myself. I would much rather be single than in an unhappy relationship. It isn't always easy, but I don't let any man cause me to believe otherwise. The following are questions people ask me frequently. I would love to have some better, newer answers. Any and all suggestions appreciated.

1. "Are you serious? YOU don't have a man??? How can that be? You are beautiful/intelligent/successful/yada, yada...WHY would YOU be all alone/single?" I won't lie and say I don't enjoy the compliments, sincere or whatever. But, they simply reaffirm what I already know...I deserve a man that is right for me, and I won't settle for less. Nobody should. Those who do often end up miserable.

A: When someone asks why you're single, they might as well ask, "Why are you 25?" or "Why are you Irish?" or "Why are you tall?" Well, uhm...because I am. It's as though they assume that singleness is the symptom of some problem, which they could fix for you if only you'd clue them in, rather than a part of who you are--and only a small part, at that, subject to change. It's also like asking, "Why are you Buddhist?" or "Why are you a Democrat?" or "Why are you a librarian?" in that it's a question that can't be seriously answered without a lengthy, personal discussion. And who wants to have a lengthy, personal discussion with someone you just shook hands with five minutes ago? For that reason, when someone asks why you're single, it can feel like the psychological equivalent of backing you into a corner and leaning into your eight inches of personal space--with garlic breath, no less.

As offensive as it can be, though, if you're so inclined, it can be a great opportunity to educate the nosy party about singles. Something I've noticed over the past year and am still coming to terms with is that many people who ask questions like this aren't aware that they're offensive or--hello?--awkward. Sometimes they imagine you must be upset about your singleness (usually because they would be if they were single) and want to encourage you or help in some way. Other times, they may be genuinely curious. They may even just be making small talk and don't know what else to say.

Does that mean it's okay for them to ask why you're single? If it's not okay with you, of course not. But if they're not asking with intent to hurt or irritate, then they're asking out of ignorance, and the best way to combat ignorance is with knowledge--in this case, your firsthand knowledge of being single. What you said in your first paragraph, Ami, was terrific! As much as you might relish firing back with a real zinger, a candid explanation like you gave in your intro above could help a singlist person (i.e., someone who has a bias against singles or being single) open his or her mind and understand how "single" can be a good choice, not an unfortunate mistake. It might also help them realize how a question like "Why are you single?" can deeply affect someone. On the other hand, a sarcastic comeback could put them on the defensive or make you seem defensive, reinforcing their unfavorable attitudes about singles.

But what about those people who ask why you're single out of spite, arrogance, envy, or their own insecurity, people who see your crestfallen face and secretly think, Score! What about when you don't have the time or patience to tick off the top 10 reasons you're single to someone standing between you and your lunch break? What about when you're tired of taking this whole single thing so seriously? For some clever one-liners, check out:

"Single Women and Men Give Advice on How to Respond to 'Why Aren't You Married?'"
"Why Are You Still Single?"
"Funny Comebacks to 'Why Are You Still Single?'" (Read the comments for some real gems!)

Some other retorts I've heard or thought of myself include:

"Why not?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"Why are you (insert something they can't change such as 'American,' 'blonde,' or 'short')?"
"Because I don't settle."
"Because I won't take part in a legal system that discriminates against singles."
"Because I can't afford his-and-hers closets, and I like my space."
"Because I like drinking milk out of the carton."
"Because I like a good night's sleep."
"Because if I wanted to be someone's mother, I'd have a baby."
"Because I already have a job."
"Because it's so much fun getting proposals!"
"Because my home is the only place I can get away from people."
"Because I want my cat/dog to grow up in a stable environment."
"Because when I argue with myself, I always win."
"Because I wouldn't want to inflict my cooking/housekeeping/driving/etc. on anyone else."
"Because I can't walk well when I'm attached at the hip."
"Because after I grew up, taking orders from someone else got old."
"Because if I married just anyone, I might deprive a village of its idiot."
"Because if I end up with a bad model, I can't get my money back."

And, last but not least, Singletude reader Bobbyboy has been known to answer the question "When are you getting married?" with "When I'm ready." Simple, gracious, and no-nonsense, the kind of answer that brooks no argument. Another version modified to fit "Why are you single?" would be:

"Because I'm not ready to be married."

Just for fun, you might also want to take a look at a former Singletude post, "'Why Aren't You Married Yet?'"

In the next installment of "Singletude Q&A," we'll tackle another of Ami's questions, how to respond to that favorite of smug marrieds, "Why don't you have kids?" (Hint: "I did, but they got to be too much of a hassle" might not cut it.)

Why are you single? How would you advise Ami to answer that question? Can you think of some witty one-liners?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have an unpublished rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a "Singletude Q&A" or your rant or rave in a "Singletude Sound-off"! Singletude makes every effort to republish submissions in their original form but reserves the right to edit your submission for length and clarity.

Disclaimer: Clever Elsie is not a licensed mental health professional and does not give professional advice. Her answers are based on experience and what she hopes is more common sense than displayed by her eponymous Grimm Brothers character. She cannot be held legally responsible for your choice to follow her advice, although she thanks you for thinking it clever.

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Alan said...

I know this article emphasizes educating, but I think I'd take a different tack, regardless of whether the questioner was being ignorant or intentionally offensive.

I'd just tell them that it's too personal a question for them to be asking, not angrily or tense, but with a calm and tactful demeanor.

The Singlutionary said...

Because I'm not married!

Clever Elsie said...

Alan: That works!

Singlutionary: I love it!

Asian dating said...

If someone asks me something like this I will tell "because I do not want headaches and heartaches". Sometimes, this kind of question offends me why do people care when a person is still single? Don't they think it is inappropriate?

Clever Elsie said...

Asian dating: Welcome to Singletude! I like that answer, too--very catchy!

As for why people ask, I think it's a combo of idle curiosity, a lack of other conversation starters, a misplaced desire to help singles "fix" something that doesn't need fixing, and, in some cases, a sense of superiority that you might call Smug Married Syndrome ;).

I don't know, either, why anyone would think it's appropriate to ask such a question. But, then again, I'm constantly astounded by what bad manners some people have.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a very insensitive question. They won't dare ask a couple who they know is trying to conceive when they are going to have a child. But for some reason people feel they can delve into our personal lives this way. This blog has given me a lot of ideas now. Thank you so much! I wondered recently whether it was a lack of conversational skills. Don't know what to strike up a conversation about and so my sex life is the only available topic. Go figure. Recently, I told my brother to refrain from making my past relationships the butt of jokes when family gather. I have no idea why people feel it's okay to completely have no regard for our feelings. As if being single means I am void of emotions. Being single in a society that promotes being coupled is challenging enough. My father recently referred to my singlehood as if it was a disease!

Juno said...

I like this article! I am in need of how to answer this question myself.

Anonymous said...

I actually think it's a compliment to be asked why you're single. If you were horrendously ugly or had an awful personality, I don't think people would wonder.

carol said...

Im single because I haven’t found a specific person I want to settle down with who loves me completely. That’s the real reason Im single