What Not to Say to Singles

Rethinking 3 phrases often used to encourage singles.

We’ve all experienced it: that awkward moment when well-meaning people try to comfort singles with words of hope and encouragement. Sometimes (and by sometimes I mean hardly ever), it actually does what it’s meant to do. But the other 98% of the time, it fails miserably.

The problem is that good intentions don’t always translate into good communication. It’s important for those who are married to remember the struggles that come with being single and do their best to walk away from an interaction with a single leaving them feeling helped, not hurt. So the next time you interact with someone who is flying solo, here are some things to make sure stay out of your conversation:

Longing for marriage isn’t a sign that Jesus isn’t enough; it’s a sign that we were created by a relational God.

“You’re Married to Jesus!” I’m amazed that people actually say this stuff. But according to the emails I get from singles across the nation—it’s a phrase that is being uttered to single men and women and is causing some major damage.

The problem with this idea is that it leaves singles with a whole lot of guilt that they were never intended to feel. When singles are asked to be okay with being “married to Jesus” it makes them view their desire for marriage as a sign that they aren’t okay with Jesus. It makes them feel unholy and unrighteous. It makes them question their faith and spirituality.

But wanting to be married to someone (other than Jesus) doesn’t make you unholy, it makes you human! God placed these very desires within our hearts. We were made to connect with others. Rather than play the blame game, God Himself reminded man that it was not good for him to be alone, and fashioned for him a wife.

Longing for marriage isn’t a sign that Jesus isn’t enough; it’s a sign that we were created by a relational God who has placed those desires inside of us. It’s time to stop playing this blame game and instead learn to encourage and edify the singles in our lives. It’s time to stop forcing them to ease their loneliness with Jesus and instead be the hands and feet of Jesus and invite them into our homes and into our lives.

“Singleness is a gift!” I have to admit, this was the one I most disliked hearing as a single. For all the struggles that came with singleness, it was really hard to see it as a blessing, much less a gift! Like one of my readers put it, “If singleness is a gift, I am holding on to the receipt because I plan on returning it.” Many people echo the same thing.

Singleness may be a “gift,” but, according to Scriptures, so is marriage! I know so many young people who are afraid they will be given the “gift” of singleness without their approval. Sure, the season of singleness can be a really special time of undistracted focus to God and to others—but when it comes to living a permanently single life, I believe that is a special calling that a person chooses to take on as a direct leading of the Holy Spirit.

Rather than push this dreaded “gift” onto singles, we need to challenge them to seek out God’s will for their life, and help them hear His voice. We need to cover them in our prayers that they would have wisdom, discernment and discretion as they seek to live the life they were called to.

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“You won’t meet your spouse until you stop looking.” If this line were true, I probably would have been single into my 80s. When you’re single, the truth is that for most people, finding love is a topic that always seems to be on your mind in some way. What it comes down to, though, is that there is nothing wrong with that. Just like babies think about eating, and children think about playing, adults think about loving. It’s a universal preoccupation that was placed inside of us by an Almighty God. The answer is not to stop looking for love, it is instead to keep looking for love.

Finding a spouse is just one part of an incredible story that God has called you to live.

Rather than try to make singles forget about their singleness, we need to challenge them to keep it in mind, yet not allow it to cause them to lose sight of all else. Embracing singleness has nothing to do with forgetting the destination toward marriage and everything to do with enjoying the ride. You can keep looking for a spouse, but ultimately, you should be looking for that and so much more. Life is filled with purpose, passion, goals and dreams—and finding a spouse is just one part of an incredible story that God has called you to live. Seek to fix your eyes on all that, and you will have very little regret.

I think it’s time to change the way we encourage our single brothers and sisters. Rather than triggering guilt, loneliness and doubt in their lives—let us cover them in support, encouragement and prayer. Rather than tell them they don’t love Jesus enough, let us seek to love them in the best way we know how.




Kathryn commented…

I do not know why people, especially people who married early in life, feel compelled to give advice to single people in regards to being unmarried (fortunately, that hasn't happened to me too much). So, as a single person, I will not here attempt to give advice to married people as relates to being married; but I would like to respond to some of the statements in this article and to share a little from my own perspective. To give you a bit of context, I am a never-married 33 year-old woman. I have been living on my own and paying my own way through life for the past 10 years--the first nine of which were spent in a professional occupation (yes, attending numerous company parties alone) and the last one of which has been spent living on savings and working part-time while figuring out what comes next for me (I am now working toward that endeavor, and excitedly looking forward to becoming an assistant teacher). Last year, I was honored to be the Maid of Honor at my (younger) sister's wedding (though, for several reasons, I dislike and disagree with the traditional bouquet toss - which she did not have :) ). Also of note: after reading this article, I found the article titled "5 Things Single People Wish Married People Knew" posted on Feb. 22, 2013, by Ashlee Alley. It seems that we have a fair amount in common, and I agreed with very much of what she wrote. I recommend that article also to your attention. Anyway, as mentioned, I would like to comment on a few things that Debra wrote in this article.

I suppose I will start with the first of the three ideas which I encountered and wanted to comment upon: "...when it comes to living a permanently single life, I believe that is a special calling that a person chooses to take on as a direct leading of the Holy Spirit." Although I'm not sure I totally understand the concept that was intended to be conveyed, I disagree with the idea that most people who remain single for their entire lives have done so as a preferred lifestyle. Certainly there are probably some that have decided to remain single despite opportunities to marry, but I suspect that it is more often the case that people would rather be married (but for whatever reason are not) or, as is my case, have made peace with whatever their circumstances are at the moment. Then, moments turn into days which turn into years which eventually turn into a lifetime. At some point, for some people, circumstances may change to such that they become married, but for others, circumstances may be such that they remain single for their entire lives.

As for me, do I never wish things in my life would be different? Of course not. There are times that I wish I was married (or that I had more time or more money...), but most often, I am at peace with the high likelihood that I may never get married, and, more than that, I am content. I find that living a life characterized by contentment is often a choice, and that it zaps too much life out of life to dwell on and spend enormous amounts of time wallowing in all of the what-ifs and the coulda-woulda-shouldas. Yes, I do occasionally spend some time there (those emotions have to be acknowledged and worked through for a bit--which is different for each person), but I choose not to live there. (Incidentally, I refuse to wait until some undetermined time in the future to start living...financially, that just won't work, but also, there are far too many people with whom to "do life" (for good or bad), to love and be loved by, and from whom to learn. Kids, elders, peers-- my life is richer for having known them, and I hope that I have made a positive impact in their lives, as well.)

Along those same lines, I dare say that there are happily married people out there who sometimes (obviously not always) wish they were single. That is just the way life is-- we all have our ups and downs. We all need to encourage each other-- yes, as Debra asserts, sometimes we singles need to be encouraged and affirmed (for who we are, not for what might or might not happen in the future), be we singles also need to be encouraging those who are married! All of us need to focus on the commonalities of the human experience rather than the differences brought about by cultures or contexts, or whether or not we are married and have "our own families" (Though admittedly I am not keeping up with five different schedules in one day, I have a family too...I may not be able to relate to having a spouse and children, but, like many people, I have parents, a sister, grandparents, aunts and uncles, along with all of the good and not-so-good that that entails--I'm "just sayin" that sometimes I cringe when I hear it suggested that a single person doesn't have a family, just so you know ;).). When I do look at differences, I prefer to see them as a whole as an exquisite display of God's greatness, grandeur, creativity and glory, rather than use them as a wedge to separate me from other people.

As a (single) person, I appreciate prayers on my behalf, and will gladly accept prayers for "wisdom, discernment and discretion", but if you are praying that for me, please pray the same thing for other friends, too, regardless of whether or not they are married. We all need (to paraphrase the article) to hear God's voice and to seek to live the life we were called to--moment by moment, and within any and every context in which we find ourselves.

In closing, if we were to meet on the street and you asked me personally how I would like to be treated, my response (which would not necessarily be that of other single people) would be this: it is okay to acknowledge that I am single--I am fine with that fact--but please don't define me by it; please acknowledge that being single is, more than ok, a perfectly fine lifestyle, and that it does not imply that I am a person less worthy of companionship; please acknowledge that I, too, am a human being and have much in common with my fellow human beings; and finally, just get to know me as an individual, not as a conservative or liberal or educated or ignorant, Christian or non-Christian, rich or poor, married, single, widowed or divorced, or any other label. While I recognize that everybody isn't going to be friends with everybody, and that categories are sometimes necessary to make communication easier, let us get rid of the "us and them" mentality and strive to love each other, as Debra says, "in the best way we know how". And, in all contexts, while not dismissing the offense and saying it didn't hurt, extending grace to reach beyond hurtful words that are said to the good intentions (or at least not bad intentions) behind them and to engage in grace-filled dialog. Even when that means practicing patience if someone suggests that I don't have a family. :) Yes, I know, oftentimes much easier said than done. May God grant grace and peace to all of us.

Michael Johnson


Michael Johnson commented…

I love this post and want to marry it. (Is that funny to say to singles?)


In particular, I loved this quote: "Wanting to be married to someone (other than Jesus) doesn’t make you unholy, it makes you human!"

Will be linking to this post from https://www.facebook.com/FMUniversity where we are empowering the wise individual to PREPARE for marriage instead of just wait.



Bex commented…

LOVE this article. Btwn the above and being told to give online dating a try by people who have told me they would not tell their daughters to try it (then why are you telling someone else's daughter to), I would be okay with never having to hear "comfort" phrases like these far too many like to share.

btw-not saying online dating is bad, it's just not for me... I've seen catfish. the end. lol.

Jolene Latimer


Jolene Latimer commented…

I'm single and definitely think it's a gift. I don't have to run anything by anyone - I can live where I want, create my own schedule, take whatever job I want, etc. Especially when you're in your 20s and trying to get your career started I think that's a perfect scenario- flexibility is a blessing. One day I won't be single and that will come with it's own blessings as well, but I absolutely think there are tons of awesome things about singleness and the more you focus on other aspects of your life instead of just wanting to find someone the more grateful people tend to become.

Danielle Stewart


Danielle Stewart commented…

I, too, think that singleness is a gift. The one that always gets me is "Don't worry, you'll find somebody," as the immediate response to "I'm single."
I'm not worried. I'm enjoying being single. There's nothing wrong with it, whether for a short season or the rest of my life.



Brett replied to Danielle Stewart's comment

Yeah, excellent stuff. Got married at 35 and so i understand the single vibe to a large extent and have some pretty amazing friends who are close to my age and still single and some of them struggle with the well-intentioned-but-stupid things people say - you have picked on some of the biggest ones...

i actually have a series on my blog called Taboo Topics where we look at topics rarely spoken of in church and Singleness is one of them and surprisingly became one of the two most popular that i've run - through sharing stories from some of my friends who share honestly about their journeys - REALLY powerful stuff here - [url = http://brettfish.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/taboo-topics-singleness-intro] For the stories on singleness[/url]

just so glad to see Singleness tackled in a place like Relevant and hope more people will continue to speak life and Truth into that area and stop putting marriage as the pedestal end result "prize" to which everyone is running...

keep on
love brett fish



Daniel replied to Brett's comment

I actually feel sorry for married people that they have such a huge distraction as married life to destroy their focus on the Truth. The idea that someone could "make things worse" with a "well-meaning" comments is laughable.

Thank God for singleness - it truly is a gift!

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