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"Gee, I'm SO glad I'm not single!"
January 10, 2012 9:29 PM   Subscribe

how can I project some more confidence about being single? I'm tired of people feeling sorry for me.

I'm an early - mid thirties woman in a major city. I am not crying in my cereal every day in my singleness, but I would really like to be in a relationship and want this to be my year. I haven't been in a serious relationship in years and years, and have been online dating somewhat seriously for the last year or so. I've been on three dates already this year.

I'm pretty gregarious and I've talked about my dates with people, especially the sillier/more disastrous ones, because people seem to enjoy the stories and also because I want to project that I'm fine being single. I want to do this because it seems to invite pity pretty quickly that people know I'm single. Most of my friends are married and some are having kids. I make friends easily, but they all seem to be in relationships or get relationships quickly, so I have few if any single people to relate to. I don't feel like I should tell these dating stories, even if people enjoy them, because people end up saying things like, "I don't envy you!" " Wow, I'm so glad I'm not out there!" etc. This makes me feel terrible. I'd never say something like this to someone looking for a job, for example. However, before I told the stories, people would assume I'm not dating and say, "You'll find someone" or "Don't be so down, but I'm glad I'm not out there! My single friends say crazy stuff!" So it's the same thing. I just want to know what to say about dating, and whether I should talk about it or not, so that people can stop telling me how much they pity me. Maybe I'm projecting some sort of sadness about the dating, even though I'm like, trying to show that I'm positive and out there and trying.

Does anyone have any good tips, or anything that works for them?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm in a similar boat (mid-/late-twenties, somewhat newly single, somewhat similar compliments, and a flair for the dramatic in storytelling!), and I always interpret these comments as charitably as possible, and I think you should too. I'm not sure that the comments you're saying you're getting necessarily show pity, per se; I think you could also read them as an attempt at solidarity, or trying to compliment you in an indirect way - in other words, that they admire that you're out there in the trenches and they don't think they could do what you're doing. I think a bungled attempt at empathy is closer to the sentiment than pity, FWIW.
posted by UniversityNomad at 9:41 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Errr, sorry, "comments" rather than "compliments". It's getting late here on the East Coast!
posted by UniversityNomad at 9:44 PM on January 10, 2012


Don't just tell the bad stories, tell the great ones too! Even if they don't turn out to be future prospects, dating does have a happy side (new places to check out! new people to meet!). Or ask your friends to tell you stories about back when they were dating, too.

Do keep talking about it, though, because you do want people to know you're out there and looking. Why? Well, you never know where you might meet someone. If you're picky (and maybe a little odd) like me, you'll want to keep all your options open so you meet as many people as possible. Those single friends your married friends know could be interesting!

(I spent 25-30 single. Internet dating didn't work for me, and sadly I didn't really even get good stories, but I did tell the ones I got.)
posted by nat at 9:49 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't feel like I should tell these dating stories, even if people enjoy them, because people end up saying things like, "I don't envy you!" " Wow, I'm so glad I'm not out there!" etc. This makes me feel terrible. I'd never say something like this to someone looking for a job, for example.

Hmm yeah, those particular replies are definitely really insensitive. But if someone was telling me funny stories about disastrous things that happened to them, I would think that they were trying to deal with the crappiness by venting, making jokes of it, having someone to listen, and getting a little sympathy. In other words I would think that they weren't totally happy about it and wanted a bit of my sympathy. So that's at least part of where I think the reactions of your friends is coming from.

So I think you should only tell those jokes to people who you know won't make you feel bad with your replies, or create a hilarious blog for them, or save them for after you're in a solid relationship, to tell the other people.

I just want to know what to say about dating, and whether I should talk about it or not, so that people can stop telling me how much they pity me. Maybe I'm projecting some sort of sadness about the dating, even though I'm like, trying to show that I'm positive and out there and trying.

One side of this is that your dating life is none of their business to comment on and you don't need to prove to them that you have a "good attitude" and are trying and whatever. But if you're talking about it to them then you're kind of making it their business. So if you want this to stop, if I were you, I would totally stop bringing it up with them and change the subject to something positive. Like, "Any dates this week? Poor girl!" You: "Who knows, but hey, I forgot to tell you, XYZ..."

The other side is if you do want to talk about it with even the ones who give the crappy replies, if I were you I would focus way more on the positive aspects of dating. Because there are plenty of positive aspects. Do you ever meet people who are interesting? Tell you interesting or funny things you could share? Ever meet people who are sexy? When you go on these dates do you ever go to fun events? Do you ever learn anything new or do anything you've never done? Does anything happen that makes you think? I'm sure some of these things happen at least some of the time. If you're not giving them equal weight it might be why people think you are more negative than positive about this whole thing.
posted by cairdeas at 10:03 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


nat's suggestions work pretty well for me. You also may want to consider how you are telling these stories. Are you holding the floor for minutes at a time? Since your friends have rarely been single for long stretches, they may not feel that it is their place to provide anything but sympathy, especially if you dismiss anything they do say about dating. Do you actually listen to them or invite them to give their honest opinion? Your examples sound like the sort of thing I would say to someone who didn't give me a chance to be an active participant in the conversation. I wouldn't say those things out of pity; I'd say them because there would be very little else to say.

I find that sometimes I just don't want to hear what other people have to say, and that's what I'm detecting from your examples. You're putting your friends into an awkward bind. You're insisting on talking about something you're not allowing them to have input into. You assume they can't relate to your struggles and then go on at length about them. What recourse do they have other than inane sympathy?

If you're really serious about finding someone, ask for advice and honest opinions from your friends, instead of entertaining them with stories about how terrible dating is. Then, listen to that advice, give serious thought to the idea that they might be right, and act on whatever conclusions you make. After all, if they've been able to find partners easily, they might be doing something right. I believe finding the right person is mostly luck, but fortune favors the prepared. How have your friends prepared themselves? How can you learn from what they've done (or not done)? Also, sometimes your friends can see things about you that you can't--like, for instance, a habit of overscheduling yourself that causes date nights to go awry. That perspective can be invaluable.

Your desire to appear invulnerable isn't doing you any favors here. You think you're projecting an air of confidence, but instead you're coming across as being very defensive about the fact that you're single. You're pushing people away with your stories. Your real friends will respect you more for being honest about what you want, not less. Your friends want to help you. Let them.
posted by millions of peaches at 10:25 PM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Agree that this does not sound like pity so much as empathy/admiration and perhaps an attempt to suggest that the listener sees that the disastrous sounding scenarios do not reflect on you, but on the situation. I'm genuinely curious, because I would hate to make my single friends feel uncomfortable but would have prob given a similar response- what kind of comment do you wish they would make? In a similar vein, if you don't want sympathy of any kind don't talk about diasaster!
Perhaps consider that, given that you have said that you don't want to be single and that these dates were awful- sympathy re: those things is appropriate? But does not necessarily translate into pity or a lack of respect for you as a person. I am married; I have close friends who are single but would prefer to be partnered. I am sorry for them that this has not occurred yet but do not feel that this is in any way a reflection of their desirability or impressiveness as people. Perhaps considering that these two things can be in coexistence- ergo, not everyone who is glad they didn't suffer your horror date disrespects you- would help. Also, I concur with others to do less disaster telling if you feel that some people are pigeon-holing you/judging you by it.
posted by jojobobo at 10:27 PM on January 10, 2012


I am so 100% completely in the exact same boat - i could have written your post, word for word.

The main thing i do when they say something pitying is to look at them with a confused face and say "What? What do you mean?", as if i can't figure out what they're sorry for me for. Or, i'll sometimes say "i'm not upset about being single, so why are you?" Or i'l just say "I'm happy, i like my life", if they're especially obtuse. I tend to vary the facial expression and tone of voice between "befuddled by what you just said" and "relaxed and happy" depending on how fucking annoyingly obvious their pity is.
posted by Kololo at 10:32 PM on January 10, 2012


Also, as for telling the dating stories:

One of the more subtle variations on pity from married friends is being fascinated, or treating my life like a funny novelty, or like a stereotype or like i'm a character in a movie. (ie. i know my friends think that i'm at bars all the time partying it up. And i'm like, no... i'm 35? and all my friends are married? and i've been going to clubs for 15 years and its gotten as boring for me as it is for you?).

I actually find that when my friends stop talking about diapers for long enough to breathe, and turn to me and say "So what's going on with you?", that they are just interested in five minutes of novelty stories, and it completely prevents them from identifying with me. It seems they just focus on how i'm an alien.

My solution is to talk about the stuff that i have in common with my friends - work, home ownership, restaurants, movies, current events. Talking about dating usually just makes me feel like a circus act.
posted by Kololo at 10:37 PM on January 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


After all, if they've been able to find partners easily, they might be doing something right.

This could absolutely be the case. Or, they could have jumped into a relationship that will soon create much more unpleasantness in their lives than staying single and actively looking until/unless they found a good match would have. There's a saying that you're never as lonely as you are when you're in a bad relationship.

It's hard when there's a topic that A) you're sensitive about and B) which people feel like they can freely comment on, because you're already primed to negatively interpret feedback on it. If you're confident that you're telling these stories as funny anecdotes, then I wouldn't worry about whether the motivation of these comments is sympathy in general. I think it's probably shared amusement and sympathy in particular about the latest story, which is a totally appropriate response to crazy dating stories.

And probably mixed in is some unconscious actually-that-crazy-independent-single-lifestyle-sounds-so-fun-and-faraway jealousy that may make the comments more self-affirming than having anything to do with perceptions related to you. As in, if I say I'm glad I'm not doing the single life enough times maybe I'll believe it and feel less like I'm missing out while I'm stuck changing diapers at home on my Friday nights.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:43 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you tell stories about your nightmare dates, then people will give you sympathy. If you don't want sympathy, talk about dates in a positive way, such as the excitement of the first kiss, how you are meeting a bunch of cute / hot people, the thrill of the chase.

To use your analogy of someone looking for a job, if they describe it as "I am so depressed, I went on two interviews and they both drained my soul", then people will give them sympathy. If the unemployed person instead says "today I relaxed, exercised, and got excited about two job interviews with amazing companies", then they will get a excited response in return.
posted by cheesecake at 12:30 AM on January 11, 2012


I'm turning 36 in a few months, been single since 28 (though with one 6-month relationship and one 1-year, long-distance relationship where we didn't see each other often in that time). What's worked best for me is not to discuss it at all. I have a private blog that a few friends read, and share the weirder stories there since they're not the type to pity, but rather the type to share their own weird stories and/or give good advice.

For the day-to-day though, I just don't discuss it. If something comes up where my status as coupled-or-not is important, I just cheerily say, "I'm single!" and leave it at that. A few years ago I made the mistake of accepting potential date suggestions from a colleague who kept asking me questions... don't do that. It sounded like a nice idea since, y'know, real people! From a real person you know! But it turned out that this colleague and I have VERY different ideas about what dating means. For her, "dating" means "finding a man with money who gives you money" and for me, well, "dating" means "getting to know someone". She keeps trying to insist with me now, but I just tell her, genuinely, "I'm happy with how things are!" and it seems she's been letting it drop. So that does seem to work pretty well. Plus, yes, like Kololo says, chatting about things others can relate to (married people with & without kids surround me too). My cats, mainly, also cycling, the crazy drivers here, taking care of my apartment. Bonus: it helps you realize how fine you are single.

'Cause I really am. It helps when you've reached the place where a relationship would be like cake rather than bread.
posted by fraula at 2:53 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your friends are thoughtless; they get away with it because you're too polite to say "well, at least I'm not married to a shitty excuse for a parent" or "at least I don't have to do some man-child's dishes every night".
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:12 AM on January 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


I find that sometimes I just don't want to hear what other people have to say, and that's what I'm detecting from your examples. You're putting your friends into an awkward bind. You're insisting on talking about something you're not allowing them to have input into. You assume they can't relate to your struggles and then go on at length about them. What recourse do they have other than inane sympathy?

This was my thought, too. I'm in a relationship, but I have plenty of single friends. With some of them it's great to chat about the people they are meeting (or who stood them up, or whatever), but with one person I can think of it's kind of dreadful, more what you are describing. He wants to tell the stories, but gets really antsy if you give him a response that doesn't match what's in his head. It's exhausting and not fun, and in his case seems to come from self-esteem issues, that the life he is leading is not the life he wishes he were living.

So tell the stories if you want, or not if you don't, but don't put people in an uncomfortable box of needing to give you Reply A but not Reply B. And think about the stories you are telling -- if they are all about awful dates and embarrassing situations, no wonder people are responding with pity.
posted by Forktine at 5:47 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I don't envy you!" " Wow, I'm so glad I'm not out there!" etc.

"It DO sometimes feel like I'm the Mayor of Bonkers Single People Town. But it's all helped me realize that no one has it perfect; it sure seems like there's angst and frustration, and dealing with mind-boggling behavior, and unexpected upsides, no matter what your relationship status is... you know?"

If you can transition the crazy story-telling and resulting over-the-top reactions into a more sincere discussion of how everyone has joys and troubles (certainly including your coupled friends), it removes the sting out of thinking they really do have a one-sided pity for you (they don't) or that their lives are so much better (they're not). I've found that with that kind of segue, my friends are often eager to talk about some of the relationship troubles they're having, which they might otherwise not have been if they're worried about rubbing salt into a wound or something. Honestly, many of my coupled friends, especially those with kids, often feel a lot of unspoken pressure to act as if everything in their lives is awesome, because to admit otherwise is being disloyal to the person they love. It can be nice to be the person they can have really honest conversations with, for both of you.
posted by argonauta at 6:05 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


They do envy your singleness. They're picking up on the negative stories as opportunities to state empathy, in an attempt to show solidarity and cover over the envy.

Millions of peaches has better advice for behaving in a way that will let them connect on a more enjoyable level.
posted by ead at 6:21 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I don't feel like I should tell these dating stories, even if people enjoy them, because people end up saying things like, "I don't envy you!" " Wow, I'm so glad I'm not out there!" etc."

I feel like this is BOG-standard response to dating stories, I hear this all the time. I've said it. I think it's a greasing-the-social-wheels sort of response, and I think people say it to mean both, "I admire that you have the cojones to be out there" and "I am SO GLAD I don't have to try to locate my own dating cojones." I don't think it's pity, I think it's sympathy with a touch of admiration/supportiveness.

Also I think people say "I'm so glad I'm not out there" instead of saying things like, "Wow, you date crazy people" or "You should try something else" or "Maybe if you changed your OKCupid picture ..." In casual social discourse, it's a lot safer to say about oneself than to offer any kind of comment on someone else's dating. I think a lot of people aren't quite sure how to comment without sounding judgmental or rude except by offering a comment on themselves and their past dating life.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:10 AM on January 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Honestly, there's nothing you can say to minimize the pity. 'Cause for a couple-up person, watching someone you know-- especially someone you like-- not being able to find a much-wanted relationship when said person is over 30 is hard. But remember your dating stories will inspire empathy as often-- if not more frequently-- than pity. For most people, dating was just that hard.

I have a couple of girlfriends over 35 who try to put a positive spin on the same situation and they definitely don't pull it off. I didn't when I was single, either. So you'd be doing yourself no favors to try to strong-arm yourself into some high-intensity state of positivity over your lack of a partner. You know you don't really feel that way about it, right? Well, so does everyone else who knows you.

So your best options are either to 1.) Stop sharing your dating stories so much or 2.) Accept the honest responses of your friends and acquaintances. They're not trying to hurt you. This is the reality of your situation. With luck you'll find the love of your life soon so all of this can end.
posted by devymetal at 8:54 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't interpret "I'm so glad I'm not out there" as a pitying response. You've just told them a story about a date gone hilariously wrong, and followed it up with your intentions to keep at it. What do you want them to say? Almost anything has a huge potential to come out badly, and could be perceived as pitying, condescending, or just plain awkward: "Well, better luck next time"(lord knows you'll need it) "Wow, what a disaster, how do you stay so positive!"(mega-pity) "That sounds awful!"(you poor thing!) "I hope you find a good one eventually" (like I did, nyah-nyah). "well, at least you're getting dinner and a good story out of it"(because seriously, you're doomed)

The thing is, chances are very very high that no harm was meant in any of those responses, and the intention was actually to be encouraging, to sympathize or emathize, and to try to say something positive. My parenthetical remarks are totally gratuitous, and it seems like someone who'd naturally interpret things that way must be coming from a very sensitive emotional state. If they feel that harsh to you, maybe you're more emotionally raw than the confidence you're trying to project, and you'd feel better if you backed off on sharing your dating stories. Otherwise, part of projecting confidence is to let any subtext wash right over you and pretend you didn't hear it, and part of feeling confidence is to accept the truth of what they say (dating isn't easy) and embrace the good wishes these bumbling idiots meant to send you.
posted by aimedwander at 9:11 AM on January 11, 2012


You've just told them a story about a date gone hilariously wrong, and followed it up with your intentions to keep at it. What do you want them to say?

"Woah. You must've been so surprised when he took his pants off! Are you going to go back to that bar?"

Basically, anything that doesn't include a reminder that your life is "better" is a good plan.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:16 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I'm so glad I'm not out there!"
"But don't you ever wish you could have a first kiss again? Or the butterflies you get at the beginning of a new relationship?"
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:47 AM on January 11, 2012


I have a couple of girlfriends over 35 who try to put a positive spin on the same situation and they definitely don't pull it off. I didn't when I was single, either. So you'd be doing yourself no favors to try to strong-arm yourself into some high-intensity state of positivity over your lack of a partner. You know you don't really feel that way about it, right? Well, so does everyone else who knows you.

Agreed - everyone who has ever dated knows it can be kind of a slog, and that if you want to be coupled you're probably not thrilled to be single.

That said, when my single girlfriends do this I DO NOT feel pity or think my friends are pathetic at all. I might say the same sorts of things your friends said in solidarity, but pity is not at all the emotion behind it. First, because I've been there and it worked out well for me, so I know it will work out for them. Second, because I think they are awesome and if anything I feel pity for their future husbands who haven't met them yet.

I'd consider the possibility that you're feeling defensive about these reactions and that your friends honestly don't think you are crying every day about being single.
posted by rainydayfilms at 12:00 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't even talk about it. I would talk only about the fun things you've done, the projects you have at home/work, your travel plans, pets, etc. Dating stories are only for the closest of friends, those whom you can count on to not let the pity card fall on the table.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:48 PM on January 11, 2012


Being single is awesome. Our society's narrative about how a woman gains value through coupling is completely false. If you understand this completely, down in your soul, you wouldn't interpret those comments as pitying, or if you did, you would view it as a colossal misunderstanding.

If dating is a goal-oriented activity in which you attempt to attain some social value and keep failing, then it sucks. If being single is about being free to live your life any way you like, take opportunities as they come, and enjoy the variety the world has to offer (instead of locking down your choices to one person), then... well, there's nothing to pity. It's kind of great.
posted by carolinaherrera at 2:11 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I might very well say, after a dating disaster story, "I'm glad I'm not out there."

But if I did, it would be intended as a supportive, "Dating can be tough and I recognize that," with a touch of admiration, because I probably could not navigate those waters as well as most single people I know seem to do. You were telling stories about dating disasters and your friends were responding to those anecdotes, that's all.

I would NEVER assume someone was better, or happier, just because they were married. AskMe is full of questions from married AND single folks. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

the young rope-rider: Your friends are thoughtless; they get away with it because you're too polite to say "well, at least I'm not married to a shitty excuse for a parent" or "at least I don't have to do some man-child's dishes every night."

Whoa, that's really harsh. Young rope-rider, do you really feel that *your friends* saying, "I'm glad I'm not out there," is even in the same ballpark as openly mocking their partners and the way they raise their children?!

I do think people saying, "Don't worry, you'll find someone!" are being really condescending, and I wouldn't want them as friends. But I wouldn't attack their partner because of their insensitivity.
posted by misha at 4:49 PM on January 11, 2012


Well, OP, I hope it was clear that I don't actually think you should call people's husbands man-children. Even if they are man-children and refuse to clean up after themselves.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:22 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


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