Convince family being single is okay?
January 2, 2010 9:33 AM   Subscribe

I love the single life, but my family seems to think there's something wrong with me. How can I get them to just accept this is who I am?

I'm a 29 year old guy that has been moderately successful by standard metrics (virtually no debt, own a rental property, decent career so far, etc) but have always been the "different" one in my family when it comes to life choices. Unlike my parents, siblings, and relatives, I have basically zero desire to settle down and have a family. I tried the settle-down-in-suburbia route over the past few years, but was incredibly miserable and got out - no way I could do that long-term.

I think my parents are finally starting to accept that I'm the weird free-spirited kid of the family, but my relatives continues to drop the "you should get married"/"you should have a family" hints on a regular basis. I know they mean well, but it feels like a slap in the face! Can't they just be happy that I'm happy? I have dated a few times, even was deeply in love once, but I'm sure the fact that I've never been in a long-term relationship or even brought girls home to meet my parents incites a lot of this.

The thing is I really enjoy being unattached and feel like I'm just now starting to take full advantage of it. Being able to travel, meet new people, and in general live an interesting life is pretty central to who I am. So how can I convince them that there's nothing wrong with me?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Tell them what you just told us
posted by wheelieman at 9:38 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, you can't do it by a single argument or sit-down discussion. It will take years of their seeing that you're content. No one believes a person who insists that they're happy. (This narrow format is the exception: I believe you, more or less, because I don't know who you are, and therefore you have no reason to lie to me.)

The best thing to do is shrug it off with a smile and a pleasant remark, something like "all the time in the world for that." Since you're a guy, you could "settle down" at 50 pretty easily if you wanted to. There's no rush.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:42 AM on January 2, 2010

It's very, very, VERY likely that you will never convince them. Keep living your own life anyway.
posted by coryinabox at 9:47 AM on January 2, 2010 [9 favorites]

At one point in my life I got sick of my relatives asking me where I planned to go to college, so I just started asking them similarly annoying questions: I asked my cousin when he was going to get married. So my advice is to find a similarly annoying question to ask the person who keeps bugging you and make it into a joke. Or do the other thing I did when asked about college and make up something. In your case something like, "as soon as I save up enough box tops to send off for my mail order bride", or "as soon as your wife is available"

also, "You're just jealous, aren't you?" works; and "I donated sperm, so there are already lots of kids of mine out there."
posted by sciencegeek at 9:55 AM on January 2, 2010

People say things like that not because they're concerned for your happiness, they just feel uncomfortable when someone's behavior doesn't reinforce the same decisions they've made for themselves. Maybe they're a little jealous that you seem to be free of this sense of obligation, or can't understand why you feel immune to it. Also, especially parents of a certain generation, see their children's marriages as a mark of successful parenting. So they might be a little hurt if they feel that you don't seem to value that accomplishment as much as they do.

I was in this position for many years (also, female, which makes it worse). All I said was, "I'm very happy with my life, and it would take a very special man to make me want to change anything about it." And then leave it at that. If you give the same answer every time, eventually people will stop asking.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:58 AM on January 2, 2010 [15 favorites]

Can't they just be happy that I'm happy?

They can't understand how you would be happy. So you can't be happy. So they have to convince you to try something else that will make you happy.

This is what is happening from their perspective. Their minds are completely closed to the idea that something different to the norm can make someone happy. Sadly, you can't open their minds. If you could, their minds would already be open to the idea.

It might be an idea to show them the pictures from your travels, in a this-is-what-you're-missing-out-on way. If they're in denial that they're unhappy ["we have what society tells us to have, how could we not be completely blissful?"], that might jar them into accepting that things might be different for different people. This is unlikely to happen, though.

You might eventually convince them not to say those things to you, but you'll very probably never convince them that you're right and they're wrong, and that you are happy.
posted by Solomon at 10:01 AM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

You could say "Everybody has a role to play in this family. I'm playing the role of the carefree son/brother/uncle."

My youngest brother-in-law is a lot like your description of yourself. His nieces and nephews think he's the coolest guy around. So just keep living your life and doing what makes you happy.
posted by amyms at 10:10 AM on January 2, 2010

Share your happiness with them. If you experienced something while traveling, dating, etc. and you found joy in it, do tell. They simply don't understand what life looks like from your perspective. Help 'em out and forgive them for being stuck in a script.

If they can't get there, no matter what sane and well-meaning tactics you use over time, there's a deeper issue that you may not be able to get around. Cross that bridge later, but for now, try compassion, mass patience, and some good tales of your travels.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:12 AM on January 2, 2010

They most likely cannot be convinced to believe you - however they can be convinced to shutup if you're willing to bruise their feelings.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 10:13 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Send them a link to this thread. I'm a lot like you, but I don't take any crap about it. When a family member says, "When are you going to settle down and have kids?" I just reply, "Never. Ever. Not in a million years. Banish the thought from your mind." Or sometimes, "When Hell freezes over."

I guess if I really wanted to shut them up I could say something like, "When you lose 50 pounds" or maybe "When your kid gets his doctorate."
posted by coolguymichael at 10:24 AM on January 2, 2010

Lots of people delay marriage till their thirties or even later.

Just tell them your biological clock hasn't started ticking yet.

(Also, it could be they are fishing around and wondering if you are gay or not. Which is totally immaterial either way, but if you happen to be straight you could always just come out and say baldly "I'm not gay" and see what if any hilarity ensues.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:43 AM on January 2, 2010

Don't try to convince anyone of anything. Ever. It's the only thing that works, because otherwise you are somehow "on the defensive", and that is not a great place to be (per your post). You are fine and happy so you have nothing to prove. I would treat such inquiries as impolite (none of their business) by simply smiling - hard pause - and changing the subject (especially if there is something else to concentrate on, like whatever reason you are all together at that moment: holiday, someone's wedding: just say, "this is really nice, isn't it?" etc.).

I was (am, I don't believe in marriage) in your position many times, especially with family. As I saw it, if they were married they probably didn't want to hear how I felt about it - so kept it to myself. People think it is a open topic (things like your singlehood, when you are going to have a bayby, etc). But they back off when they realize your choices are none of their business. The only ay to politely do this is NEVER explain anything as personal and private as your love-life. My boyfreind and I never explain ourselves. This eventually drives home that it is none of their business.
posted by marimeko at 10:50 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

That's, "baby" (onslaught of misspellings..!)
posted by marimeko at 10:56 AM on January 2, 2010

Welcome to the club! I'm 46 and I have been hearing this for twenty years now! Not from my parents, thankfully, but from my Grandma before she died, and from my aunt, cousins, etc. (Ironically, some of these people have been divorced and remarried MULTIPLE times, and they somehow think that's superior to singledom...just go figure.) And being a woman just makes it that much harder for people to comprehend that some of us have different aspirations.

I usually fob them off with jokes: "You know, Jenny, I have big plans to be the scary neighborhood cat lady and frighten all the kids! I can't do that with a husband attached!" You're a guy, why not say something like, "Hey, it works for George Clooney!"

If that doesn't work and/or someone brings up religious arguments: "I have my beliefs, you have yours, let's just live and let live, OK?"

For the really ivory-skulled individual who Just Doesn't Get It: "MYOB. Seriously. Back off. Now, how 'bout those Raiders?"

You don't want to sound defensive, but you do want to get across the message that this is absolutely not their business, and a waste of breath anyway.

What also really helps for me is a circle of like-minded, unmarried and/or childfree friends. They provide support and validation and we can compare notes on the wacky things families say.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:57 AM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

My mom tries to convince me to have kids every time I see her. My solution, after I told her exactly why that was never going to happen and she gave me the same patronizing talk people who don't want to have children hear all the time, is to talk to her less and less frequently. We used to talk daily and now it's more like once a week, and it's brief. Over the holiday break I expected her to bring kids up again and she did, so I just said whatever and brushed it off. It was quite annoying still, but less of a I'm-two-seconds-from-blowing-up-at-you annoyance since I had told myself it was inevitable beforehand.

That works for now because in the past year I've only had to feel like I'm unacceptable to my mother two times, which beats the hell out of feeling like I'm unacceptable to her more than two times. I figure she'll give me more shit about it as I get older and I still don't have kids, at which point I will try to calmly tell her things like that make me feel unacceptable and unhappy so I'm forced to barely talk to her. If calm doesn't work again -- and it never does -- then I'll probably have to go off on her and give her an ultimatum to never, ever bring kids up in front of me again or I'll have to quit talking to her altogether. I expect that will work because she's one of those moms where I'm her ~entire world~, which was rather nice before all this bullshit started. She can't seem to help herself from bringing things up that upset me, though on the whole she's gotten a little better, just not about this particular issue -- she even tells me to have a kid and she'll raise it completely, which is so jaw-dropping insane I don't even know what the hell to tell her. She is extraordinarily pushy and selfish and doesn't seem to understand that it's a terrible idea for me to have a kid I don't want simply so SHE can have another kid.

People upthread are right that for people like this, they're incapable of realizing that something other than what makes them happy could make someone else happy. My mom is like this with people who aren't her children too; everyone is "weird" to her and some of the stuff she says in that regard is frankly ignorant, self-absorbed, and embarrassing. Generally when someone is that emotionally immature and insecure there's no way to point that out without their getting really angry, defensive, or upset, because that mindset that they know what's best is more the foundation of their self-esteem than it is for other people; otherwise they wouldn't cling to those irrational ideas. That means your options are either to say nothing for as long as you can and just put up with the abuse as it comes, or to make them really angry, defensive, or upset.

Yes, all this sucks. You can't control how other people react to things, though. All you can do is weigh the costs -- your sanity/mood/whatever versus how they'll likely react -- and keep making whatever decision is acceptable to you at the time. Right now I have an okay balance of my own sanity versus sparing my mom's feelings, but however that tips in the future is ultimately on her.
posted by Nattie at 11:14 AM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

That's the famous opening line from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1813. Whether one reads that as straight truth or for comedy, is shows us that attitudes have not changed much. Time, patience, and an occasional dose of MYOB is your only course.
posted by bryon at 11:56 AM on January 2, 2010

It's really annoying. Try to distract them. When people ask why you aren't married yet, ask them how they met their spouse, what kind of wedding they had, where they went on their honeymoon. Even better, ask them what went wrong at their wedding. You will hear great stories.

The issue of kids is more personal to me. Some people get pressured about kids, and it turns out the person is broken-hearted about a string or miscarriages or inability to conceive. Maybe this is true of marriage, maybe Cousin Leslie is unintentionally poking the sore spot of Lee's recent heartbreak when a fiancee abruptly ended it. In any case, when people get inappropriate, you can walk away saying you need a fresh drink, turn the conversation elsewhere, or tell them it's personal and you prefer not to discuss it.
posted by theora55 at 12:06 PM on January 2, 2010

I think the key is to respond "Why are you asking?". The continue to delve into their rationale and never answer the question.
posted by andreap at 1:45 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

There was a similar thread a month or so ago... I'm having problems searching, but perhaps someone else can find it? Lots of good perspectives and advice in that thread, too.
posted by scody at 1:45 PM on January 2, 2010

Andreap reminds me of another response:

"Why do you need to know?" Some advice columnist or other (Might have been Miss Manners, I don't recall) recommended that one.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:43 PM on January 2, 2010

Are you sure they're not convinced that you're hiding your gay love interest in the nearest convenient closet? I'm pretty sure that was Mr. F's fundie relatives' problem with his swingin' bachelor lifestyle, as they spent a GREAT deal of time telling me how much nicer he looked without that long hair and that awful trenchcoat when I met them.

I told them I'd been trying to find him another trenchcoat for months, and they shut up.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:45 PM on January 2, 2010

Bring someone absolutely terrible home once every 6 months? they'll much prefer you single then.

And if that seems a little silly to you, i'd go with what has mostly already been said, you nailed a lot of what needs to be said in your original post, it just needs a little more exposition, and personalising, the best way to explain something is to link it to something they already know, find something parallel in their lives, if you can.
posted by Iananan at 6:45 PM on January 2, 2010

You convince your family that being single is okay by being single and okay. Some people are hopeless alone and happy hitched and hatching. Others thrive on their own.

Are you unhappier than the rest of the family? Are you sadder or angrier? Do you complain more? Is your health worse? Are your living circumstances worse? Do they have any reason to think that you are failing as a person other than that you don't live in the standard spouse-and-children arrangement they have accepted? If so, maybe you need to work on these things, entirely for your own good, regardless of family opinion, but it would also silence the critics in your family.

And you are a 29-year-old man, so the family option will still be open for some time. If you take care of yourself and perhaps marry a younger woman, you have many years to change your mind, land a wife, and spurt enough sperm into her to start a family.
posted by pracowity at 5:19 AM on January 3, 2010

If I am ever able to convince my family, I'll let you know how I did it.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:09 PM on January 3, 2010

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