Pithy Response for Thoughtless, Unsolicited Comments
September 24, 2010 8:11 PM   Subscribe

Why do people say stupid things to single people, and how should I respond?

I'm a single woman, early 30s, dating in NYC. I meet interesting people regularly, and go on plenty of dates with men. Yet I continually run into people who say things like, "Wow, it must be *so* hard to meet men here. There are *so* many amazing women here." Just tonight a married woman at a small dinner party who heard I was dating said, "That's tough. I meet so many great women here! And so few interesting men!" Another married person once, when I mentioned a date I'd been on, looked at me sympathetically and said, "It's really a men's market here."

Why, for the love of God, do people say things like this to single women?

a) I actually haven't found it to be the case.
b) It makes me feel paranoid that my experience is some weird aberration that will shortly prove to be just that.
c) It seems so thoughtless of these people to say, casually, "Yeah, I've heard that tumor you think is benign is actually inoperably malignant."
d) It just sort of gives me a sinking feeling.

How should I respond, both to the person saying this, and to myself, so I don't let it get me down?
posted by airguitar2 to Human Relations (38 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You say, oh, I guess I've been hogging them all! I meet great men all the time.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:15 PM on September 24, 2010 [48 favorites]

People say this sort of shit because there's a deep socio-cultural assumption that being in a relationship is the key to happiness for most if not all people (especially women), therefore if you're not in a relationship you are almost certainly unhappy. This message is reinforced more or less constantly in popular culture; think of the endless movies, TV shows, songs, advertisements, magazine articles, etc. that are predicated unquestioningly on this notion. Hell, even a rich, beautiful, successful celebrity like Jennifer Aniston is essentially seen as an object of pity because, gosh golly, she just can't get a man to settle down with her since Brad left her for Angelina.

Like TPS suggests, I think the key in social situations is to have a snappy rejoinder or two that basically deflects this assumption in a kind of cheerful-but-firm way. "You know, I must be lucky, because I meet great men all the time" is exactly the kind of thing you're going for; if you don't want to discuss the matter further, inject a pointed change of subject at the end of that sentence -- "so, what do you do?/how do you know the hosts?/etc."
posted by scody at 8:23 PM on September 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

Why is this bothering you if "go on plenty of dates with men". Seriously, who cares what people who aren't dating think, especially if it doesn't match your reality?
posted by nomadicink at 8:23 PM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

Were you at an art gallery in Chelsea this evening? I had the same exact conversation with a woman in her 30s about people making comments about her being single.

I asked her what she said when people made comments and she just said that she thinks to herself how much happier she is than all of the miserable people she knows stuck in marriages.

I hope that's helpful.
posted by dfriedman at 8:24 PM on September 24, 2010 [10 favorites]

They're trying to be nice, so, it's probably best to treat them the same way. When people say "it's tough out there!" in reference to a lack of a partner (or job, or whatever), what they're saying is "you aren't single (or unemployed, or whatever) because there's something wrong with you - there's something wrong with a world where you're single because you're awesome." Take the compliment.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:25 PM on September 24, 2010 [46 favorites]

Its likely people saying these things to you are certainly not happy in their marriage (or any place else for that matter) and probably wane to be in your situation; single, dating and having a great time! Its the age-ole, 'they are jealous'!
posted by justalkin at 8:32 PM on September 24, 2010

I don't think I used the word "wane" correctly but you get the idea. :)
posted by justalkin at 8:33 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

They think you have a problem and feel they should say things to sympathize with you, when in fact you're not looking for victimhood. I think your best response is in your question. "Really? I haven't found that to be the case at all."

As for making yourself better, you might remind yourself that you are coming to the dating experience with not as much baggage as some of the women you're meeting, hence the radical difference in both your outlook and experiences.
posted by contessa at 8:37 PM on September 24, 2010

Living in Japan, I found that Japanese folks could say the stupidest, most insensitive things to me all the time. Most recently it's comments about my kids: "Wow, haafu (half or "mixed-race" children) are so cute. Fifteen years ago, I would have made an issue of it. These days, because I'm more used to it, and realize people don't mean any harm, I just try to pivot and do some conversational judo, and just change the subject.

The best way to do this is to practice reflective speaking.

Thoughtless person: "Wow, it must be so hard to meet men in this town."
You: "Yeah, they say it's hard to meet men in this town. Say, I know this is a little off topic, but what did you think about Lady Ga Ga's "meat dress"?"

You can reflect what they have said without necessarily agreement, and overtly change the subject to a broad topic. From that broad topic you can move on to something more interesting.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:37 PM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

They're just ineptly trying to make conversation and aren't thinking much about whether what they're saying is accurate or helpful. Many people do this all the time with all sorts of topics. They don't care much about having a genuine or positive conversation; in fact, they may secretly enjoy how vacuous their conversation is.

Why have they latched onto the specific observation that NYC is a men's dating market? I have no idea.

More to the point, why does the exact source of their faulty thinking matter so much to you? If possible, just stop worrying about it. Don't let them live rent-free in your head.
posted by John Cohen at 8:45 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think that's just something people from/ in NY say because they heard it from someone else. I've never lived there but I used to visit regularly and it never made any sense to me then. There are plenty of interesting men in NYC. Like, millions.

I blame the NYT magazine. And Seinfeld.
posted by fshgrl at 8:46 PM on September 24, 2010

Why would you blame Seinfeld? I don't remember this ever being a theme on the show. Elaine had about as much luck meeting men as Jerry did with meeting women.
posted by John Cohen at 8:48 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

thanks-- great responses. john cohen, thanks for the rent-free image-- i love it.

"i'm hogging them all"-- priceless.

and yeah, "i've heard people say that. [next topic]" is good. or maybe, "yeah, married people often say that!" ??
posted by airguitar2 at 8:56 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dating/marriage can be a competitive sport to some people in NYC. I like TPS's advice, and I'd add a quick subject change. I'm willing to bet that complementing the person who says this to you on something they are wearing will completely disarm them.
posted by cestmoi15 at 8:59 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Depending on the crowd, you can say brightly, "The women here ARE awesome! I've been seriously considering lesbianism!" I suggest only using it with people who will definitely think it's funny, or people who will be SO APPALLED they stop talking and leave you alone.

But yes, just dumb conversational gambit that 99% of people don't mean anything by, they're just trying to pick up a thread of conversation to keep talking with you because they're enjoying your company. It's part of the world's great secrets that like 99% of people are horrible at small talk, and wondering why everyone else is so much better at small talk than them. So you end up with things like this. ;) With this kind of thing I mostly do the "new topic" or some polite acknowledgment without agreeing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:05 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I were you and someone said some of these inane ignorant statements to me, I would simply look them in the eye, smile and walk away.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:10 PM on September 24, 2010

a) I actually haven't found it to be the case.
b) It makes me feel paranoid that my experience is some weird aberration that will shortly prove to be just that.

It's true to some degree - there are significantly more women than men in New York. Wikipedia quotes 100 women for every 90 men. Also, given that there are more gay men than lesbians, the straight dating market is stacked in favour of men even more.

(of course, not everyone wants a romantic partner, etc. etc. Also, you're totally right that it's insensitive as small talk)
posted by ripley_ at 9:16 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

No reason to say it in a social setting (because of the whole rudeness aspect of things) but here's why people think it.
posted by supercoollady at 9:22 PM on September 24, 2010

Why have they latched onto the specific observation that NYC is a men's dating market? I have no idea.

From things like this and this (scroll). They've been repeated in many different forms of media.

I think TPS has the best response.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:24 PM on September 24, 2010

Just tonight a married woman at a small dinner party who heard I was dating...
Another married person once, when I mentioned a date I'd been on...

If comments really, truly bother you, why would you discuss your personal life with others in the first place?

It's like spreading the word that you are looking for a job and expect people talking to you to not comment on the current economy.
posted by xm at 9:24 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you bringing up the topic of dating, or are these people just randomly asking you if you're seeing anyone? It sounds like these people barely know you. I am kind of a private person, and if I'm going to be telling anyone about my love life, that person is a close friend. So it might be helpful to consider trying to avoid the topic altogether if unfamiliar people are around, especially if you are "continually running into" people who say things like this. If the topic arises because other people are asking you about it as a form of small talk, it would be polite enough to just casually and confidently say you'd rather not talk about your love life and then move onto something else.

Maybe they're responding the way they do because of some sort of visual cue from you that you might not realize you're giving them- like maybe you make a certain face or get a certain frustrated tone of voice when talking about the dating scene that seems like you might want some sort of sympathy from them, and then their response is totally misguided because they have no idea what to say. Does that sound possible?

At any rate, it is perfectly valid as a single woman to leave the topic of dating off the table with anyone who might be clueless about how to respond. That might at least prevent this sort of commentary from being aimed at you.
posted by wondermouse at 9:28 PM on September 24, 2010

I'm older than you and still single (unhappily so), and often hear things like, "I don't know any straight single men! Ha ha ha ha!" or "The only straight single man I know has 1 tooth and lives in his mother's basement! Ha ha ha!" or "The grass is always greener - you don't REALLY want a relationship". They either seem to think it's (my desire for a relationship) is a comedy or they think they know better than I what I want. I handle it by directly telling them that they're being hurtful, and why. I suppose the flip, change-the-topic approach would work, but it doesn't feel authentic to me. I think that often, once people couple up, they completely forget how tough it is to be single and the compassion meter goes WAY down.
posted by FlyByDay at 9:44 PM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

"It's so funny you say that, because I often feel bad for married people who couldn't attract a fly to honey if, I don't know, their spouse left them or died. God forbid. Patê?"

or, more positively,

"I hear that sometimes, but it's actually totally untrue, at least in my experience. Isn't that funny? Did you want some patê, by the way?"
posted by clockzero at 9:47 PM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Why have they latched onto the specific observation that NYC is a men's dating market? I have no idea.

there are more women than men here + the women in new york tend to be better groomed and better looking than the rest of the country = very few of my guy friends are single unless they want to be, because the math is incredibly tilted in their favor, and they're always waiting for a prettier girl to walk into the room. many of my smart gorgeous well-educated super nice female friends, that would be considered major catches in any other city, are single and not by choice. there are very few single straight men in my various social circles and the vast majority of them just aren't interested in dating exclusively because there are so many women to choose from when they decide to settle down. i've had multiple people tell me that i'll basically have to wait for the first big wave of people my age getting divorced—which will be in my late 30s, since new yorkers get married very late—to start meeting guys actually interested in relationships. i'm happy to hear that dating in new york is working out for SOMEONE, but the reason people say it sucks so much is because it actually does for most of us.
posted by lia at 10:05 PM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

yea, it's nice for you if dating is actually working. I have a lot of trouble meeting people here in NYC, but it does annoy me when people say things like that. I honestly believe I havent found "the guy," and that's all I say about it -- I don't want to fight over some guy at a party who's looking out for a better girl because all the women in NY are teh hotness. I know some guys who talk about how "amazing" and "perfect" some women are, and I just think they haven't gotten to know them well enough yet, we all have warts.

I don't know, the things you list bother the hell out of me and I don't care to hear the statistics because what can I do? I love this city and I'm not moving so I can meet some dude. I just say, "well, if I meet 'the guy' I meet him, if not, so what." I know girls in lots of cities who settle and I don't feel like doing that.

Just be confident in your answer, like really be confident, don't act the part, and people will quit saying stuff like that.
posted by sweetkid at 10:18 PM on September 24, 2010

You will never get people to stop saying and doing stupid things. It will not happen in the history of human kind. So, your only choice is how to react. I like to either smile and say nothing or ask, "Why?" "What do you mean by that?" Stupid people have a real hard time explaining stupid statements. They realize that half way through a half assed explanation and move on never to say that to you again.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:04 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

You know, moxiedoll is right, they are trying to be nice to you by saying in effect that you are awesome and the fact that you are not coupled up isn't because you lack awesomeness but rather because of the market. It is just conversational filler intended to make you feel GOOD about your awesomeness, not bad. They may be thinking back to their own dating experiences in the area which may have been totally different than yours (yet no less valid). Anyway, if you focus on their intent, to tell you that you are interesting and awesome, you will probably be less bothered by the specific words they use to accomplish it. They are really not trying to play mind games with you or whatever. They are just trying to send you a coded signal that they think you are great.

I've been married for five years now (today!), and I'm not great at it or some expert or anything but for me being in this relationship is so much better and so much deeper than much of my life when I was single. Someone wonderful who I respect is there to balance me, to have my back, to share my life. Maybe some of the married people who are making these comments are thinking that you are missing out on this intimacy for now and that is a shame because you are a terrific person. They actually do feel a bit sorry for you because having this intimacy is great, a life changer, but at the same time they're saying, hey, I'm no better than you at being able to attract a partner, because I can see that you are super and the only reason why you don't have a partner if you are trying is because the market is bad. That's all. At worst, to me, they are being a bit condescending, but I don't think it's intentional or mean spirited. Again, they are really just trying to tell you that you rock, even if they are doing it awkwardly and badly.

But hey, dating and especially falling in love are FUN, and you have all of that in front of you, and you can't do it all over again once you're coupled up, so enjoy yourself. It sounds like you are having a great time, so don't take what these folks are saying so seriously. They like you, and they're just making smalltalk.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:26 PM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

Sometimes, people are just shallow.
posted by germdisco at 12:24 AM on September 25, 2010

I don't know why exactly people are saying this to you. With any given person, it could be any of the above explanations, from vacuous attempts at small talk to complex expressions of envy.

I think the real question is why they're expressing it in that particular way.

I know a terrific older woman, gorgeous, and very generous by nature. She met a man who I suspect behaved seductively towards her in order to gain access to something she had that he wanted. (No, in this case, something else. He really was a complete bastard.) (No, this woman isn't me.)

I was shocked by how desperate and servile she became. She talked of the life-threatening importance of jumping as soon as a man snaps his fingers. She even said, "when you are in love with a man, he is God and King."

To which I thought, why???? Why is she supplicating to this man? Well, because she is in love with him, and that's how she thinks she's going to get him, of course.

Yes, but why? If she has something he wants, why isn't he prostrating himself across her doorway to prove he deserves it?

Because he knows about the cultural conditioning that women should cater to men. He knows that if he can get her to fall in love with him, she will obey this conditioning and do whatever he wants.

When you take a step back, though, you see all the ways in which this doesn't work. In the first place, he either fancies her or he doesn't. Knocking herself out to please him won't change that, but if he does fancy her all this supplication might inadvertently pressure him and push him the other way.

In the second place, there are just as many men in this world as there are women. So maybe in NYC that's slightly different, but even if you believe those stats (which were published for a reason) it's still not like there are, say, 10 single women for every 1 single man. Plus which, it's a numbers game, but not purely a numbers game. You're not ultimately looking for more than one man. The other 9 were just there to increase your chances of getting to him.

I'm not concerned with a lack of single men so much as a lack of desirable single men. Personally, what bothers me so much is that the men I do meet seem to have an expectation that they won't have to do much to get me. And I'm not asking them to slay a dragon for me either - I'm talking about basic stuff such as common courtesy or, you know, actually asking me out. If they didn't actually want to go out with me, they'd go on their way; that's not what I'm talking about: I've seen guys posture around and do a distinctive kind of flailing-on-the-spot shtick that goes on beyond the point of absurdity, but they won't actually take the small risk of expressing interest because they think I should be pursuing them. A little of this can be chalked up to understandable gamesmanship, in which case I could go, "ha ha, okay, I'll take my turn, now it's your move". But when goes on and on because it's the only strategy they're prepared to use, it starts to look cowardly. And when they escalate their self-parody by incorporating the Jealously Plotline into their antics, I conclude that they will only relate to women who are prepared to compete with other women in catering to them. Articles like the ones quoted, and the increasing popularity of pick-up artist techniques, are only going to make this crap worse.

I suspect the reason why you're meeting so many terrific guys is because you're resistant to this worsening cultural trope, and are subconsciously, automatically filtering out the ones who are. So I'd just carry on as you are and not let the cultural propaganda get to you.
posted by tel3path at 6:14 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

When married or otherwise taken people make comments such as these to me, I sweetly comment that I hadn't been aware that they were in the market for a new partner, is everything all right at home?

disclaimer: I am a jerk.
posted by elizardbits at 7:39 AM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

People are always looking to say something interesting, and this common observation about New York dating is a classic "man bites dog" situation. (You know, "'dog bites man,' that's not a story, but 'man bites dog' is another thing altogether.")

Given that, I'm not sure you should think that it's particularly insensitive -- certainly no more rude than conversational gambits about where you went to school, where you grew up, where you work -- all of which are drilling down on income, class and other things that many people think are quite sensitive.

Also, unless you're dealing with real clods, it has a flattering aspect -- people are not going to say that to someone who would have trouble in any dating market, so it means that they are (if backhandedly) observing that you're reasonably attractive and well-spoken. Also, there's no way that people would say this to you if you were 36 or 37 -- it's not funny when there's any biological clock implications.

As for the dating story, for what it's worth, with a dozen years in New York, I tend to see it as a fairly isolated mismatch that gets disproportionate media attention. Lifestyle magazines and websites don't carry stories where 35-year-old male doctors complain that they deserve, but can't seem to get, a 21-year-old Ukranian or Brazilian model for a girlfriend ... but they do get excited by 33-year-old museum marketing directors' complaints that they can't find well-employed-in-the-culture-industry, willing-to-commit, good-looking, 30-something guys ... when the math is hardly more favorable for that aspiration than the modelizers' aspiration.

Other women seem to have it darn good. Get here in your 20s and like lawyers and finance guys -- you're on the top of the world. Willing to date interesting guys who haven't quite figured out their career path? Same thing. Open to divorced guys in their 40s -- you've got the best supply of those anywhere . Etc.
posted by MattD at 7:50 AM on September 25, 2010

Yo (name), I'm really happy for you, and I'ma Let you finish, but Beyonce has one of the best husbands of all time!
posted by Chrysalis at 9:30 AM on September 25, 2010

I have said this sort of stupid thing, truly meaning it in a "you are so awesome" kind of way. But I will keep my mouth shut from now on, never considered that it would be dwelling on a negative.

Funny how lots of people felt the need to come into this thread and illustrate exactly why people say that the dating market in NYC sucks for women, even after the OP said hearing this sort of shit makes her upset and paranoid. C'mon guys, seriously?
posted by ch1x0r at 9:31 AM on September 25, 2010

I used to live in San Francisco, and still live in the area, and boy oh boy (har har) I'd get comments like this a lot, because allegedly "all the men here are gay" (which is so 80's, incidentally, the tech explosion has drawn hordes of single straight men here). My responses, depending on my mood:

"I haven't found this to be true - I find lots of guys here."

"I put love spells on them! You should try some Shameless Hussy oil sometime!" This usually gets a chuckle (or in the case of actual pagans, often a cool discussion on magic and stuff).

If I'm in a I-don't-want-to-deal mood: "That's because I hide their bodies in my basement and collect on their life insurance. Have some chips and dip."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:52 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

[hey folks, questions are not about how people should behave but how the OP should manage what she has, thanks]
posted by jessamyn at 11:39 AM on September 25, 2010

airguitar2, when I was a white girl living in Bangkok, a fair amount of my time was spent beating suitable (Western) suitors off with a stick. My response when clods said, "Oh, I'll bet you can't find a man here" was to laugh. (I'd moved there precisely to STAY out of relationships for a while, so naturally it was raining men.)

Stupid people make stupid assumptions and then say stupid shit. A smug, slightly mysterious smile goes a long way. Don't let stupid people get you down.
posted by cyndigo at 12:33 PM on September 25, 2010

When married or otherwise taken people make comments such as these to me, I sweetly comment that I hadn't been aware that they were in the market for a new partner, is everything all right at home?

disclaimer: I am a jerk

Yeah, that's an assholish thing to say unless you truly believe the person you're responding to was trying to be snide or insulting. I'd say give people the benefit of the doubt, that they are trying to compliment you and/or sympathize with you. If you think they are operating on misinformation or mis-perception, go ahead and candidly speak with them ("i haven't found that to be the case," etc.). It sounds like you are bringing up the dating discussion (apologies if that's not true), in which case you can understand why they assume you are hoping to find a partner. If these conversations generally lead to heartache, I'd avoid the subject altogether.
posted by JenMarie at 1:18 PM on September 25, 2010

If I felt the married person saying those things was truly being catty with me my response would be "Yes, and you must be *soooo* relieved not having to compete in such a tough market!".
posted by zarah at 6:03 PM on September 27, 2010

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