Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Your Sorry Ass,
As a single woman in her mid-twenties, I increasingly find myself in an awkward predicament. All my friends seem to be moving on to the next step of their relationships—i.e., engagement and marriage—and I am extremely happy for them and supportive of their decisions and choice in partners.
Increasingly, though, they seem to be worried about the state of my relationships, or rather the lack thereof. I often get comments as blunt as “You need a boyfriend, dude,” and “Have you even been on any dates this year?” The more serious their relationships get, the more serious is their concern that I am not falling in line with them. My personal reasons for not pursuing a relationship are many, but they don’t stem from some fatal flaw or permanent state of being, as it seems to me my friends are beginning to think.
How do I assure my friends (and family) that being single-by-choice in the golden era of engagements does not doom me to a life of spinsterhood?
Single and Enjoying It
It is often comforting to remember that undue concern from friends and family is the annoying but nearly inevitable result of a loving and devoted kinship network. However, the palliative potential of this affirmation wears thin very quickly, and good intentions can be even more grating than outright criticism. And to judge by the examples you’ve given here, your friends are adopting a posture that’s more critical than caring. However pure their motives, these friends sound like nosey, judgmental squares, and I can’t imagine suffering such foolishness. You my dear, have the patience of a honey bee scouring every corner of the hive for a faint aftertaste of sweetness.
I assume that this hypercritical pushiness is an anomalous behavior in an otherwise lovely group of people. Still, that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to humor these kinds of comments. Here are some potential responses:
The direct, disarming approach: “Oh no thank you, I’m still enjoying being slutty.”
• You could counter with a warm affirmation of your own, e.g., “At this point in my life I couldn’t imagine taking time away from my friends, career and amateur drone piloting hobbies.” (Follow this by showing them YouTube videos of drones in flight until they never ask you anything again.)
• Or there’s the direct, disarming approach: a chirpy, “Oh no thank you, I’m still enjoying being slutty for the moment.” (Please pair this one with an honest and cheerful smile.)
• Or you can shock them with an ideological pronouncement, as in, “Dating is patriarchal bourgeois garbage culture and I refuse to participate in such a degrading spectacle.” (Delivered in a stern, self-righteous baritone, with appropriately severe eye contact.)
• Or, if you find that you don’t have one of these bitchy retorts in you, you can always be honest, which is probably the most mature but least pettily gratifying way of dealing with unwanted criticism from a loved one. (Yeah, I know—Your Sorry Ass can be a spoilsport at times.) The undefensive way to deal with officious friends and family is to approach their interventions from the perspective of your comfort. In this case, I’m talking about a fairly brief answer, and then a candid account of just how irksome you find their interrogations to be.
For example, if someone says “You need a boyfriend,” you can reply, “No I don’t. And I’d prefer not to have one right now. When you say things like that it’s very hurtful to me, and I dislike being told what I need when I am seeing to my own needs quite competently. Please lay off the boyfriend stuff. I’m in no hurry.”
This isn’t a script per se. However, the main thing is to be firm but calm and concise, while framing your response in a way that highlights your feelings. These people care about you, and if they see that they’re actually hurting you, they should respond by easing the hell up. I would advise taking this opportunity as soon as you experience this criticism again; it’s good to resolve these things before you begin to resent your nearest and dearest for pestering you about your single status.
It’s true that one’s mid-twenties are often an exceptionally turbulent time of life, and I do not blame you for not throwing the active pursuit of a partner into the mix. At the same time, though, I’d avoid debates on the “proper” time in one’s life to pair off. You’ll quickly find user results vary widely. “I’m still in my twenties” doesn’t mean much of anything for the marriage-minded individual. There are a lot of personal and cultural factors that shape individual opinions on these matters, and it’s generally best to avoid a larger conversation about the contemporary state of romance when you’re really just talking about your feelings, your life, and your choices.
It may also help to remember that we incorrigibly self-questioning humans typically greet every new life event with some second-guessing, some wistfulness—and yes, maybe even some envy. It’s very possible that your friends are a bit insecure about their own decisions, and even a bit jealous—consciously or subconsciously—of your freewheeling life as a single girl. It’s true that this reflection won’t magically dispel the aggravation of having one’s chops busted for the petty crime of being comfortable with your own company. But it’s also not unlikely (and totally healthy) for your friends to be experiencing some ambivalence about these new and maybe somewhat intimidating phases of adulthood.
I might also add that everyone is entitled to ambivalence—even you. Not only should your support network be able to accept that you’re content with a table for one, they should also accept you for having—even for a moment—mixed feelings as well. If you’re a little lonely and succumb one day to the well known allures of romantic companionship (even if it’s only for that one day), you should be able to articulate and defend such a choice without fearing that your friends will swoop righteously back on the scene to announce that their biases have all been confirmed, and let loose with another round of obtrusive and unkind comments.
Good luck Single, and enjoy the life of a liberated bachelorette!