All year 'round #truth: The media — plus parents and friends — perpetuate the notion that if you’re over 15, you’re part of a romantic couple, or at least you should be.
Valentine’s Day #truth: Items embellished with red hearts fill store window displays; a Wikihow appears with step-by-step advice for finding a modern day Mr. Darcy; even Buzzfeed posts an article with links to the most romantic T.V. episodes of all time. The logical deduction is that if you don’t have your true love by your side, something is wrong with you.
For those not in committed relationships, the first few weeks of February can be an uncomfortable time, especially when they get slammed with questions prying into their love lives. Here are five things we shouldn’t say to our single adult children and another five to avoid when we’re with our single friends, this week or ever.
What Not to Say to Young Adult Singles
Don’t say: “You work too hard. How are you ever going to meet anyone?”
(MORE: How to Help Your Unmarried Child Find Love)
Why: “With a statement like this, you’re presuming you have a right to make a judgment about your children’s priorities,” says Jeffrey Arnett, Research Professor of Psychology at Clark University, who has done extensive work with Millennials and their parents and who blogs regularly with Elizabeth Fishel on Next Avenue.
Many people begin to make strides in their careers during their 20s and 30s, which may require putting in long hours at the job. Sometimes an employer demands extreme hours. And, yes, sometimes dedication to employment can get in the way of a person’s love life. Nevertheless, Arnett says that pointing this out to your child isn’t going to get you anywhere.
Say instead: “Is this OK with you that you’re working such long hours?” If you’re concerned about your adult child’s physical and mental well being because of the nature of his or her work, stick to that.
Don’t say: “How do you expect to get married if you keep going out with losers?”
(MORE: The 6 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Adult Child)
Why: “The number one thing young adults don’t want their parents to comment about is their love life,” says Arnett. Besides, if you call their romantic partners “losers,” you’re implying that they are losers as well. Criticism like that is never wanted.
However, Arnett stresses that if you sense there is something truly wrong with the someone your adult child is dating — you suspect he or she is abusive, an alcoholic or unsteady in other ways — this is one time to intervene.
Say instead: “Have you noticed any patterns in people you go out with that end up causing problems in the relationship?” Says Arnett: “Phrasing it that way shows that you respect your child as an adult.”
Don’t say: “How do you expect anyone to want to go out with you when you don’t care how you look?”
Why: “If your child is struggling with weight, you can be sure he is aware of it, and your criticism will only make him feel worse,” says Arnett.
Say instead: “Are you getting a chance to exercise these days?” True, this won’t get you any information about your child’s love life, but maybe you’ll be able to discuss something equally important: his or her physical well-being.
Don’t say: “How do you expect to meet anyone you can date when all your friends are gay?”
Why: “Your children are too old for playdates. You cannot choose their friends,” Arnett points out. Besides, since many 20- and 30-something heterosexuals have friends who are gay, a gay friend is just as likely to introduce your children to dateable people as is any other friend.
Say instead (if it’s true): “My [fill in the blank: cousin, neighbor, friend] has a [fill in the blank: son, daughter, niece, nephew] I think you might like. It doesn’t have to be a date, but can I give you a telephone number?” Most likely, your child will just roll her eyes, Arnett warns, but fix-ups have been known to produce happy couples.
Don’t say: “Why don’t you socialize for real instead of spending so much time on social media?”
Why: While there are people who confuse social-media-only friendships with real-life ones, parents these days need to recognize that most young people are doing socializing on their phones or computers that is just as real as anything we did on the phone or face-to-face when we were their age, says Lisa Bahar, a family and marriage therapist in California.
Say instead: “Can you help me understand the way you and your friends use the Internet to talk to each other?” Again, as Arnett would say, beware of the eyeroll. Many adult single children don’t want parents mucking about in their relationships. However, your child may be willing to show you how people communicate on Snapchat or even the dating site Tinder, and you could come away with insight into today’s digital socializing.
What Not to Say to 50+ Single Friends
Now to our 50-plus single friends. Non-familial relationships in our age group rarely contain the emotional triggers that might lead to a shutdown in communication. And yet, if we’re part of a couple, statements about a friend’s love life may bring on a severe case of foot-in-the-mouth disease.
Don’t say: “Maybe you should get a facelift.”
Why: In certain places and certain economic groups, people commonly opt for cosmetic surgery. (I’m told that in southern California, when one woman is introduced to another, an early question may be: “Who did your boobs?”) Many men and women, however, would feel judged if a friend implied that they could attract dates only by looking younger.
Say instead: “I think you’re beautiful, inside and out.” Says Bahar: “Validate your friends for what they are.”
Don’t say: “Meeting people online is way too dangerous. You could get killed.”
(MORE: Hinge, the New Dating App for All Ages)
Why: The popularity of online dating services for people ages 50 and up has skyrocketed in the past few years. One of the most trusted sites, Match.com, has spawned a site for singles over age 50, OurTime.com. Two years ago, it already had over one million members. Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist in New York City, believes that singles over 50, especially women, feel more comfortable using dating sites where they aren’t competing with “younger faces.”
Say instead: “Can I look at the dating site with you?” Even if you’ve been happily married forever, dishing on strangers with a friend can be great fun. And remind online daters to take safety seriously. You’ll find some good pointers here.
Don’t say: “You can’t meet someone if you don’t try something new.”
Why: Even though that statement smacks of truth, you don’t want to criticize a friend who may be feeling vulnerable, Bahar advises.
Say instead: “I was thinking about taking a class one evening a week. Do you want to look through the catalog with me?” This is a great solution because it gives you a chance to spend time with your friend and at the same time put him or her in a situation where there will probably be new people to meet. Hint: select classes where you think your friend might find dateable people.
Don’t say: “You’re doing this to yourself. You’d be in a relationship if you wanted to be.”
Why: Maybe your friend is avoiding intimacy. But a statement like this sounds cold and uncaring. As we get older, breaking from familiar rhythms becomes more difficult and the pool of dateable people gets smaller, something unattached post-55s feel acutely.
Say instead: “Have you joined Facebook? I keep hearing about people reconnecting with former flames there.” Accusing a friend of inaction won’t get you anywhere, but practical solutions can be useful, says Bahar. Also, don’t sweat it if your friend shrugs off your idea. Maybe he or she just isn’t ready to have a committed relationship.
Don’t say: “It’s just a stage.”
Why: Yes, indeed, it is a stage — it's called “being older and being alone.” Some welcome the freedom that comes with singledom. Others experience solo living as painful.
Say instead: “I know you’d like to be in a romantic relationship, but meanwhile, you have so many people who care about you.” Then act on it. Throw a dinner party for your friend, and perhaps invite a friend of a friend of a friend who might be suitable.
Whether it’s your grown child or a friend whose unattached state you’re worrying about, your role is always to be supportive and non-judgmental. And if no one is in the mood to take your advice, laugh your bottom off at these great anti-love quotes.