1. You’re so lovely, why are you still single?
This is quite a favourite, it seems, as I have lost count of the number of people who have said it to me, or about others in my hearing. On the face of it you might wonder what’s wrong with it – surely it’s meant as a compliment? Well, yes, I’m sure that it is meant as a compliment. The problem is that when that sentence is spoken, this is what we hear: “You seem lovely, but there must be something wrong with you, otherwise you’d be married. You can’t be quite as lovely as all the lovely married people around you. If you were only a bit more lovely, you’d be married in no time.” I know, I know, that’s not what you meant at all – but unfortunately that is what we heard.
2. Don’t worry, you’re still so young.
This is another tricky one because on the face of it it’s complimentary, and it seems to offer consolation and hope. But to be brutally honest, when you say this sentence I simply cannot hear you over the sound of my biological clock ticking. I have known people aged 16 and aged 60 who felt exactly the same about their desire to be married (and of course I have also known people at both of those ages, and everywhere in between, who had no desire whatsoever to be married). At the moment when singleness feels like a struggle, whatever age you are, you don’t ever feel young enough to not worry about it!
3. Do you have a family?
I wish I had a pat reply to this question which worked every time but sadly, for some reason, no matter how many times I get asked it, I still stumble over my response. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the questions ‘are you married?’ or ‘have you got children?’ – those are questions seeking information which are perfectly valid in a conversation, and to which I’m quite happy to reply. But the question above isn’t the same as those questions. The question above means ‘are you married with children?’ but that isn’t what it asks, and so we find ourselves thrown by it. I find it hard to answer because the answer is yes, I do have a family. I have parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. But I know that’s not what you’re really asking. If I reply in that way you might think I’m being deliberately obtuse and that’s not what I want to do. And yet I don’t want to say ‘no’ because that isn’t the right answer to the question you have asked, even if it is the right answer to the question that you meant. Can you see why it’s confusing?!
4. If you get your relationship with God sorted out, then He’ll send you a spouse.
This is clearly nonsense! What more needs to be said…?! So presumably absolutely every married Christian person has a perfectly healthy, mature relationship with God then, do they? No, that’s what I thought…
5. I was single till the age of X, so I know exactly how you feel.
I’m sorry, but you simply don’t. It’s obviously true that while not everyone is married at some point in their lives, everyone is single at some point. But you don’t know how I feel. You may of course be able to remember how being single felt for you, at that time, but that is not the same as how it feels for me, now. In the same way, I don’t know how anyone else feels – even another 34-year-old single female vicar. (This doesn’t mean that you can’t empathise, or sympathise, or be involved in my life – of course it doesn’t! But you really don’t know how I feel!)
6. Do you think maybe you’re being too picky?
Ah yes, that’ll be it. When I looked out at that queue of 17 men beating each other off with sticks to get to me first, and then rejected each of them in turn, it was my pickiness that was the problem.
7. Have you thought about speed dating/internet dating/blind dating?
Dating? You mean I could be looking for men to date? Wow – I had no idea, thank goodness you told me. It’s not like I’ve been wrestling for months over whether or not this is a road to go down, and how and why and when and where it might all happen, and what I’ll do if it doesn’t work out. I’ll get onto that straight away.
8. You’re so lucky to be footloose and fancy free.
Yes, you’re right, I am. I’m really lucky to have freedom in where I go and what I do and how I spend my time and my money. It’s great to be able to be independent and to make my own decisions. But you’re really lucky to have someone to hug when you get home at night and someone to share the household chores with and someone to talk through your day with and someone to go to parties with. And if in the context of our friendship we can talk about the things that are great for me and the things that are great for you, and share them together, along with the things that are hard for us both, then that’s brilliant. But if you throw the above sentence at me when I’m feeling lonely and alone then I will find it hard to be gracious.
9. My husband/wife/children are driving me mad. It’s so hard being married/having children – if I were you I wouldn’t bother.
So would you like to swap places? No, I thought not. Please don’t insult me and your family with this one. You’re allowed to have a bad day, week or month. We all are. And if there’s one thing I don’t envy parents it’s sleepless nights. But please, don’t say things you don’t mean.
10. I think God has given me a word for you – you’ll be married by the age of X/be pregnant by next Christmas/have six children…
I really hardly know what to say about this one. I wholeheartedly believe in prayer and prophecy and I love to give and be given words from God – it’s a joy and a privilege. But please, please, please – DON’T give people words about marriage and children, no matter how positively sure you are that God has spoken. If need be, write the word down and seal it in an envelope and hide it away and if it comes true, take it out and give it to the person and it will be a wonderful confirmation from God. But refrain from saying it to them. I guarantee that it will not be helpful. Ever.