#916: “Singleness is not a problem to be solved, so I can I get my family to stop trying to solve it for me?”

Hi Captain!

Longtime reader, very rare commenter but I think you generally give excellent advice so I’m giving it a shot. I’ll try to keep this relatively brief – I’m having an existential problem surrounding life milestones, etc. I’m 25 and have generally been pretty successful in my life – I’ve been academically successful, I have a law degree and a good job, and I have a really good group of friends, most of whom have been in my life for many years.

What I haven’t had is a whole lot of romantic relationships. This is generally fine with me. I really value my personal space and don’t generally crave the kind of constant companionship that comes with serious relationships. I’ve dumped people for “liking me too much” (ie, coming on too strong, wanting a kind of closeness I wasn’t comfortable with, etc). I’ve had one relationship that I would classify as “semi-serious” with a much older man that I met several years ago (we are still close and sometimes physically involved but not currently “in a relationship”). This relationship used to cause me a lot of emotional pain but I’m at peace with it now and don’t consider it a source of stress in my life. Additionally, I am kind of wary of men (I haven’t been raped or abused, fortunately, but have had the same experiences as a lot of women – sexual harassment, etc, lots of friends who are survivors) and am generally not one to give men “benefit of the doubt” when I’m uninterested or uncomfortable.

The problem is, certain family members seem to consistently insinuate that I need to “fix” my dating life. I’ve made the mistake of mentioning that I eventually might be interested in marriage/kids, which has apparently given these family members permission to ask about why I’m not dating, give unsolicited advice about my dating life or lack thereof, and critique the way I interact with men. These family members did not approve of my previous relationship (and I understand why, although it’s truly none of their business) and seem to be motivated by a desire to see me “move on” from it. I always feel like they’re trying to tell me there’s something wrong with me for not being all that interested in dating; I’m also a pretty private person and don’t tend to talk about people I casually date/am interested in.

I’m at an age where a lot of my friends are in serious relationships and some are married, and the pressure is starting to get to me. Eventually, a relationship would be nice. I love kids and would like to have some of my own someday. But I need to do it on my own timeline, when I’m comfortable, when I figure out what I want and what I need. I’m not even 100% sure that I’m not bisexual. Scripts like “I don’t want to talk about my dating life/relationships” have only been interpreted as an invitation to “push” harder from these family members, and this lack of respect for my boundaries seems to be fraying my familial relationships that are really important to me. I want to be close with my family but I’m also an adult and need people to mind their own business, and I don’t know what to do. Any advice?


Single and Stressed (she/her)

Dear Single and Stressed,

I wish there were a product you could spray on yourself that would preemptively make people mind their own business about certain topics, but there isn’t. Your family is going to keep asking you about this probably forever, or, until you start dating someone at which point they are gonna ask you when you’re getting married. If marriage is on the horizon, it will be time to talk about your reproductive choices.

When it’s people you love it helps, as much as possible, to think about it in terms of “They care about me and want me to be happy and they are taking an interest in my life and this is how they show it” but you’re not imagining the stress and awkwardness you’re feeling when it comes up. These discussions can feel extremely oppressive especially when:

a) If your desires, identities, and choices don’t follow a monogamous, straight, or otherwise “traditional” model (including not wanting to be paired off in some way at all), any conversation about this personal area of life suddenly involves not only personal awkwardness but potentially bringing very real and vulnerable questions of civil and human rights onto the table. (For one example). Where these conversations are really about Do I Trust This Person Enough To Not Freak The Fuck Out If I Tell Them The Truth About Myself? Do I trust them not to be dismissive? Violent? Am I feeling up for A Scene at this particular moment in time?

Welp, it’s not exactly small talk, is it.

b) The entire process of forming romantic attachments and partnerships isn’t really controllable or subject to schedules. You gotta find someone who you want, who you can build a happy life with, when the timing and circumstances make it all possible, and they have to want you back and want the same things as you and make all the big and tiny decisions to make the things happen. It’s not like you wake up, turn 25, feel ready to be married and start having a family, walk down to the Potential Life Partner and Co-Parent Superstore, run your debit card, and check that accomplishment off your to-do list.

A ton of advice exists in the world on how to speed up or otherwise manage “finding love!” and some of it is okay and a lot of it is plain malarkey. Malarkey or not, if you asked people in your life for advice, along the lines of “I really want to meet someone and settle down, and I’m not sure how to go about that, what do you think?” or “I’ve tried dating but I don’t feel like I’m meeting the kind of people I want to, what would you do if you were me?” or “Hey do you know any great single people I might like I’m willing to be set up and I trust your opinion!” then you’re signing up for at least a polite listen to whatever they have to say about online dating or lip gloss or being “really, really open, like, REALLY open” to new experiences or whatever.

Absent you asking for advice or help or suggestions, hearing “Well, you know what your problem is? Let me tell you, I’ve thought a lot about why you aren’t connecting!” is…what’s the word I’m looking for…

…it will come to me…

INSULTING. That’s the one.

Prying into your private romantic life and then telling you what you’re doing wrong with it is insulting. See also: Patronizing. Rude. Presumptuous. Hurtful. Annoying. Being single isn’t a problem to be solved, and it’s certainly not an open invitation for partnered people to try to diagnose or fix you or anything about you.

So, where does that leave you, with these people who love you and whom you love?

Good news: You seem really level-headed and loving and cool and you know your own value and the odds are in your favor of finding someone awesome someday. It’s okay to have “I really want to meet someone great and fall in love and have kids with them someday” as a goal for your life – that’s not silly or unimportant. You’re a young high-achieving person and you’re good at accomplishing your goals. Also great.

Just, I’ll say it again: Singleness isn’t a problem to be solved. You were in a relationship that brought you a lot of unhappiness and now you’re not and that is better, yes? Yes.

And pairing off with someone romantically isn’t an achievement like passing the bar exam or graduating school or finishing your NaNoWriMo marathon. It’s not an accomplishment. If you put it on a checklist the way you do professional accomplishments I don’t think it will make you more happy with your life. Your friends pairing off and having kids is great – it means they’ve found something that makes them happy, so be happy for them and celebrate their luck and optimism! If you don’t operate on their same schedule it’s not like you fell behind on some kind of achievement test. “Oops, we see that you’re reading well above grade level but your romance scores are in the 40% percentile.” If you never find the kind of relationship you are imagining now or if it takes a long time to find what’s right for you, it doesn’t mean you weren’t worthy of it or that you failed in some way. Your job isn’t to get married (to an opposite-sex partner) by (date), it’s to live life truthfully and happily and the best you can as your full human maybe-bisexual self on your own schedule.

If you can some serenity with yourself and your choices and the timeline you’re on, it will help you weather the inquiries of your folks and it will help you respond to them in a more relaxed way. The more relaxed you are, the more boring you’ll be in your responses, and the more boring you are, the less reward they get for poking you about this topic.

Them: “When are you gonna find someone and settle down?”

You (before)*: “I don’t know, and I really wish you’d stop asking me about that.”

You (now): “Who knows? When I meet someone really great, you’ll be the first to know.” 

Them: “Well, are you dating or trying to date?”

You (before)*: “Not really. I haven’t had much luck with it. This conversation is uncomfortable, can we change the subject.” 

You (now):Sometimes!” :shrug:

*Nothing necessarily wrong with the “before” scripts! The questions are nosy and unsolicited advice is annoying and you can tell people to stop! I’m just trying to tweak things a little so that you save them for later in the conversation if you really need them, instead of starting out with them.

These might also suit you:

  • “Nothing to tell! How ’bout you, Grandma?” 
  • “I’d be really happy to meet someone, but I’m not in a hurry.” 
  • “If you know some great single people, send ’em my way – I trust you to have good taste.”
  • “I’m still figuring all that out, but I’ll let you know when there’s good news.”
  • “Yeah, I feel wistful sometimes when I see other people settling down, but it’s not a competition or like I’ll be left behind a grade and not graduate with my class if I don’t figure it out this minute!” 
  • “It would be cool to meet someone, but right now my biggest priority is [subject change to other goal you’re working on].”

Be sincere and kind, not snarky, and practice saying the scripts with someone if you think it will help. Once you find one that works, repeat it over and over like a broken record whenever the topic comes up. If you’re lucky, your relatives will take their cue from you and the topic will breeze by easier than it has been doing so far. They might ask less over time, too, if they know they’ll get nothing juicy out of you either in terms of information or reaction. Subtextually, these conversations can really mean “Should I be worried?” and if you find the right code that says “I got this, don’t be worried!” it might de-escalate things.

Save your fighting energy for if they won’t let it go and for unsolicited advice.

Them:Well, don’t leave it too long! [Biological clock pseudoscience spinster dried up old maid code words to scare you]!”


Them:Well, you know what your problem is? [Smile more stop intimidating men with how smart you are change your hair be less picky and other bad advice].”

If you want to de-escalate/move on from the topic as quickly as possible:

  • I’ll do my best. Howabout that [subject change]?
  • You’re probably right, I’ll get right on it. Howabout that [subject change]?
  • I’ll think about that. So, [subject change]?

If you want to send a message that they are out of line, but still disengage:

  • “Hrmmm, interesting.” + awkward silence
  • “Wow.” + awkward silence
  • “That had not occurred to me.” + awkward silence

More direct “back off” messages:

  • I don’t want advice, thanks anyway.” 
  • If I saw ‘single-ness’ as a problem, that might be true, but I don’t? Thanks anyway.
  • “I know you’re asking me about this because you love me, but I’m not comfortable with where this conversation is going. Let’s change the subject.”
  • “Your interest in this is crossing the line from ‘gentle concern’ to ‘intrusive.’ What would it take for us to be able to change the subject?”

Scripts & sundry platitudes & reassurances for leveling with people when you want to dig a little deeper:

  • I go plenty of first & second dates because I like to give people a chance, but not just anyone gets to meet & be around my favorite people. I promise you that when there’s something to tell, I’ll be really happy to tell you. For now, the best thing you can do is be happy for me and proud of me the way I’m proud of you.”
  • When you keep bugging me about this, it stresses me out because it makes me feel like you think there’s something wrong with me if I don’t figure this out right this minute. I’m only 25 and I’m not in a hurry to settle down with anyone, especially not the wrong person for the sake of checking it off a list! I know you care about me a lot, so, keep caring about me, but please don’t worry about this. Thanks to you and my beautiful friends and family I know a lot about what good love looks like, and I’m holding out for the very best.
  • You raised me to be happy and to handle things well in my life. I’m doing that with most things, right? I’m going to do that with this, too. Just give me some time and breathing room to figure it out, and don’t worry.” 
  • I know you weren’t happy with my relationship with X, but I’ve sorted it out, like I’ll sort this out, in my own time. I love seeing you, but it’s stressful if that time together becomes a referendum on my romantic life. I’ll meet someone when and if I meet them, I’m doing what I can to make that possible, and the rest of the time I don’t worry about it. What would it take to get you to stop worrying, too?

A script for coming out, if and only if you feel safe and comfortable to do so:

  • I’m pretty sure I’m bisexual, which is one of the reasons I don’t talk about this stuff in casual conversation – it’s complicated, and private, and I’m worried that people in our family won’t be supportive or understanding.  Would you be this supportive and encouraging of me pairing off if I brought home a (same sex) partner? Knowing that would mean the world to me, thanks.

Singleness: Not a problem to be solved. You: Not a problem to be solved. Bisexuality: Also not a problem. Don’t let your folks make any of these things into problems to be solved.




101 thoughts on “#916: “Singleness is not a problem to be solved, so I can I get my family to stop trying to solve it for me?”

  1. You could be me from five or six years ago! I didn’t have any interest in dating until age 25, when I met someone I liked that well. As a result of that relationship, I realized that I was, in fact, bisexual, since we both felt the same way about women. We recently celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary.

    Anyway, you’re doing just fine–at age 30, I don’t have any regrets about either my dating life or my non-dating life, and I don’t think I ever will.

  2. I hear you so much, OP! I’m finally taking the not-small-talk approach and, whenever someone asks, I tell them that I don’t want to marry or be with anyone and that I want to have children alone. Some think it’s a childish comment and I’ll grow up, then I tell them I’m 30 and I come across as immature and crazy. But I feel so much more free since I don’t pretend to want to follow the path I’m expected to! Lots of strength and patience for you! Being single is not a disease 🙂 Hugs!

  3. As I and others have said before, sometimes the most useful thing to do here is to just be really boring. Neutral, mildly pleasant but not engaged expression. Same or very similar response. (What that is depends on your preferences and your audience–the Captain suggests several great ones–I’ve had good luck with “Well, we’ll see,” or “Huh” or “I’ll keep that in mind” or “Oh, you know, I’d rather not chat about that now” or “Thanks for caring, but I’m doing good” or “Mmmh,” or “Oh, hm, I don’t know.” The key is to make it the same basic response, so that no matter what they throw out, they’re getting the same boring answer in response.) Level tone of voice, if you can manage it. Neutral posture.

    Some people love conflict, some people hate it. Some people just get a major kick out of digging around in other peoples’ personal lives. Some people mean well but dramatically overstep on a regular basis. But the vast majority of people, IME, do not deal well with boredom. If you are consistently boring on a topic, it often works like a magic trick to get them to leave you alone. Sometimes this is preceded by an extinction burst of ramping up the pushy/nosy behavior. But if you can ride that out… often there is a blissfully calm sea of not-being-bugged on the other side. It works especially well if, after you have given them several rounds of boring, you offer an enticing conversational tidbit. I find that the changing-the-subject tactic works brilliantly if you’ve gone two rounds of “Hm, interesting” with a neutral expression, and then ask them about something they care a lot about–something that is definitively interesting to them, like their rice sculpture hobby or their dog or their favorite sports team or what happened last week on TV Show. Many people will grab for the Get Out Of Boring Loop exit at that point even if they introduced the topic to begin with.

    I do this with my parents. I generally get on well with them, but ever since I started having fertility issues, my mom has been bringing up adoption. It’s a possibility for us, but I really am not ready to begin seriously considering it. So we have conversations where I repeat “Hmm” or “Mhm” in response to her suggestions of looking into adoption, three or four times… and then I ask her about the newest novel in her favorite mystery series. And talking about that is wayyyy more interesting than listening to me make monosyllable noises, so she jumps on it.

    (Warning side note: truly abusive people may not give up but may escalate to screaming or violence to get a response. The indications in your letter don’t lead me to believe that this is likely to be the case for you–a lot of families are pushy/nosy/buttinsky without being abusive in that way–but I mention it just in case it is.)

  4. I feel like they think you are checking off life milestones (college, grad school, job) and now they are looking to the next one (wedding). But, they need to settle down. My suggestion is that you just tell them you seem to be figuring life out quite nicely, and thank them for having faith that you’ll only continue to do so. Seriously, you have already accomplished what you set out to do, so why would the rest of your life be any different?

    1. If you’ve got family dedicated to the orderly following of milestones, then it makes good sense to have a strategy for dealing with unwelcome advice, etc, If you find someone to happily partner with, they’ll just move on to the next milestone. Or is that millstone?

      when are you going to get married / when are you having children / oh you’re pregnant let me tell you all the ways you’re doing it wrong / when are you buying a house with a picket fence / oh when are you giving little junior a sibling / oh my you are parenting wrong let me tell you how / why aren’t you staying at home with Jr vs why aren’t you partner yet in your firm and on and on – there’s always something. I assume it eventually ends with a crowd standing over the grave tutting “can you believe she chose that epitaph.”

      For me, generally speaking, the shrug/boring answer/awkward silence/deflect to more interesting topic has been pretty effective, but my people are of the nosy/helpful variety — not actively mean. A different strategy might work better in other families, of course — but having a strategy makes sense if these are your people.

      1. For meddling milestone family, I might consider “I’d be open to a relationship if the right person came along, but I’m focusing on [other career or personal milestone] right now. [Enthusiastic details of that.]”

        Relationships are boring. That promotion, or that novel, or that marathon, is super exciting. And hopefully they will follow your lead.

  5. Depending on how much awkwardness you want to generate/how intrusive and rude they’re being, you could also add something direct like, “Honestly, I’m pretty happy right now, and I don’t see this as a problem or a priority. If there’s something to share, I’ll share when I’m ready. In the meantime, this is making me (uncomfortable/angry/feel judged/etc) so please (stop asking/find another conversation starter/join me in this subject change).”

    1. That’s normally my approach too. Sometimes though I’ve found that people are uncomfortable enough with bisexuality that it too can be a conversation stopper. Nosy person expresses terror at singledom and asks “when are you getting a boyfriend” and my response is often “eh, I’m more looking for a girlfriend atm.” Tbh though this response is better for friends and acquaintances than family, and only if you feel safe outing yourself to them.

      1. This worked for me, though it was unintentional. My mother would often make comments like “When you get a boyfriend he should be like this …/ Find yourself a boyfriend with a beach house …” etc. They were mostly jokes – slightly annoying jokes but they didn’t upset me. But since I came out as bi (by commenting on one of her jokes that it might be a girlfriend) she almost completly stopped with this. It’s one good thing about a disfunctional family where uncomfortable topics are avoided …

    2. I had success being even more blunt.
      “You need to date more!”
      – No I don’t. (subject change)

      Repeat until subject is definitely dropped.

      I’m ace though; this doesn’t work as well when, like LW, you do want to date/marry/etc but just not RIGHT THIS SECOND. Nevertheless, you don’t actually NEED to take nosy people’s advice so I guess it’s still good?

      1. Definitely still works if you want to date but not right now. No, LW doesn’t need to date. On one level, no one *needs* to date. On another level, if LW needed to date the way some of us need to make art, she would be going on dates.

  6. Do young women *still* have to put up with this? I was a young woman 30-40 years ago and had people (mostly relatives) constantly asking me why I was still single. One time it was an older woman at work who Would. Not. Stop. Asking. (Which was funny, because she was single and had been divorced multiple times. You’d think if anyone would understand that being in a relationship isn’t the be-all and end-all, it would be a three-time divorceé.)
    I don’t know how to get people off your back, to be honest. Try the Captain’s advice, but don’t expect this to end any time soon.

    1. Regrettably, yes.

      Last Christmas, my male cousin asked my sister what she’d been up to lately. Justifiably proud, she announced she’d just finished a masters degree looking at how medical imaging could assist in the early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

      My cousin’s exact response: “oh you finished that? Cool, maybe you’ll have time to find a boyfriend now”.

      I really wish I’d said something at that point – but I was totally gobsmacked.

      1. I had almost that exact conversation with an aunt one Christmas about 25 years ago. I told her that in the year since I’d last seen her I’d graduated with a degree and a post-grad diploma, and had just landed a really good job, and her response was to ask if I was engaged yet, because all my cousins were already married by my age, so wasn’t it about time I found a man and settled down?

        1. Ugh, it makes me so sad and angry that people still belittle women’s achievements if they’re not marriage-or-baby related. Ugh ugh ugh ugh.

      2. This is the kind of person who will never stop asking. Find a boyfriend, they start in on marriage. Get married, they start in on kids. Have a kid, they start in on the next kid. The only way to shut them up is giving birth to triplets in front of them. After which they will start asking you when you’re going to lose the baby weight.

      3. Elektra, I’m regularly humbled and amazed by the people in the Awkward Army, but your sister’s work is thrilling to learn of. Alzheimer’s is awful. Please pass my thanks and congratulations along to her?

      4. Elektra – my father recently passed away due to complications with Alzheimer’s, and reading this brought tears to my eyes. It’s a horrible, scary condition, and knowing there’s people like your sister out there looking to help people like my father (and me, maybe, who knows – Alzheimer’s can be genetic, what fun) made my heart well up in happiness.

        I, of course, wanted to leap across a table and slap your cousin for how dismissive he was. Please tell your sister how important the work she’s doing is, and how much it matters to me.

    2. Speaking for myself, I do and I don’t: my parents have never said one word about my being married/spawning or not, but other people who have even less skin in the game (uncle with whom I am not close, relatives of former partners, boss from a country with a different culture, etc.) have piped up on the subject. I like to go with, “Oh, well, you know how it is,” and a vague smile.

    3. Sadly, yes. Happily, you age out of it before too long – I’m 38 and single now and people rarely ask any more, presumably because they assume I’m way too far gone and will respond to their question with incoherent weeping. I do still get asked in countries with different conversational norms (I work in a number of quite religious – Christian and Muslim – African countries where it’s totally normal to ask near-strangers questions that would be considered overly-personal where I come from), and I tend to go with a shrug and a cheery “it’s god’s will!” (I’m an atheist myself, but I’ve found this response shuts up believers more effectively than anything else I’ve ever tried.)

      1. “It’s god’s will!” — I LOVE that! (Fellow atheist here, with religious family members and friends of family.) Wish I had had that as a response to a long monologue from my godmother that insinuated that I was just being picky.

    4. Young men have to put up with it too, for what that’s worth. “When are you going to settle down with a nice girl?” (Yes, it’s always “nice girl.”) I haven’t been a young man for a while now, and for some reason “confirmed bachelor” doesn’t carry quite the same freight when it’s a man, not a woman, but every now and then I still get “well-meaning” relatives and even friends who think it’s their job to try to set me up.


      Living alone is sometimes lonely, sure, but the freedom in not caring what time I trundle in at night, whether I’ll disturb people if I start my binge of Stranger Things at 3 a.m. when Netflix posts it, and the general lack of Other People In My Space far outweighs that for me right now. Maybe later, if I meet someone worth sharing my space with, that will change.

      1. Yeah, I think women get it more sharply because there’s more of a societal perception that we have a sell-by date, but certainly men get it too–as witnessed by the number of gay and asexual men in my life who have gotten the “find a nice girl and reproduce, GDI” speech from their relatives–even relatives who knew that they were not at all interested in a girl, nice or otherwise.

    5. Also my experience 40 years ago – my mother would ask “How’s your love life?” I felt awkward and uncomfortable and embarrassing. Then one day I said “Do you really want to know?” and she never asked again. So sometimes calling them on their stuff works. Depending on what their stuff is.

      1. That certainly worked with my mother, who thinks my entire life is her business and it’s “her right to know.” She stopped asking if I was pregnant every time I was slightly off colour or more/less hungry than usual, when I said “if I were, is this how you would want to find out?”

        (Funnily enough, in the end it was. When I called her to tell her I really was pregnant, she guessed before I could make my announcement)

  7. OP, you are me 5 years ago. For me, it got better. Why? Cause my sister found a guy and is likely to marry him. Cause my cousins (all of them) got married and had babies, and the absolute worst aunt now has 2 sets of twins for grandbabies and has no time to bother me. Cause my family figured out that when they wouldn’t stop asking, I stopped showing up to family events. Or talking to them, up to and including my parents. Cause 5 years passed, and it helped. Hang in there.

  8. OP, you were also me, about 5 years ago. It’s not just insulting. It wears you out emotionally – dreading every family get together where you either get put on the spot in front of the whole dinner table, or you have to answer the questions over and over with each relative that comes up to intrude/ask.

    My strategies varied depending on the relative but they all worked in answer to the “when are you going to get married? ” question:

    * I’ll get married the day after you quit smoking. (For my macho uncle)
    * I’m not sure I can mate in captivity. (For my ultra religious Grandmother).
    * Butter. (For my mom – the one who will press and press until you answer. Just kept repeating, even singing “Butter” til she got annoyed and gave up).
    * Why do you need to know? (To the gossipy cousin)
    * Just lucky I guess (to stick it to my thrice divorced aunt)
    * This is a boring topic (For my uncle that can’t think of anything else to talk about with any of his single relatives)

    You get the idea. I give you permission to be a smart ass. I give you permission to be annoying. I give you permission to be catty.

    And the Captain is right – if you DO get married, you can expect the “So when are you having kids” question to come up immediately. Pro tip: Have your two kids less than a year apart like I did so that you can also get the “Don’t you know about birth control?” questions, too.


        If someone uses this response for real, I want you to know that somewhere out in the world I will be crying tears of joy and mirth.

    1. I love these. I tend to answer these kinds of questions the same way. When were my long-term partner and I finally going to be married? “We’re waiting for his divorce to be finalized.” “When it’s been a year since someone asked us that question, so I guess the soonest possibility is one year from today. But I wouldn’t save the date or anything.”

      My favorite when asked about kids was something like “March 22nd, 2023.” The only way they could question my answer is by admitting the uncertainty that makes them wrong to have asked the question in the first place. I gave that answer before we were even trying, but I was damn glad I wasn’t more honest when we ended up having fertility issues.

  9. I went to lunch with my grandma several years ago and she asked me YET FREAKING AGAIN about my love life. I was in my early 30s and… there was nothing to report. Thing is, I was mostly fine with it. I ended up having ONE FINAL conversation with her about peace and contentment, about how, if she truly wanted to see me happy, she would surely want me to be at peace with my life in whatever shape it took, not constantly unsettled and wondering if I should be doing something to find a man just for the sake of being married. She was actually really touched and never brought up my marital status again. The irony was that she had, at that point, been a very content and happy widow for about 15 years and would have laughed uproariously at the suggestion that she remarry.

    Those sorts of conversations only work with people of goodwill — I found that lots of folks a) who married young, and b) whose marriages were happy just wanted me to experience that same happiness but didn’t have a brain space for other life paths. It’s still hurtful, but it helped me to reframe their “advice” as a reflection of their own happiness and respond accordingly. YMwilldefinitelyV, if the people in your life are being pushy and rude and bossy out of a desire to control your life, but there it is.

  10. When I was much younger, my otherwise dear uncle thought it was funny to always greet me by asking, “How’s your love life?” This caused me a lot of pain and embarrassment, because the answer pretty much was always, “Nonexistent.” Finally, one day, I responded, “Same old, same old, how’s yours?” (He was a widower who literally never looked at another woman after his wife died.) He turned beet red and sputtered something about that being inappropriate. He never asked me again.

    So, if it’s something that you can and want to do, turnabout can be fair play.

  11. It might not (erm, probably won’t) help many people, because it’s fairly confrontational, but what REALLY worked for me at 24 went kind of like this:

    Mom: *blahblahnblah*boyfriend, why aren’t you dating more, what’s wrong with doing X, y, z, to meet a man, *pushy bullcrap*
    Me: Well, I sleep with a lot of them. They just don’t tend to keep up with me long enough to bother bringing them around.
    Mom: *pure, perfect silence*

    And she didn’t mention it again, I eventually brought home my now-husband after YEARS of perfect peace, and my sister reports that she, now 26, has never heard a single, solitary word about her dating life.

    So, um… it may not be the most polite or delicate way to shut someone up, but it most certainly worked.

    1. To this same end, I had a nosy elderly relative bugging me about settling down with a nice man and one time I got fed up, shrugged and said: “I just figure why buy the cow when I can get the milk for free?”

      Gasp! Pearl clutching! Awkward (but merciful!) silence. And she never mentioned it again.

      1. You got it wrong. When talking about men, it’s “why buy the pig when all I want is the sausage?”

        1. … The next time someone says that cow bullcrap about women, I’m bringing this out. This is PERFECT.

        2. You win the entire internet. This is worthy of pillow-embroidery.
          I’m going to send it to my little sister for use at the next family gathering.

  12. The same aunt, every time we were at a gathering, would be chatting away and when I said something too assertive for her taste would inform me “that’s why you don’t have a husband”. I finally told her I had no intention of discussing my sex life with her, and she sputtered to a stop.

  13. I thought the Captain’s “asking for advice” scripts was going to be a diversion tactic, and sometimes that can work pretty well: “Oh, I might want to settle down one day – right now, I’m collecting stories to find out how people meet their big love! How did you and X meet?” Lots of people love to talk about their origin story, and won’t pass up a gift like that.

    (PS Love & good thoughts to all the Awkward Army in this most horrendous of weeks.)

  14. The Captain’s advice and take on things is great.

    I come from a family/culture where marriage and babies are valued as the most important things in life. It used to make me mad, being constantly interrogated about my dating choices, and frankly it still does. However, it’s been helpful to realise that the reason they’re so focused on me getting married is that they genuinely believe that is the way for me to be happy. I don’t agree with them, but I can deal with the questions a more gracefully knowing they come out of a place of co-mingled love and ignorance, instead of malice.

    I tried to refocus on what was actually important to me, knowing they wouldn’t think to ask about it – reply to ‘met any nice boys?’ with what was actually most interesting in my life at the time. ‘Not really, but let me tell you about this cool sport/holiday/hobby/class/whatever’, and then being really excited/happy about it. The idea was to gently nudge them into getting to know me better. I admit that this strategy only worked on the more emotionally aware ones, but I’d still recommend it.

    Unfortunately, some people do have family members who ask out of nastiness or to enforce conformity with social norms, so it does depend what sort of family you come from. Though it might still work as a subject change.

    The last thing I would say is that it’s unfortunately not going to stop if you do meet someone or start dating… after a flurry of excitement, the focus just shifts to the next life box to tick, marriage, mortgage, babies, whatever. A few years ago it was because I was single, these days I’m partnered and I get a huge amount of pressure to marry and buy a house. So learning to set boundaries now with these family members will stand you in good stead for down the track as well 🙂

  15. I was 27 when I met the man I married. Until him the longest “relationship” I had been in was 5 months when I was 21. For me the questions from the busy body friends and family came for a while…until I started telling people about some of the bad dates I’d been on or how I met a guy. Once I started sharing my horror stories (including the one about the guy my aunt set me up with who hit on another girl while I was in the restroom and then asked me to go back to his place with them both) people started backing off. From then on I started getting the “so, you have any more bad date stories to tell?” I honestly think a good chunk of my family was a bit disappointed that the stories stopped when I met a good guy.

  16. Thanks to observing [adjectives] parental intrusion into older siblings’ relationships, I am incapable of discussing my personal life with anyone who is not part of it. My way of dealing with family nosiness was to say the first thing that popped into my head, including telling people that what I’d told other people I’d just made up just to get them to leave me alone. After a while, they seemed to realize that they were actually being told “everything I say is a lie” and unless they wanted me to continue fucking with them, they’d leave me alone. In any event, the questions stopped.

  17. Reminding your busybody relatives of the old saying, “Marry at haste, repent at leisure” may quiet them down, especially since they did not approve of a prior relationship you had.

  18. My sympathies, OP. In my family marriage and children (and home ownership) are major accomplishments and adulthood markers. It’s perfectly fine for women especially to have other aspirations as long as it doesn’t interfere with family. There’s also an undertone of permanent partnership being something, along with a nice wedding, I “owe” to them, because why would my parents invest all those resources into raising children if there weren’t a return on it? Like you, I got all kinds of advice in my 20s, tried all kinds of ways of meeting people and dating sites, and once got a serious offer from my sister to go with me on a date and tell me everything I was doing wrong (still laughing about that one). I also got an interrogation from an otherwise nice couple at my father’s funeral about why there wasn’t anyone “special” in my life. So appropriate!

    This used to make me anxious and unhappy, and I never knew the right response to “you’re not getting any younger.” However, I’m now 40 and something of a “lost cause” to them, and I have fewer fucks to give. I’ve also noticed how dissimilar most of my family’s lives have been from the cultural narrative that marriage is a fairy tale (my parents’ marriage was the second for both of them). These days, I answer with non-answers or questions:

    Mom: do you think you’ll ever get married?
    Me: Maybe. Might happen. Might not. (it’s true – it’s out of my control. I can’t decide to force someone into marriage)

    Sister: Blahblahblah husband will help pay for house
    Me: what if I’m the primary breadwinner?
    Sister: Why would you be in a relationship like that?

    Mom: You don’t want to be around anybody!
    Me: Well, some relationships are really lonely or unfixable. You know that – you couldn’t stay married to Ex-husband.

    Sister: You’re painfully independent.
    Me: Something I obviously learned from all of you [in this specific way]

    Sister: Haven’t you tried x dating site?
    Me: [long story about the kind of photos women can get on dating sites. Horrified silence]

    I promise, I’m trying not to be cruel or insulting – I’m just answering their questions with a question in a sort of bewildered “why would you want me unhappy?” way. It makes them flustered.

  19. Urgh, I get how frustrating this all is! Nearly all of my friends are coupled up/married/kids etc, and at times I can’t help but look on wistfully at their lives (it has also been a really hard year for me so it especially feels like I’m standing behind a glass wall). When I have expressed such sentiment to my mum, her response has been “Have you not met anyone at any of the activities you go to?” Yes, I’ve met plenty of single dudes who I really like to get to know as friends, but no one I’m interested in romantically. I don’t say this to my mother as I’ll inevitably get “You should give someone a chaaaaaaaance” or “maybe you should just coooooompromise” logic that she seems to think romantic relationships are predicated on.

    It was worse with certain friends though. Earlier this year my boyfriend dumped me out of the screaming blue and I was beside myself with devastation. Some friends (I’m sure they meant well and could see I was in pain and subsequently tried to fix it) kept trying to set me up with unsuitable dudes (read: complete wet blankets) and lamenting on how we would be perfect together. When I expressed my complete lack of interest towards a guy my friend and her boyfriend were angling towards, citing his social awkwardness as a turn-off, my friend interjected with “But you were socially awkward once!” Right, so because I haven’t always fitted into the parameters of what is socially acceptable, I therefore lose my right to choose who I share my body with?

    But the thing that really made me think “whoa!” was when another friend straight-up told me that she felt that she couldn’t invite me to events such as barbecues that she was hosting as I would be the only single one there. This same friend, by the way, on a night out demanded that her husband tell her where all his friends were on the strip as ‘We REALLY NEED TO FIND HER SOMEONE!” She later said that she only wants to see me with someone who looks at me with “wet eyes”. Yeah, I’ve pulled back quite a bit from this friend.

    Guys, If anyone here is coupled up and has a single friend in their lives, or a friend who’s recently got dumped, please see the above as an example of how not to be.

    1. To that friend (well, both of them–“socially awkward” and “wet eyes”), all I can say is Eewwwwww. Ew. Ewww.


      Hopefully you have some better friends to dilute that with!

        1. I know you mentioned it only briefly, but it might be worthwhile to lean into that “maybe bi” question. While I’m sure there are plenty of people who ultimately decided they’re straight or mostly straight after some thought in your position, your story has a lot of the hallmarks of someone who figures out she’s bi/lesbian/maybe some kind of asexual spectrum id or aromantic id. I wish you joy and less meddlesome family.

  20. Hey friends, LW here. Thanks for the solidarity and advice. I’m really working on internalizing the “singleness is not a problem to be solved” mantra, because, like, everything you see in the world tells you that it is. But such is life!

  21. Dear Captain. Thank you for your words. As someone who has just hit 30 without a serious relationship and while I am happy with my life and enjoying the freedom and international travel that comes with not having a mortgage or a family. Most of my friends are buying homes and having families and at times it can feel quite lonely. Your words have reminded me that I am fine and not defined by my romantic relationship or lack thereof.

  22. LW, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. It’s incredibly frustrating and people sometimes don’t get how upsetting their questions can be. After my first ill-fated relationship in college, I didn’t date until my late 20s when I met my now husband. But I was very fortunate to have a supportive mom, who helped field nosy relative questions and let them know anyone who harped on the subject would face her wrath.

    Now that I’m married, my in-laws have taken to pestering my brother in law about when he’s going to propose, because he’s been with his girlfriend longer than me and my husband. We try and support him, reminding them it’s not a race/checklist. He and girlfriend are happy, that’s all that matters.

  23. Lots of great advice here. OP, this may not apply to you but is perhaps worth mentioning anyway: as a 38-year-old long-term single lady, I’ve learned to be very selective about who I share my occasional singlewoe with, and mostly perform happiest-and-most-fulfilled-single-lady-EVER to people I don’t know that well. This is because I’ve noticed that some people will pounce on ANY indication of unhappiness, no matter how rare or how mild, and present it as “proof” that that is your Real State and your happiness is just a Brave Face over your deep existential woe. It seems like if you’re single, admitting to being sad about it 10% of the time is taken as a referendum on your overall state, in a way that someone in a marriage that’s 90% happy and 10% unhappy would not be.

    1. +1. Still, in the fucking 21st Century, women’s fulfilment is perceived lie in their relationship status. As I am usually the only single one in my group of friends, I totally understand where you’re coming from. It can be a very lonely place, as SOs tend to have first dibs on their partner’s time. It makes weekends very lonely times, with a only a bottle of wine and Netflix for company and wondering why plans seem to happen to everyone else

      Like you, I’m often wary of telling people close to me how I’m feeling at times. People mean well, but often take it as a problem to fix. They will try and set you up (even on friend dates) with people completely unsuitable. I try and find ways to give soft nos as I feel that I’m coming across as ungrateful and not have my feelings taken seriously. Which, through the help of therapy, I’ve realised is absolutely bonkers. Just because you are lonely does not mean that you lose the right to be discerning about who you spend your time with.

      1. THIS x1000. I know that much of the advice is kindly-meant, but I can pretty much guarantee I have spent more time considering my singleness than anyone else has spent considering my singleness, and I have a very, very clear understanding for the very rational reasons behind it and why it’s very likely to continue (and why that, absent the appearance of a very specific kind of person whom I liked and who liked me back, is mostly for the best). The number of times I have had the following conversation:

        Person: So, how are you?
        Me: *waxes lyrical about my job, my travels, my friends, the many many things in my life that keep me busy and fulfilled*
        Person: And dating?
        Me: Nope!
        Person: *pityface*

        Like … did you not hear all of that earlier stuff? Was that just Charlie-Brown’s-teacher to you? Or, the other one, when I tell someone that I’m happy about being single, and they’re like “but remember at 2.15pm on March 12, 2014 you told me you were feeling a bit sad about it?”, as if that trumps the rest of the time when being single suits me down to the ground? Man.

  24. The saddest thing for me, especially when people I love and respect get behind it, is when people automatically use super out dated and sexist notions to explain why someone is desirable or not.
    I was thinking about this when it came to scripts about handling unwanted criticism and suggestions, the most logical answer for me when someone critiques an aspect I don’t feel needs changing is “if someone truly wants to be with me they’ll be able deal with it, if not, then it’s for the best if they leave”; and then I remember the way some people turn totally condescending and try to explain to me how the world “doesn’t work that way” and that people only want “sex/money/empty words to feed their egos/someone to cook for them”, and I’m supposed to feel stupid and naive for expecting equality, acceptance and respect in a partner.
    I’ve noticed this default state people go into, where a certain level of conformity (as opposed to compromise) is expected to gain love in return, in my mind it just completely backfires and I end up feeling like people have really low standards for others, especially in hetero and hetero appearing relationships, the whole “commodity model” of relationships rearing it’s ugly head, it’s so deeply internalized in some people they don’t even notice they’re insulting the very people they claim to fall in love with.

    1. That condescending “people really only want X” is the kind of thing that deserves something like “thanks for telling me how shallow you are/how little you think of your spouse, but if I want an attractive parasite I’ll get a cat.” Yes, it’s rude, but so is telling you that you’re unreasonable to want a partner who actually likes you.

      Or you could be condescending right back at them, if you have a good story or two in your back pocket: “People told my grandmother that sort of thing too. They told her she would be an old maid because she wasn’t married by the time she was twenty, but she insisted on holding out for someone she wanted to spend her life with. Sixty-five years later, she was happily telling me about meeting my grandfather at a dance, and then courting by postcard.”

      1. My new response to those sorts of things is, “I really like myself as I am.* Why would I want to be with someone who values me less than I value myself?”

        *I’m lucky enough that this is mostly true!

    2. Once someone told me that my boyfriend resented the fact that I make more money than him. Since this person had never met my boyfriend, I asked how they could be quite so sure, and the rest of the night became “This is true of all men, and also these other things.” I eventually had to leave.

    3. “in my mind it just completely backfires and I end up feeling like people have really low standards for others, especially in hetero and hetero appearing relationships, the whole ‘commodity model’ of relationships rearing it’s ugly head, it’s so deeply internalized in some people they don’t even notice they’re insulting the very people they claim to fall in love with.”

      I think this is entirely accurate, and there are millions of letters to advice columns and a >50% divorce rate (when people can afford it) reinforcing this belief.

  25. LR, you sound so much like me in my mid 20s it shocked me. Just wanted to leave this to say, if it helps you in your understanding your own business as it helped me in understanding mine: you are not alone.

  26. LW, reading the letter I’m not sure if “the pressure” that’s getting to you is only from those certain family members, or if it includes the friends who are settling down. If the latter, maybe it would help to try and expand your friend circle to include other single people?
    This site has lots of advice for how to find your people – join a club/team, volunteer, check meetup, etc., and of course internet friends who are also off the default romantic track are great to have.

    If you feel like there is no one around who understands that your life is not in need on troubleshooting, then the pressure will feel more intense.

    No knock intended to your friends and family, but if most of your friendship circle is in the wedding+baby lifestage, then it will be understandably difficult to escape. But it’s a big world, and it’s never too late to meet new people (with zero intention of dating them!)

  27. I had a certain amount of success with my mother on a couple of topics with some version of the following:

    “I know you mean well, but we keep having this conversation, and the more you push the worse I feel, and I have reached the point where I don’t want to discuss it at all, especially not with you. Every time you push, it makes it that much less likely I will talk to you about it or anything else personal to my life. We’re not talking about this any more.”

    I still remember the choking feeling the first time I pushed that couple of sentences out. To her credit, she never again asked me about my single state or my disinterest in ‘making the best of my looks (such as they are)’ (hey, thanks, Mom.) And it meant that when she found new topics to worry about I could say: Careful, you’re pushing. Let it go.

    On the one hand, my mother, although raised by a pair of toxic narcissists, was a pretty decent person at root. On the other: I never actually told her I was bi, much less demi. So. YMMV, and pick your battles.

  28. Thankfully, I don’t get this kind of pressure from my immediate family – only some coworkers and cousins. But I have no interest in trying to have a “real” conversation about their intrusiveness. My go-to answer, which has worked 100% of the time in getting people to realize they are out of line (I always refuse to give them a serious answer, which tends to make them see that they are getting nowhere with me and they stop trying):

    Relative: So, are you seeing anyone these days?
    Me: I’ve got my eye on the hobo who lives outside my building.
    Relative: ……..*backs away slowly*

  29. My cousin had a rather unorthodox way of getting Grandma off her back.

    Grandma- When are you going to find a maaaaan? You neeeeed to find a maaaaan.

    Cousin- Belts out “I hate men!” from Kiss Me Kate.

    Grandma- Well, maybe you’ll find a nice girl, sweetheart.

    I don’t necessarily think this is the most practical thing, but it cheers me up to sing that song. I feel your pain, LW.

  30. I’ve been single all my life (I’m 73) so I’ve been through all those intrusions and nosiness and fixes. It was most hypocritical coming from my mother, who once confided in me that she’d never wanted to get married but got pressured into it. So, when I got tired of her asking me when I’d get married or have children, and accusing me of being too picky, I finally said, Mom, I have to compromise in all areas of public life and at work; why should I compromise in a life partner? And that shut her up.

    1. Amazing response! I actually suspect that a lot of people who put the pressure on single people to find partners are people who are unhappy in their coupled state and are weirdly threatened by people who are happy on their own. Most of the people I know who are in genuinely happy and healthy relationships recognise that a great deal comes down to chance and it’s the sort of thing that can’t be (or shouldn’t be) forced.

  31. This may feel super rude to you, but my go-to response when someone is trying to have a conversation with me that I really don’t want to have is to get out my phone and stare into facebook and make only the most perfunctory responses. As soon as the subject changes, I put the phone down and engage in the conversation again.

    It’s sort of the nuclear version of making the conversation as boring as possible so the other person gives up and stops.

  32. Lordy lordy, I wish people would stop prying, and stop treating other people as a problem to be solved. Even as a person who desperately wanted a relationship, all that unsolicited advice was just frustrating. Also? It’s mostly useless. I’m in a great relationship now and all the un-asked-for “wisdom” only served to reinforce my self-perception as a desperate loser. Even the innocuous-seeming “you’ll find someone eventually!” is destructive bullshit. Not everyone does find someone! Even people who WANT to!

    What worked was people NOT treating me like a sad weirdo, including me in gatherings even when everyone else was A Couple (and allowing me to say no if I wasn’t feeling it!), and mostly following my emotional lead with my various breakups or false starts while also not indulging my tendency to catastrophize such setbacks. Those things made me feel like I was included and that I *mattered* regardless of my relationship status.

  33. This is a crummy place to be. I’ve been here for the better part of 25 years. So, these days when people want to know why or tell me what my problem is I just shrug and say, “What can I say, I’m one picky bitch.”

    And usually, they back off.

    It’s not really a problem with my family because I either don’t see a lot of them or I just point at my aunt who’s been solo for 73 years and say she’s my role model.

    1. I choose to believe that movablebooklady, from 3 comments above, is your aunt. (This is based only on her also being 73, and my own amusement.)

  34. Anecdote: I used to be part of a conservative church, and one day one of the priests who knew I was dating someone asked cheerfully, “So when are we going to see you married, then?” I responded just as cheerfully, “Well, Father, if the poor son of a bitch gets pregnant, I suppose I’ll do the decent thing and make an honest man of him.” Never another question from that quarter.

    1. I just screencapped your remark to add to my collection but oh you made me howl with laughter. Also, there’s something deliciously letal in a retort when you can match the accuser’s tone.

  35. Could the problem be that stupid “you owe me graaaaaaaaaaaaandchildren” argument? I had to shut that down with my mom, which I did by giving her the schedule and sign-up information from the local two hospitals’ “tender time” programs, where you hold infants who have lost parents. “So, you desperately need to hold a baby without being responsible for its welfare? Here you go.”

  36. ‘not one to give men “benefit of the doubt” when I’m uninterested or uncomfortable’

    I like this. Not that Single & Stressed is of that mindset; that’s none of my business. I like that yet another person believes that this is a way to be. I can’t express how creepy I find the notion that anyone owes anyone else “the benefit of the doubt” when it comes to romance or relationships.

  37. Dear LW:

    You’re 25. That’s young. I’m impressed by all you’ve accomplished.

    When dating comes up, my go to question is “do you really want the details?” I don’t know if that works for you. It did for me because I conveyed that I’d give details. Details of sexual encounters, details of smelly body parts. Details even more icky than whatever they were imagining.

    But if you don’t want to do that, boring With a side order of offended works.

    “Oh much the same. I’m getting a bit frustrated with the constant nattering about my dating life though. Let’s talk about anything else.”

  38. I find I have a particularly difficult time being kind or granting the benefit of the doubt in the face of this particular kind of intrusive questioning because I am, in fact, interested in pursuing a stable romantic relationship if I find someone with whom I have mutual interest and attraction, but that has been a rare occurance. And it’s not really something that’s up to me, alone, so it’s beyond my sole power to change: for any given person in whom I’m interested, ze has to be interested in me, and ze must further not already be in a monogamous relationship. It turns out that the population meeting those criteria is vanishingly small, and online dating services haven’t helped any when I’ve tried to use them. One thing I do when people come at me with some for of, “You should date someone/more!” is to respond, “Who?” Since the person rarely has someone in mind, this puts it back on them to think through the difficulties, and they usually drop it for a while at least. I don’t actually have that much trouble neeting people in whom I’m initially interested, but it’s rarely reciprocal and/or they’re already dating someone monogamously. It seems like the prying people either think CA’s Partner Superstore actually exists, or they’re of the opinion that literally any romantic relationship is better than none are are thus implicitly advocating a miserable relationship (the latter is depressingly common in my experience, which does explain all of the, “I’m miserable in my relationship but don’t want to break up, help,” letters to advice columns).

  39. LW,
    if these are close family members, is there any other topic that you could ask them for advice on? Advice you might actually find useful?

    While my father is fabulous about keeping his nose out of my “love life”, he’s nosy on another topic that I’d rather he not try to spot-micromanage. One pushback attempt of mine led to him protesting that there wasn’t anything else I was up to that he could have anything to say about, because my professional life was far beyond his experience. Since then, I’ve had other things that I can ask him for advice on, so that he can feel valued (which he is), and we can have a conversation on something that doesn’t annoy me. And I’ve gotten some good advice from him on those things, so win-win.

    It might be worth a try, combined with the Captain’s suggestions on how to close the dating talk down. Sometimes people are just looking for something to talk about that they feel they know something about, or want to give advice on something (anything!) and your success in other areas doesn’t leave them much to say.

  40. I think I must have the type of face that attracts unwanted advice from people who love me. The very best response I’ve found for dealing with persistent-but-well-meaning advice-givers is “I’ll take that under advisement.” I say it in a totally neutral tone of voice, neither really thanking them for their input nor telling them to bugger off. If you can think of a good subject change about three seconds after you’ve said it, it usually does the trick.

  41. I keep noticing that people tend to repeat scripts that were run on them. Since these are people you cherish a relationship with, this issue may be an opportunity to connect with them in a deeper adult way. Rather than the (likely sanitized) story you have always heard in answer to “How did you and Uncle Rob meet?” how would you feel about asking, “What kind of pressure did you have to pair up, Auntie, when you were my age? Was there someone you wanted to marry, who your family disapproved of? Whatever happened to them -do you know?”

    Maybe, LW, you become a different person to them. Now you’re not the Single Niece. Now you’re the person Auntie can talk to and tell the repressed story of The One Who Got Away. Maybe, as they recall their life issues when they were your age, they find you two have a lot of strengths in common. It’s new ground to connect over, adult to adult.

    I’m picturing the biggest henpecker turning into your biggest ally. “Oh, let her be, Madge. We were just like her. Now pass me the curry, for heaven’s sake.”

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