Hey there! This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you. Please see my legal page for more details.
Why are you still single?
It’s the dreaded question served by the well-meaning aunt over the Thanksgiving turkey, leveled by the aisle-seat passenger over the honey-roasted peanuts, and casually dropped by the cute stranger over the first-date glass of wine.
And it makes single people universally want to scream through the tightly clenched teeth behind their fake smiles.
When I started dating again the dreaded question created a whole other level of angst for me in my current situation.
I seriously started to consider answering the inevitable question “why are you still single?” with “because my fiancé died of cancer, thank you for asking.”
This bit of snark would at least transfer the horrible, squirming feeling in the pit of my stomach to my peanut-popping seatmate who would probably, at least, never ask that question to anyone else ever again.
Of course, I can’t answer that way. So, instead, I consulted my trusty squad on the best way to respond to the question “how are you still single?” and their responses are equal parts hilarious and thought-provoking.
You can view their collective advice here:
So how should you answer the dreaded question: Why are you still single?
My friends varied in their advice but mostly came to the diplomatic conclusion that it’s best to answer this question with kindness. Nearly all agreed that the asker means well, and likely has no idea of the mini-trauma the question inflicts.
One woman compared it to answering questions in a job interview. She advised that you have your canned response ready to go, and you emphasize your good qualities even while admitting your faults.
All agreed that they say some version of the following when fielding the dreaded question “why are you still single”:
“I just haven’t met someone worthwhile enough to change my mind about being single.”
All of the women also said that they tend to explain that they love their lives and their single lifestyle.
Why shouldn’t you ask someone their reason for being single?
If you’ve landed on this page because it was sent to you by your single niece, then you might be wondering what’s so wrong with that question, anyway?
Look, it doesn’t take a trauma like mine to experience grief. The loss of a relationship is also a reason to grieve. One of the women that I interviewed had recently endured a breakup, and she felt as though that question made her relive that break up a little. Ouch.
Another felt strongly – and I agree – that there is a certain tinge of sexism to the question. That doesn’t mean that, if you’ve asked this question in the past you are now labeled as sexist (I am guilty of posing this question before and I consider myself a staunch feminist!), it’s just that society seems to expect that a woman should be in a relationship.
So this question seems to be directed at women a lot more than at men. Some unscientific evidence of this: I sent out requests to interview both men and women for this video and article, and only women responded.
There is also a hint of ageism to this question. It’s really single people of a certain age that find this question lobbed across the table at them on the regular.
Regardless of age, all of the women that I talked to said they felt defensive when asked why they are still single. As though they need to defend a lifestyle that they love, or explain their life choices.
In the end, though, even with all of the above reasons, my friends were united in two, consistent reasons for why this question really should never be asked:
1. It’s just none of your business
2. No matter how well-intentioned the question, it almost never makes anyone feel good.
How should you ask if you really want to know?
After a nearly unanimous response of “just don’t ask!” all of the women that I spoke to said that showing interest in their story (and not just their status) is a better approach.
One woman said that she was once asked the dreaded question by a man who led with flattery, and she didn’t feel defensive.
“You are amazing,” he said. “How is it possible that you are still single.”
Other women noted that asking the question “what’s your story?” works well – as long as it is coupled with a genuine effort to get to know her.
Other questions and comments that really irk single people
While we were at it, here are a few other phrases that it’s best to avoid (timestamps correspond to the video above):
Do you think you’re just too picky? 9:05
Aren’t you lonely? 10:05
Are you seeing anyone special? 11:42
Don’t you want kids? 12:20
Don’t worry, you’ll find someone! (When I posed this one to the ladies, it got the most heated response.) 13:29
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like my other stories about finding love after loss. Or my post on what Valentine’s Day means when it’s also the anniversary of a cancer diagnosis.
A note on diversity: I am acutely aware that there is no diversity in the group of women with whom I interviewed for this article and vlog. I did ask many more people to participate, and these are the women who volunteered. That being said, the last year has shown me that my circle is simply not diverse enough, and I am actively taking steps to diversify my friends, network, and teachers. If you would like to take part in my next collaboration, please reach out! With love, Jen.
About the Author
Hi! I’m Jen!
I’m a freelance writer and travel blogger who quit my nine-to-five after my fiancé, Jeff, died of cancer at the age of 40. When he died, I realized that life is just too short to delay our dreams. Since my dream was to travel and write, I now travel and write full-time. Today I wear hiking boots instead of heels and collect experiences instead of things.