Last month, I introduced Living Single readers to two enlightened authors who really want to get it right about singles. One is writing a chapter for a family counseling textbook, and the other is writing a book of do's and don'ts for being supportive. I asked readers to post their suggestions in the comments section. You responded with a fabulous and thoughtful outpouring. I encourage everyone to take a look at the comments section of that post and read through them all.
Here I'll just highlight one of the short comments, submitted by Psyngle (I love that nickname):
"When I went into therapy for some issues unrelated to being single, I was given a standard alcohol abuse questionnaire, which began, as do all such tests, with the question "do you drink alone?" If you answer yes, you are automatically flagged as a problem drinker. I told my therapist that I LIVE alone. Does that mean that if I make a try a new gourmet recipe at home and want to enjoy it with a glass of good wine, that makes me a lush? When I was married and drank, I would put down a whole bottle of "2-buck Chuck" to anesthetize me from being stuck at the dining room table with my husband. For me, drinking alone was healthy and drinking in company was not! My therapist was great, and she immediately saw how that question could be discriminatory. She changed her own test and encouraged her colleagues to do so."
What I love about this example is not just that Psyngle recognized the absurdity of this particular aspect of the test, but that her therapist responded totally non-defensively. In fact, her response was exemplary; she changed her own behavior and urged her colleagues to change theirs, too.
From years of hearing single people's stories about what they like and don't like about how other people treat them, one thing is clear - it can be hazardous to presume to know what any particular person wants. (Alan, the first person to comment on the post about what counselors and other should know, made the same point.) Take holidays, for instance. Some singles wish others would invite them to celebrations. Others wish other people would stop inviting them; they love having the time to themselves, or they have other plans. So something open-ended would probably work best; for example, "I'd love to have you over, but I know you might have other plans or you may just like the time to yourself - sometimes I wish I had that option! Either way is fine."
Because the readers who posted comments covered so many of the important points about what not to do or say, I thought I'd just mention some examples of heartwarmingly gracious and kind treatment I've experienced as a single person.
In one category are all of the instances in which other people recognized something that was very meaningful to me, even though it wasn't one of the events that is traditionally recognized in our culture (such as birthdays, weddings, babies, etc.); they acknowledged events that - to other people - maybe would not have seemed important. Singled Out was my very first non-academic book, and that project meant so much to me. On its official publication date, a friend here in Santa Barbara hosted a book party for me, complete with mounds of food and rooms full of friends and colleagues. I was so touched by the gesture that I was in tears as I drove over to her home.
It was also a really big deal to me when an op-ed that I wrote, "Sex and the Single Voter," was published in the New York Times. Hours after it appeared in print, I opened the door to a huge vase of flowers sent by a friend.
Sometimes the thoughtfulness came at the worst of times. When I drove back to Virginia (where I was living at the time) after my mother's funeral in Pennsylvania, a friend was waiting for me with dinner as I pulled into the driveway. We sat out on the deck in my backyard. It was just what I needed.
There's one more category of wonderfulness that I want to mention. It includes the gestures from people who recognize that I love my single life, and that the life I choose is as worthy of acknowledgement as any other. Several family members, for example, have given me "single" gifts.
I know how trite this is going to sound, and sometimes I say this and don't mean it. This time I do. Much as I love flowers and book parties and all the rest, it really was the thought that counted. The thoughts and the kindness behind them are what touched my heart.
[To read other Living Single posts, click here.]
[Single with Attitude, described in this earlier post, is now available in paperback from this website and here for the Kindle edition; the paperback should be available on Amazon soon. Behind the Door of Deceit, described in this previous post, is now available in paperback on this website and on Amazon; the Kindle version is available here.]