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Popping The Question: So, Why Are You Still Single? September 5, 2011

Posted by Onely in As If!, Everyday Happenings, Your Responses Requested!.
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This post originally appeared in the book Singlism, by Bella DePaulo. It reprises earlier posts–here and here and here–where Onely and our Copious Readers discussed awkward questions about relationship status and how to respond to them. Readers’ responses originally appeared in the comments sections of the above links. We look forward to hearing more ideas about how you all would “pop” unsavory or singlist questions.

Long before Lisa and I created Onely.org, I was on the phone with a friendly, interesting guy I’d met at a party (let’s call him Ralph). Some minutes into the conversation, Ralph hit me with the question, “So, why are you still single?” I paused, unsure how to reply. I felt as if he had judged my life and found an inadequacy I’d never noticed–the way I might feel when someone says, “You’re wearing that?” So I hemmed and hawed and cancelled our coffee date and never called him again. Extreme? Maybe. Defensive? Perhaps a little. Probably other things about him bothered me, too. But all I remember is that one question, and the feeling of a switch clicking over in my heart. I couldn’t figure out why Ralph’s words bothered me, not until much later.

Our friends, family, colleagues (and even strangers!) usually intend to be helpful and friendly when they ask:

You’re so [complimentary adjective here]; so, why are you still single?

However, when they pose this question, they imply that being single is a sickness no one would possibly tolerate if they could help it – as if singlehood were a gross, drippy nose that could and should be cured by a swallow of Sudafed.

In a series of posts on Onely, Lisa and I identified two major problems with the question:

First, posing this question suggests that because an individual has [insert complimented-upon superb qualities here], that individual must be 1) seeking a relationship, and 2) happy when in a relationship because of impressive personal attributes. It’s a case of faulty logic, really, to assume that a person’s personal qualities have anything to do with whether they should be in a relationship, will be successful or happy in one, and/or even want to be in a relationship.

Second, the question evaluates the single person on account of his or her single status – it seems to ask, “You are in this less-than-ideal state, but you have the ability to extract yourself from this state, so why haven’t you done so?” In other words, this question ignores the fact that a single person may not agree with the questioner’s assumption that an individual’s single status is less than ideal.

So, we asked ourselves and readers of Onely, what’s a happily single person to do when confronted by this question – or one of its many variants? The retorts ranged from snarky to goofy to politely educational. We’ve collected some of our favorites below:

Q: Why are you still single?

A: Why are you still stuck in the 18th century?

OR: Why are you still with that creep?

OR: Because a relationship would interfere with my plans for world domination.

Q: How’s your love life?

A: Fantastic! I love my life!

Q: Why aren’t you married yet?

A: Why aren’t you dead yet?

OR: So I can be unhappy or divorced like most normal people?

OR: Why are you?

OR: As soon as you get some home-training, Miss Emily Post.

OR: Just lucky I guess…

Q: When are you getting married?

A: When are you moving to Tucson?

OR: As soon as you have your fifth kid.

OR: As soon as marriage has lost its … patriarchal baggage.

OR: When are you getting a Pomeranian?

Q: Where’s your boyfriend?

A: In my bedside table drawer.

OR: Why do I need a boyfriend?

OR: The batteries are recharging.

Q: When will you have children?

A: I tried that, but the state kept taking them away.

OR: When the world population [begins] shrinking.

Minutes after Ralph asked me, “So, why are you still single?” I thought, Because I keep meeting guys like you. I didn’t say it though, because I’d already hung up in a polite fury. And also, my retort wasn’t quite true. A little voice deep inside me had begun to whisper: I’m single not because I can’t find Mr. Right – but because I don’t care whether I ever find Mr. Right.  I didn’t fully articulate this radical idea at the time, but it percolated up until the day Lisa and I invented Onely.

If I could go back in time to that phone call, I know what I would say to Ralph: Thank you.

–Christina (and Lisa)

Photo credit: crystaljingsr


1. denisegburgess - September 6, 2011

Ok, sure the answers you gave are funny, but would you really ever say any of them to anyone? I used to take offense to the why-are-you-single question but now that I’ve chosen to be single, I find it amusing. Your gut answer is my answer: I’m not looking to change my status!

Onely - September 6, 2011

For sure some of them I would never have the guts to say–though I guess it really comes down to who’s asking, how well you know them, if you have to see them again, if you really care enough, etc. Also, how fast you can think! (In my case, not so fast.) I think Rachel was responsible for “as soon as marriage loses its patriarchal baggage,” and I can definitely envision her using that one. = ) = )

2. Bobusmaximus - September 6, 2011

“A: I tried that, but the state kept taking them away.”

Absolute best answer. Ever. I’m now looking forward to the next time I get asked that question.

Onely - September 6, 2011

I know, it almost makes you hope someone will ask you a silly question. Since starting Onely I sort of like it when I encounter singlism, because it gives me something to post about. Which is a little twisted, but what can you do, so’s life.

3. Rem Anon - September 6, 2011

I personally liked “Because a relationship would interfere with my plans for world domination.” I’m totally going to use that one. I liked “Just lucky, I guess” too though!

Onely - September 6, 2011

HAHA yay, thanks Rem Anon, that one was mine!! I look forward to having a chance to use it! (I think. . . ) = )

4. AMT - September 6, 2011

I have a boyfriend and I HATE the “where’s [insert bf’s name here]?” question! Can’t I go out on my own? Why is it always assumed that I’ll bring him to every social event I’m invited to?

Last time I was at the doctor getting blood drawn, I was making small talk with the phelbotomist. I told her I went to a wedding the previous weekend, and then she told me about her son’s wedding. Then she asked me if I was married and I said, “Nope.” And the conversation just DIED after that. I wish I had one of your funny responses in my back pocket to pull out!

Onely - September 6, 2011

Healthcare culture is sort of matrimaniacal, and I think it has to do with the comfort factor–the marriage myth stresses comfort, and you always look for comfort in healthcare environments. I’m thinking in particular of how most doctors’ offices make you fill out a form that asks your relationship status (which I’ve griped about before on Onely)

AMT - September 7, 2011

I read that post and I am still not sure about how I feel about the relationship status question in healthcare. I guess it depends on the motivation behind it. If it’s for statistical purposes with limited choices (single/married) then I agree it is none of their business. However, when there are choices that include a variety of types of relationships (partnered, domestic partnership, etc.) then I feel better about answering. I do appreciate it when the doctor takes the time to get a social history, because that can be important to treating the whole person. For example, I work at a burn/trauma center, and when people are injured and needing help with wound care, it makes a big difference to their treatment/discharge planning if they have someone (not necessarily a romantic partner) to help them be successful in their reovery.

Onely - September 12, 2011

Right, you hit on it exactly in your last line there–anyone could support a person’s recovery, not necessarily a romantic partner. Unfortunately the places that acknowledge that in their forms are few and far between. . .

It also just occurs to me that maybe having to fill out a married/single question would stress out a sick person further, given all the judgment implied in that question. . .

5. adlin - September 7, 2011

I had a pleasant young shuttle driver follow up a bit of small talk with “why aren’t you married?” Before I could even think, I said “because no one’s asked me yet.” Yeah, he was a little shocked. Today, I’d probably go with the “just lucky” answer.

Onely - September 12, 2011

HAHAHA! The only way to make it more awesomely odd would have been to follow it up with, “Are you free?”

6. Omina - September 9, 2011

Years ago I attended a Roberta Flack concert. Apparently she has never been married, or at least that is what she said on that night. She told the audience that she is often asked, “you are such a wonderful person, how is it you have never been married?” I loved her response and have used it once or twice myself, it was “I have been too busy enjoying my life, I guess I forgot to get married.” I find it to be a very witty way to say there are more things in life than to enter into marriage.

Onely - September 12, 2011

Yay Roberta! (I have heard of people saying they “forgot” to have kids also. . .)

7. Lila - September 11, 2011

Q: Why are you still single? *silently wonders if this is one of those people who is happy being single*

A: I’m single because I don’t feel any strong need to be coupled.

Q: Wow, that’s pretty cool.

A: I know. 🙂

Onely - September 12, 2011

Ooh, interesting glass-half-full twist, nicely done! = )

8. rob - October 17, 2011

You know the question might just might be asking Why you chose to be single or haven’t found the right guy yet. Why go on a coffee date if you are “so happy” being single to begin with? Why is it abnormal for a person who IS going on a date to ASK the obvious question WHY are you still single which may merely imply another question What qualities are YOU searching for in a relationship and WHY haven’t you found them yet. I don’t know in Hamlet there is a line “Methinks the queen doth protest too much” There is nothing wrong with a person being single. It doesn’t imply ANYTHING about YOU. But for many being single IS uncomfortable and undesirable. I don’t see any reason to consider romantic isolation the “superior more enlightened state” This 1) trivializes people’s desire to be in a relationship and 2) promotes a false sense of superiority for those who feel they are “Above it”

9. Secret Lives of the Happily Single–Bathroom Edition | Onely.Org - October 16, 2021

[…] up, I invite you to remember Marni’s rancid pee story. And if someone asks you, “Why are you still single?” I also invite you to tell them Marni’s rancid pee […]

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