Carolyn Hax: Can a Married Person Comfort Unhappy Single Friends?

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Hello Caroline: I am newly married and many of my close friends are single. I find that some of my friends want to complain about being single, but nothing I say to comfort or sympathize with them seems to be the right thing to do.

Recently I was with some of them and they were talking about how they don’t see a future for themselves where they can be happy with someone and how sad it makes them. I tried to respond empathically by saying things like “I’m sorry, this is hard” and “yeah it’s so hard to feel this” while also reminding her that besides romantic love and love still have so much to do for them that you never know what’s coming in life or who you’re meeting, etc.

One of the friends suddenly snapped at me and told me she knew she was bitter, but people who haven’t been single for a long time lose sight of that, so I just can’t understand it and act like it I get it. It hurt, especially since I’m going through all sorts of things unrelated to my relationship and never hit out at my friends for not understanding how I’m feeling.

So am I now trying to figure out what are some right things to say when this comes up, or do I look at them silently or just say “Mmmm” how long they talk about this topic? That doesn’t sound like a very good friend to me and I want to continue to be close to them and be there for them. I just can’t seem to get it right?

— The source of bitterness

The Source of Bitterness: There is no “right” way to say something that people don’t want to hear, and people who complain about being single don’t want to hear from the newlywed unless they say otherwise by directly asking for your opinion. This part is easy, and yes, your role is to say “Mmm” and “Ugh” and “Yeah” at all the appropriate times to show that you’re listening and that you care. When in doubt, ask if they want your “memories” or just your ears.

But there’s a part of it that’s not that simple – there has to be, otherwise we couldn’t talk about experiences that aren’t exactly shared.

It starts with humility: realizing that you are valuable to your friends not as a source of life knowledge, but as a source of knowledge about your friends themselves.

So whenever the urge arises to say something general from your experience, redirect it to something specific to you or to you as a person.

And if you’re not sure what to say, let your friends tell you what they want you to say. “So what do you think?” Or, “What’s your plan?” Or, “Is there anything anyone can do?” Ask about your path to being the “very good friend” you want.

It also takes humility to admit when they tell you that the wisdom of your experience, even if generalized, is not what they are looking for here, as your snapping friend just did: “You’re right, I am not in a position to know how you feel. I’m sorry for saying that.” Nothing kills good news faster than a defensive messenger, so drop all defenses ahead of time. Even if it’s on fire.

But also, don’t be afraid to articulate your message clearly to stand up for yourself: “If something’s going on in my marriage, I’ll talk to you guys about it — whether you’re single or not for the time being or dating or living together or married.” or divorced or widowed. Because what counts for me is our experience with one another.”

Their pairing while single is just a group shot of multiple changing lives. (As you tried to point out to the friend who didn’t want to hear that. But you asked me. Ha.) Friendships manage to weather these changes incessantly when all parties have an implicit understanding of who’s up or down in relation to whom change in one day – and you are still there for each other and committed. I hope that applies to you and these friends.

Dear Caroline: My spouse and I agree for the most part politically, but I need to talk about it and voice my opinions — usually scared in recent years — and he “doesn’t want to hear about it.”

This is very stressful for me, in addition to the existing stress. What should I do?

Anonymous: Respect his wishes – and his limitations – find someone else to vent to and be very, very grateful, you both mostly agree.

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