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Contest: What Advice Gets Under Your Skin?

Color MasterBeing single after 30 is open season for advice. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? I don’t mean to sound paranoid, but even when it’s not spoken out loud, there’s a whiff in the air that if only you would change… (fill in the blank), you’d find your mate. This contest will give you the chance to vent and win a copy of Aimee Bender’s wonderful new collection of stories, The Color Master. I’m a huge Bender fan (and not just because she’s a friend). To enter, name one thing that people have said to you (about any situation in your life) that in Aimee’s words “has really gotten under your skin. You can’t quite shake it off.”

Submit your entry using the Comments section. Include your first name. If you win, we’ll email for your U.S. shipping address and phone number. By submitting you’ll become an FPS subscriber (if you’re not already). Please submit only one idea per entry, though feel free to enter as often as you like. Deadline is September 20, 2013.



71 comments for “Contest: What Advice Gets Under Your Skin?”

  1. Kate says:

    I get pretty agitated at people who feel I’m not making enough of an effort or am not open to finding someone. I’m kind of an introvert, so being super social can be pretty draining for me, but I still tried joining a running club and a kickball team, take classes, checking out social events on meetup.com, and joining match.com for a while. So, I’m not sure what kind of effort they feel I should be making.

  2. Kate says:

    Conversely, I also get annoyed at the people who say, “It’ll happen when you least expect it” or “You’re trying to hard.” I wish that were true, but chances are that I won’t meet my Mr. Right sitting at home knitting, which frankly is my idea of a wonderful evening. ~Kate

  3. Laur says:


    Just this afternoon a married friend (meh, not so much of a good friend, more of an acquaintance now) of mine, who lives in DC and is visiting Wisconsin on Friday,emailed me to see if I was available to get together. When I told her I had a clinical rotation until 3pm and then meeting some people for dinner and a play, she responded with “I know you have a very active social schedule…:)” Should I NOT be social? I often wonder why my married (with or with out children) friends get so annoyed that I have made other plans that do not include them.

    Now that I am 33, man-free and child-free I am JUST starting to feel comfortable with life. I’m on my way to begin a career I am passionate about, have great friends who encourage me in my choices and am enjoying each day I wake up to…why then, do I let myself get so bent out of shape when friends-turned-aquaintences make light of my lifestyle? It really is a waste of my positive, fabulous energy.

    Thank you for the reminder, as well, I’ve been meaning to read …Lemon Cake but forgot about it.

    • Michele says:

      OMG. I hate this more than anything. Like I should be sitting home waiting for them to come to town and call me to do something. As if being unmarried and child-free should make me careerless and friendless. And the reality is that they’re insanely jealous that I can pick up and do whatever I want, whenever I want without negotiating with a spouse or finding someone to watch the kids but they turn it around to make it seem like I’m being unreasonable because my life seems like it should be so much more flexible than theirs.

    • wendy says:

      Loved Lemon Cake. Don’t miss it!

    • Atia says:

      Oh, I know people like that, too.

      My aunt married late and had a baby boy at 42. I’m his godmother. I spent the first two years of his life being available for calls like “I need to clean my bathroom, your cousin would like to see you in an hour.”.

      They were miffed that I decided to quit the last-minute-babysitting-service this spring after “found” me an apartment in their neighborhood.

      Yes, I am 30 and single but that doesn’t mean that I have to be the maiden aunt who is happy to be able to raise someone’s child.

      I stopped responding to remarks about my “active social schedule”

      • wendy says:

        I’m so glad you’re setting those boundaries, Atla. It’s really important. I had to draw a firm line in the sand with my married friend, who thought my social life was less important than helping out with her family.

  4. Allison says:

    Last year I was trying to negotiate for a larger raise, siting, among other things, cost of living and lifestyle of someone over 30 warranting a larger salary. The VP of Operations, herself a single woman over 30 told me if I wanted a larger apartment, I’d just have to “find someone who makes a lot of money”….I was flabbergasted!

  5. Amanda says:

    After losing weight – “don’t you feel better?”

    My assertive response – “no.”

    I have always “felt” like myself. The skin in the shell I live in. I am not defined by losing or gaining five pounds.

  6. Michele says:

    I hate when people say to me, “Don’t worry there’s someone for everyone,” or “You’ll find someone, I just know it.” This isn’t the 19th (18th, 17th, early 20th, whatever) century. I’m not a spinster who has to live on the kindness of relatives if I don’t find someone to marry me. In fact, I’ve had a number of opportunities to get married but haven’t wanted to compromise myself in order to just say I was married. Why isn’t that something that’s celebrated?

    • wendy says:

      I used to always hear, “kettle for every pot.” From another century, indeed.

    • Petra says:

      Michele, this irks me as well. As though women are nothing but brood mares! And yes, men aren’t asked that question with the same frequency as women. Just had someone ask me this last week (do you have kids) as though it was something we could bond over. My reply? No, I’m childfree (said with a broad smile!)

      Again, I am thankful that my mother (who was a suburban housewife with kids) has NEVER pressured me to get married or have kids (granted, growing up her advice to me, stated repeatedly, was “don’t ever get married and don’t ever have kids”).

  7. Kathy says:

    I really dislike when people ask me why I don’t have children. I never know how to respond besides saying none of your business. I think in some ways that it is okay to be single as long as you have a child. Like you have fulfilled your purpose as a woman. I am pretty sure that men aren’t asked that question as frequently as woman OR that they face a societal stigma because they have chosen not to have a child.

    • wendy says:

      I was asked about my “kids” at the manicurist yesterday. When I told her I didn’t have any, there was a very long silence.

  8. Keri Ann says:

    What has irked me recently wasn’t something said directly to me but was mentioned in a conversation I was currently not participating in but present at the table for. To paraphrase it was “people ask how you make a relationship work for so long and I have said that when something breaks – I was taught to fix it.”

    I didn’t say anything at the time since I wasn’t really a part of the discussion… or maybe I was in shock. But, being recently divorced, it stung. As if they were saying I saw something, my relationship, simply broken and just decided to throw it out.

    Many days later I came up with a retort. All good retorts seem to takes days or weeks of mulling over the situation. It was “Good for you. Your relationship is essentially no different from your car. My relationship wasn’t a thing but something alive. I did CPR on it with all my strength; even while I vocally protested it being placed in its grave. Certainly you don’t expect me to have been buried along with it?”

    People lament that divorce is too acceptable in today’s society and yet it is still a point for which people are shamed.

    • Petra says:

      Keri Ann, love your retort (and yes, they always materialize too late)–at least you can share it with us, even if you couldn’t with the others at the table. So sorry that you were hurt.

  9. Claire says:

    Well it was a question not a comment that I really couldn’t shake yesterday. A male friend asked “did he dump you for someone else too?” (referring to two exs from recent history). He immediately realized that was a terrible question and I don’t think he meant it to be ugly but rather it was a sincere question, he couldn’t remember the facts of the two breakups. But still, what a dummy. It made me feel lousy and then lousier that a dumb question had made me feel so bad.

  10. Atia says:

    I just remembered something:

    Some weeks ago, I spent the weekend with my family. We had planned to do some work in the garden like cutting the hedges and so on. Just when we were about to start, a strange woman appeared at my parents door.

    She turned out to be someone my mother worked with more than 30 years ago.
    Her third (!) husband is living in the next town and she remembered my mother and just thought to give her old address a try.

    When my mother introduced us, the first thing that lady said was: “Do you have a boyfriend yet?”
    Huh? What happened to “Nice to meet you”?
    I wasn’t able to say a thing so I just stared at her, blindsided by her impertinence.
    My mother, embarrassed about her unwed daughters silence, took over. “She doesn’t have a boyfriend. She has four of them.”
    Haha. Some not so nice remarks later I went back to the garden.

    In the six hours of her stay she even dared to bring the boyfriend-topic up again. One time she admitted how hard it is to “find a decent man” but she also asked things like “And why don’t you have a boyfriend? Don’t you like men?”

    I know that my mother isn’t too happy about my decision against marriage but she saved my day by telling her former colleague how happy she is about the way my life turned out. She never said anything like that to me so I was really surprised.

    That lady called the next day but we decided to ignore it and went on a shopping spree instead.

  11. Sarah says:

    Acquaintances telling me I should smile more. I don’t appreciate when random people try to police my facial expressions.

  12. Lola says:

    I hate when people say “but you’re so pretty..” as if flabbergasted that my “looks” haven’t landed me a man yet. I’m sure I can come up with more comments…this is just the first one that came to mind.

  13. Petra says:

    I’m starting to think that I’m living a charmed life–and I’m not–but I can’t think of a single (pun not intended) time anyone ever said anything to me with respect to “if only you’d… you’d find a man”. Even my mother.

    That said, I did have an ex-boyfriend from man epochs ago who once told me I was “so contrived”. That hurt me then and it still rankles me now–I wonder what I’ve (not) done or held back from lest someone think I was trying too hard.

  14. RS says:

    I don’t know if this qualifies or not as it is not unwanted advice about finding a mate. It is just a personal pet peeve that I suppose is totally ridiculous. But, at the risk of seeming completely insane, I confess that whenever anybody asks me “so, what’s new with you?” it is like fingernails scraping on the blackboard of my soul. That question never fails to rouse the grouchy curmudgeon in me. I know the question is meant well (but is it always meant 100% well?), yet it never fails to make me feel like a cat being stroked backwards. It always makes me feel like I have to come up with some list of appropriately exciting “news” to report. “Oh, not much. Just come back from climbing the North Face of the Eiger.” Or, “I have been monkeying around in my garage in my spare time and recently invented a perpetual motion machine. It was actually a lot easier than you would have thought.” Or maybe, “I have been practicing archery with a Japanese Zen master. The secret is breathing through your eyelids.”

    I am sure I am being unreasonable. People are just trying to be nice and make conversation. I am just too philosophical sometimes for my own good and find myself grouchily thinking, “what do any of us every do that is really ‘new’? “There is nothing new under the sun,” as old Solomon said. What’s new with me? Well, let’s see. I have been eating, working, sleeping, hanging with friends, looking around – same thing I have been doing the last 20 years.” And, actually, those things are so incredibly rich and rewarding in themselves, why would I need to do anything else?

    I would be only too happy to expound on the delightful bowl of tomato soup I had for lunch. Does that qualify as “news”? If it doesn’t, it should. . . . .

  15. Camla says:

    Asking me “Are you dating anyone?” every time I see them!

  16. Jalina says:

    I could go on forever on this topic. I am very happy that I’ve fallen in with a group of friends of various backgrounds who don’t go about asking why I’m not married, dating, etc. etc. I call myself an extroverted introvert and when I need a breather from the maddening crowd, they understand.

    But not so long ago I was always asked why I wasn’t married, told to pray for a man in my life, looked upon with some pity, and destined to be a crazy cat lady. It got under my skin I finally learned to ignore those questions and concerns.

    I was the the daughter that focused on being independent and having a career. I watched my mother struggle in a marriage that ended in divorce, but she wasn’t confident enough to be truly on her own. My father re-entered our lives to help out. I’ve made it on my own persevering until I made it in my career field. I make a nice salary to make life comfortable and I’m pursuing other interests in my life too.

    It sucks that people still cast single women as humans to be pitied. Not every woman wants to become a mother or a wife. A woman has every right to live the life she sees fit to live and break out of the societal mold that so many try to shove her into. It’s the 21st century, some folks need to start living in it!

  17. Beth O'Donnell says:

    It’s not advice per se but I hate when people feel compelled to tell me about someone they know who got married for the first time at ____ (fill in the blank with any number older than I am).

  18. Mary says:

    Given everything I read above, my gripe almost sounds off topic… but here goes:

    I’m a casual golfer. I enjoy the outdoors, the mental challenge of hitting a little ball that isn’t even moving, and the chance to spend time with my golf gal pals. Annika I am not nor do I aspire to be. But every errant shot I hit is followed by “keep your head down.” Like I consciously think, let’s lift my head and see how far off target I can hit this little sucker. I take directly easily if someone has a tip I can methodically follow, like stand closer, or loosen your grip or widen your stance. But “dont lift your head” falls into that category that happens instinctively. Short of a neck brace, or lots more practice, that’s the one command that never fails to raise my bp.

    Small beans.

    • wendy says:

      I’ve often thought that getting good at golf and ballet have something in common. They require so many minute adjustments. While attempting double pirouettes in ballet class, people tell me I need to relax. Utterly useless advice that drives me crazy. (I’m a fan of “small beans” gripes, Mary.)

  19. Mary says:

    That should say “directions” not directly. Edit!

  20. Sabine says:

    My least favorite double-whammy: vacuous advice (“It’ll happen when you least expect it”) coupled with a nonsensical and condescending observation (“You’re such a fantastic person…I can’t believe you’re still single”)…grrrr.

  21. Karen says:

    “If you really wanted to be with someone, you would be.”
    That one still makes me want to bop someone in the nose.

  22. Latarsha says:

    I come from a family full of stressed and unfulfilled relationships so conveniently not too many people are asking me when I’m going to get married. So score 1 for Team Dysfunction. But the one that gets me are from acquaintances, my mom’s friends, etc. is “You know, you should go to church. You can find a single man at church.”

    My response is usually to joke about it: “God is all-seeing and all-knowing so He knows I don’t have anyone. Why He can’t just send me someone, that way I don’t have to turn his House into my own personal singles club, is beyond me. If UPS can deliver my Amazon order in three days, I don’t know why it’s taking the Big Guy so long to send me someone.”

  23. Big Daddy says:

    Right up there with “It’ll happen when you stop looking” is “You’re too picky.”

  24. Dienna says:

    I hate it when people nitpick my body language, telling me that my arms are always crossed and that I look tense, and that I speak in a manner that is cold and makes me come off as “unapproachable.” As if pointing out every little thing that I do that they find socially awkward is going to make me more comfortable…

    It just makes me very self-conscious.

    People also tell me that I’m too hard on the men that do approach me. The men that approach me come off too strong, too sexual, looking my body up and down and they have no interest in getting to know me as a person. It’s more in the line of street harassment and less about proper getting-to-know-you socializing. And a lot of the men who approach me have been inappropriate—too old, too young, uneducated, misogynistic, etc. For people to think that I should give these guys the time of day shows that they don’t think much of me.

    • wendy says:

      Sounds like they have a lot of time on their hands to criticize. Maybe they should devote some of that time to volunteering for a good cause.

    • Latarsha says:

      The body language thing implies that all this time you could have met someone if only you hadn’t crossed your arms in front of your chest. I just don’t believe that men are that fragile when it comes to a woman’s body.

  25. Nicole says:

    This is not advice per se, but it precedes it 99% of the time:

    Dad: “So, do you ever talk to [insert name of ex-boyfriend]?

    Then, comes the dreary talk of how I should “get out more, make an effort to socialize” etc.

    Never mind the fact that I’m financially independent and in good health, which as a father, he could do more to commend, rather than making me feel guilty for being single.

    Never mind the fact that I am, always have and will be an introvert, and I’m perfectly happy, even relieved most times, to be home alone. After all, it is about me being content with myself, right? I am not here just to create grandchildren.

    Last but not least, whatever relationship I had with [insert ex-BF] was never meant to be, and instead of bringing up bad memories and rubbing salt into old wounds, he should be glad that I’m not in an unhappy relationship.

    I know he means well, but sometimes I really dread his phone calls for all of the above.

  26. Kate P says:

    “Give everyone a chance.” (with regard to prospective dates)

    Why waste so much time, or fall into the trap of trying to make something work that won’t, ever?

    I enjoyed the writing of Lemon Cake, too.

  27. lauren says:

    I was told to grow my hair out. I’m not kidding. In fact, the precise words were, “if you had longer hair, you’d be married already.”

  28. Jen says:

    In terms of a specific awkward moment, I have to go with my sister’s mother-in-law who said to me recently, as we were playing with my 3-year-old niece, “You’re just not one of those childbearing women, are you.” Was this a comment or a question?

    In this situation I chose to respond openly and to let myself be vulnerable. I explained that in some ways I’d made a choice not to have children but that in other ways I’d felt my circumstances had limited my options. I acknowledged that while I was satisfied with the life-decisions I’d made, I would always wonder about other paths – and that at times I felt a loss. (Of course, not everyone deserves such an honest response.)

    As a single, childless woman in her mid-40s, I am outside the cultural norm. This draws people’s attention for a variety of reasons – I won’t speculate on all of them. But whatever one’s life circumstances, we’ve all had the experience of finding ourselves places we didn’t expected to be and didn’t want. This is part of the human experience – whether your single, married, or divorced. Somewhere deep inside people asking inane questions like, “Why are you single?” know this.

  29. Lola says:

    I think I’m too late for the contest but I had a particular comment directed at me today that has always gotten under my skin and I had to share:

    ‘Oh, when you know he’s the one, you’ll just KNOW’

    Really?! Ugh, this one bothers me to no end.

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