How Do I Answer “Why Haven’t You Ever Been Married?”

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Evan, I have bought all of your audiobooks. I listen to them over and over again. They have been a huge help. But one question I need your help with is, what do I say to men when they ask me why I haven’t been married. I’m 40 years old and I have never been married. I’ve never been engaged. I’ve never been proposed to. And I haven’t dated many men long term. I have moved around to a few states over the last 12 years for my career. Why isn’t “I’ve been focused on my career” seem like a great answer? And let me tell you; every single guy I meet or go on a date with asked me on the first date, why I’m not married. It is not a compliment – it feels like they are trying to figure out if I am fucked up. I need your help Evan. This question is making me freeze on all my dates.  

Thank you,

Susan

Hard to believe I haven’t answered this one in nine years of blogging. I’m almost positive I have a video about it in Love U, but that’s not going to help you much right now.

So brace yourself: I’m pretty sure you don’t know where this one is headed…

First off, let me disabuse you of one crucial notion: that these men are insulting you.

They are not. They are as shocked as you are that a great catch like you can, miracle of miracles, still be single at age 40. They see exactly what you see, but less. Smart, strong, successful woman. Attractive. Good energy. Vibrant personality. Lots of love to give. How did she possibly slip through and find her way to me?

At least that’s the way I felt when I was 35 and single. And the way I feel when I routinely meet and coach 40-year-old single women to this very day. So please stop with the “he’s insulting me,” routine. He’s not. He’s astounded at his good fortune and rightfully wants to know if it’s too good to be true.

They are as shocked as you are that a great catch like you can, miracle of miracles, still be single at age 40.

Next, the tough love: the issue isn’t with these men and this very predictable question (which has previously been asked by your mother, your boss, and your best girlfriends).

The issue is with you, Susan.

The issue is that you’re stumped by the question.

The issue is that you’re embarrassed by the answer.

The issue is that asking you — even in a light way — why such a great catch like you is still single at 40 is tantamount to asking you to face all your flaws and questionable choices.

That’s why you’re freezing. You’re being asked a serious, unresolved existential question that you’re supposed to answer in an easy, breezy fashion to a stranger.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Instead of freezing up or getting angry, try making peace with your past. Once you’ve done so — instead of beating yourself up for being in this position — you can answer authentically, with a smile:

“That’s a great question. For years, I think I put my career first. It was exciting and I was successful at it — more successful than I was at dating. Because of that, I put even more energy into it, and ended up moving to a few different states throughout my thirties. Hard to have a successful relationship if you’re always moving. Finally, I realized that although I’ve seen the world and achieved what I wanted careerwise, I’m really looking forward to planting roots and creating an epic relationship. That’s how I ended up here tonight. And you?”

He’s not trying to figure out if you’ve fucked up in the past; we all have. He only wants to know that you’re confident and ready for a future.

It’s authentic. It’s powerful. It’s vulnerable. And, best of all, it’s TRUE.

Long story short: if a guy asks why a great catch like you is still single, tell him the real reason, candidly and unapologetically.

He’s not trying to figure out if you’ve fucked up in the past; we all have. He only wants to know that you’re confident and ready for a future.

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Comments:

  1. 21
    Karl R

    I was 39 the last time I was asked, “Why haven’t you ever been married?” I was asked on a first date. I gave an answer similar to the one Evan proposed (original post). I then turned it around as Tom10 suggested (#6), and asked the lady  why her marriage hadn’t worked out.

    She seemed less interested in asking awkward questions after that.

    I generally preferred Sparkling Emerald’s (#5.3) “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy, but I had to be prepared when my dates decided to ask me.

     

    Helene asked: (#1.1)

    “What’s wrong with simply ‘I haven’t met the right person yet?’!!”

    If I haven’t found the right person in 19 years, then it suggests I’m far too picky … or the “right person” wanted nothing to do with me.

     

    Susan asked: (original letter)

    “Why isn’t ‘I’ve been focused on my career’ seem like a great answer?”

    If your career has kept you that busy, I’ll strongly suspect that you’re a workaholic with poor work-life balance. That answer works a lot better at 30 than 40. If you add in some details (like spending some years moving around), then it becomes a bit more neutral.

     

    Stacy2 asked: (#15)

    “Call me crazy, but if it makes the OP so uncomfortable why just not make something up?”

    Because that plan backfires when your boyfriend meets your family, and makes a passing reference to your committed/lost/deceased fiancé … and your family says, “What  fiancé?”

     

    Stacy2 asked:  (#15)

    “Why would I reveal to a stranger at a bar where I work and my position in an organization?”

    I’m dying laughing, imagining the following scene…

    Stacy2: “I need to go to work.”

    Boyfriend: “No problem. I can drop you off at the airport.”

    Stacy2: “Why would I be going to the airport?”

    Boyfriend: “Aren’t you  an air-traffic controller?”

     

    You’re going to get tripped up by your own lies eventually.

     

    Tom10 asked: (#6)

    “Now, while one can’t argue against telling the truth, it’s hard to imagine how anyone will ever get a second date if they admit to any of the above on a first date.”

    In my answer, I admit to two of those.

    For most of my twenties, I wasn’t interested in getting married or having any kind of committed relationship.  After that, I had some serious relationships, but they didn’t work out.  Then my job track derailed for a little while, so it took two or three years for me to get that back on track.  That’s when I got back into dating.

    If someone follows up and asks about the job, I picked up some valuable job skills during that time, and I ended up on a much better career path.

    All of that is truthful, but I leave other parts … the parts I’d really rather not discuss on a first date.

     

    Adrian asked: (#8)

    “What if your new partner just tells you that they don’t want to talk about it! Is that an acceptable answer? […]  Will their refusal cause you to now start suspecting a good partner whom you did not previously suspect?”

    A lot of it depends on how they say it. If you respond like Stacy2 does (#3.1 and #15), you’ll come across as someone who is defensive, and having something to hide. Things like your job are generally considered safe topics, so if you treat it like a landmine, you’ll raise red flags.

    But if you calmly suggest that  certain, more sensitive topics are not first date topics, but things you routinely discuss in due time, that comes across as just being a normal level of privacy.

    I had an ex-girlfriend who was extremely private about almost everything. That was one of the reasons behind my decision to end the relationship. My wife, on the other hand, doesn’t particularly discuss a couple topics, but she has been extremely forthcoming on a wide variety of other ones. Therefore, I respect her preference to not discuss those topics at great length.

     

    Emily asked: (#8.2.1.1)

    “Why do men […]  ramble on about their past sexual experiences to their new partners (this information was not asked for)? Or inform them of other people who want them?”

    There are studies demonstrating that women prefer men who are “taken”. (click here for link) So this is an attempt to “prove” that other women approve of him   as a high-value male. (There are far better ways to do this, which are more subtle as well.)

  2. 22
    Joan Grussing

    Evan that may be true on dates, but in my professional life I’ve run into coworkers into asked me that right after learning I haven’t married. I think they want to embarrass me. I think saying “I don’t care to share” is appropriate. People say that to me when they think I’ve asked them things they don’t want to answer. I think they think it’s funny.

  3. 23
    LambyLoo

    Evan, I couldn’t disagree with you more. Of course you should be honest and authentic but the issue I have with your advice is rather than encouraging single people to answer the question, how about encouraging people to not ask it in the first place. It’s inappropriate – I wouldn’t ask a divorced person early on why their marriage ended in divorce. Nor would I ask a widower why they haven’t remarried. A person isn’t going to provide an “easy, breezy” response to why their marriage fell apart, why would they expect as much to the question of why one never married? I think these questions are best asked and answered when both parties have enough trust in each other to know they won’t be judged by the answer or feel pressured to come up with an honest response that will satisfy another person’s curiosity.

    I’d prefer to say something to the effect of “great question and I’d be happy to answer when we’re both ready to go a bit deeper”.

  4. 24
    Prophetical

    This question (among others) is deliberately
    designed to be unanswerable.

    Asking a complex, involved essay question and
    demanding a sound bite in response betrays
    a destructive intent.

    Trying to answer the question won’t work.
    There is no acceptable answer!

    The intent is to give the person being asked
    a hard time for not acting in a way that society
    accepts.   That’s all.   NOT information gathering!

    The person asking will likely claim that they’re
    ‘just trying to help’.

    It must be kept firmly in mind that this is,
    at best, a gross misrepresentation.
    If help was truly intended, you would have been
    taken aside and asked the question in private,
    not put on the spot in public.

    *** How To Respond ***

    The person asking has opened the door to
    being asked a question that’s deliberately
    designed to be unanswerable in response.
    It’s only fair.

    The question to ask is: ‘What answer would you accept?’

    The person asking will doubtless sputter, and protest,
    ‘Oh, Come On!’

    That manipulative, toxic little phrase is a sign that
    they have run out of ideas, yet still refuse to stop.
    Beware of people who refuse to stop, by the way!

    Respond: ‘If there’s no possible acceptable response,
    then I don’t feel the need to answer at all’.

    THEN, stop responding.   You’ve won.
    Congratulations!

    This response is also effective for other such questions.
    My favorite is, ‘why didn’t you have children?’ or
    ‘why didn’t you have MORE children?’.

  5. 25
    Gaby

    I came to this article because I was asked a variation of this question during a first date a few weeks ago. We were talking about common interests when he suddenly dropped the bomb. “Since when are you single? Because, you’re single, aren’t you?” I laughed at this last fragment and replied affirmatively that indeed, I am single. Then my mind raced to find an acceptable answer.

    I had never been asked this question before. I also have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, prefering for these topics to come up organically as you continue dating. Eventually, I replied “I have always been single” (I’m in my early 30’s). Of course, he asked the dreaded “Why?” and I managed to tell him that I have become used to be on my own – which is actually a truth, though probably not something that a guy wanting to commit is expecting to hear. Needless to say, I didn’t hear from this person again.

    I’ve been reflecting on all of this and, as Evan said on the article, being asked this question was like having all my insecurities thrown at me. I have now come up with a satisfactory answer for me (“I haven’t always been this confident, it has taken me a long time to learn, which is why I can now talk to you so comfortably”) in case I get asked again. And if the next guy is stumped by this answer, then he’s not the right one for me.

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