Your Friends’ Love Advice…

Are you constantly receiving unsolicited opinions from others about your love life? There’s an art to sorting the bad advice from the good.

By Jane Ganahl

very unmarried person since the dawn of time has been the recipient of untold amounts of free advice from friends, parents, religious figures — even total strangers. I vividly recall in my youth, somewhere around the Pleistocene era, sitting in a Portland café with my punk-rocker boyfriend. When he left the room for a minute, the middle-aged woman at the table next to me turned to me and said, “Never trust a man with tattoos. He’ll break your heart.”

“Um… thanks!” was my articulate reply, although I
Wouldn’t you know it? That stranger was right…
was really thinking, mind your own business!

Wouldn’t you know it? That stranger was right: he stomped on my heart, forcing me to cross tattoos off my list of “things I like in a guy.”

Why are people so free with their advice to single people? I think it’s because the world has traditionally viewed the unmarried life as a condition to be cured. No one could possibly want to be single, right? This may have been true in generations past, when, if you weren’t married, you were an object of pity — even scorn. But wake up, people! This is 2009, and the single life is often viewed as a pretty nice lifestyle on its own. It’s one reason unsolicited advice has become even less appreciated when it comes to dating.

My friend Jan, for example, says her mother still suggests how she ought to dress for a date if she wants to “get a man.” Jan has to gently remind her that she is now (ahem) in her 40s and knows how to dress. For success, for sex, for all kinds of reasons. She gets annoyed with her mother but so far has refrained from telling her to butt out.

Another friend has advised me on numerous occasions to “go after” so-and-so, her boyfriend’s business partner’s brother… and so on. I have to politely remind her that I shall date when I feel like it and that I’m fine on my own. Most of the time.

There are still times in every unmarried person’s life when you may feel stuck in your dating routine, unsure about someone you’ve met or just plain heartbroken. At those times, you may actually need your friends to listen to you and then offer up words of wisdom. Generally, “he or she was not good
It’s about listening to yourself.
enough for you” will usually suffice. Unfortunately, these are also the times when unsolicited advice can hit you like a Scud missile.

“After a failed relationship – or any major life transition, like losing a partner or getting divorced – loved ones feel that they want to help,” says Nicky Michaels, a certified life coach ( “All advice-giving comes from a place of caring, because they want to help. But loved ones also often have an agenda.”

And they might not even realize it! If a friend has been bitterly bruised herself, she might not be the most objective person to help you through your own crisis. (“You should never date again; men are pigs,” is not particularly helpful to anyone.)

“If advice feels like it’s coming from a place where it’s not loving, I would stop listening to that person,” says Michaels. “There is a difference between bad advice and advice that feels bad and doesn’t have your best interest at heart.”

Likewise, if your parents are worried that you’ll never marry, they might turn a blind eye to a date’s weaknesses. “So, he doesn’t have a job right now and lives in his car. He’s a nice man and he seems to like you!”

It’s also never completely clear if your friends are telling you what they really think or what you want to hear. If you’re lucky, you have a friend who can both be honest with you and deliver her advice kindly, without prejudice. And if you can afford it, a life coach is likely to be the best advisor of all.

“The difference between a coach and a friend or family member is that you know your coach will give you advice without an agenda,” says Michaels. “A coach has tools to support you so you can move forward on your own. The coach is not there to tell you what to do, but to help you access your own inner knowing.”

Michaels says you should not discount advice from friends altogether; you should just filter it through your own experience. “If a friend gives you advice that clicks, you’ll know it’s right for you. ‘Oh that’s a great idea – I want to do that.’ There’s no inner hesitation. It’s about listening to yourself.”

Meanwhile, how are single people supposed to deal with the frequent offerings of advice — 90% of which is completely inappropriate?

Advises Michaels: “You don’t want to alienate the people who care about you, so it’s best to remember that all advice comes from love and respond in kind. ‘Thank you for caring so much for me. I’m going to really about what you said and take it to heart. I just need some time to think about this.’ It buys you some time. And truth is, even if what they said doesn’t resonate right now, in two or three months, it will!”

Jane Ganahl is author of Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, editor of the anthology Single Woman of a Certain Age, journalist of two decades, and codirector of San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival.
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