Being there for a friend in pain can be a tough job. As with any other case when a person needs emotional support, knowing the right thing to say or do when a single friend is suffering through the hardships of long-term singlehood requires sensitivity, wisdom and a genuine desire to provide what the individual really needs in that moment. Sometimes it can be tricky to discern the best way to lend your support. Having previously been a single woman in need of support, I understand these issues well. And today, as a married person, I try to provide it to others.

Supporting singles (or anyone else for that matter) requires a keen awareness of how your ideas and opinions are being translated by the listener. We need to be careful not to inadvertently insult, hurt or degrade our friends. Here are some common pieces of dating advice comparing the intended message to the perceived message.

1. What we say: “You’ve got to put yourself out there!”

What they hear: “Your natural, daily efforts to interact with co-workers, socialize with peers and engage in a normal amount of social activity are simply not enough. You’ve got to actually throw yourself full-force into the lion’s den of matchmakers (even if they are overly critical) and date any single man/woman who comes your way. Don’t spend much time alone or with existing friends, since overexposure is the key. Otherwise, you will never get married!”

The reality: While a reasonable amount of social interaction should be gently encouraged, don’t try to make your single friends do things “in the interest of getting married” that you yourself wouldn’t want to do! (Plenty of introverts have gotten married!) Keeping God in the picture is key!

2. What you say: “Stop being so picky!”

What they hear: “You aren’t deserving of a loving relationship, so you should settle for the next person who comes along that’s willing to go out with you.”

The reality: While some people have unrealistically high standards for a marriage partner, many others are simply not meeting the type of person who would make a good spouse. It is unfair to accuse someone who may likely be seeking someone with basic, good character traits of being “too selective for their own good.”

3. What you say: “Why aren’t you married yet?”

What they hear: “Who you are right now isn’t good enough. Being single means you are flawed or defective in some way. What is it that you’re doing wrong to have landed yourself in this predicament?”

The reality: Would you ask the same question to someone who was laid off from their job, or whose home had a flood from a leaky roof? Quite often, people are not at fault for their own life situations, and to try to tell them otherwise is painful and cruel. Instead of blaming others, let’s try your best to help them feel ready to find the right one.

4. What you say: “There are just too many older singles not settling down.”

What they hear: “I am doomed. My fate is sealed. I may not have a future like the one I envisioned for myself, which includes marriage and a family.”

The reality: Your perception of older singles not settling down may not reflect the reason for any one person’s behavior. Your single friends may only feel disheartened and think they are less marriageable by hearing they are at fault for their single status.

So what CAN we say to our single friends? Often, the best thing you can say to a single man or woman has nothing to do with their dating status. Warm and empathetic messages that help assuage a person’s fears and improve their self-worth typically go much farther in helping them get married than any “advice” will ever do.

We cannot create a climate of love and support, which singles crave, through criticism and judgment. We need to ensure that our words are uplifting and empowering instead of demeaning and disempowering.

May we merit to help our single friends forge their own paths with confidence, and attain the meaningful, committed relationship they’ve been yearning for.