How “You Never Know”s Hurt Single Women

At some point in the next 500 words, you might ask yourself if I know what I’m talking about. First of all, that kind of illustrates my point, and second, I’ve been single for ten years. If that isn’t the equivalent of a masters degree in this particular topic, I shudder to think what would be.

In ten years I’ve heard the phrase “you never know” from well-intentioned friends and family more times than I can tally. Partnered people think of this phrase as motivational, so it never gets the reputation it deserves. “You never know” is what convinces single women to go, to do, to try–ad infinitum. “You never know” has the cruel ability to turn any and every situation a single woman partakes in for herself as a potential opportunity to “meet someone” else. The phrase is an abuse of hope, and it must die.

You never know. A phrase repeated throughout the singlehood of a grown woman that often comes from trusted sources who have no idea what they’re talking about, because when you’re saying the phrase “you never know,” you don’t have to. The phrase makes claims for fate that we’re all unqualified to attest to. The psychics of the world are full of shit but somehow your brunch group can see the future.

I believe in maintaining a hopeful outlook. The trouble with hope as it relates to meeting and falling in love with a partner is that the results do not necessarily match the effort, the way those two things are much more symbiotic in areas like career and fitness. It’s unfair, as so many aspects of being single are unfair. But that’s the way it is, and if I know nothing else, I know that for sure.

“You never know”s prompt single women to put themselves in positions they don’t want to be in. To go out when they’re exhausted, to sign up for services that make them uncomfortable, and to give chances upon chances to scenarios that go against instinct–all because you never know when something might “work out.” We’re a population of women who have been trained to believe that if we don’t believe in “maybe,” we’ll miss “definitely,” and it’ll be all our fault. I think being single has enough idiosyncrasies that we can skip this one, don’t you?

I believe that we have to allow ourselves the freedom of doing something just because we want to, and not because we think it could potentially lead to meeting a partner. If every activity, every adventure, every subway ride is held out to be riddled with potential, so too is it equally packed with potential disappointment. I can’t live my life on that particular roller coaster.

Sometimes, you know. Grown single women have senses no less acute than grown partnered women, and it’s okay to think of not doing something as simply not doing something, rather than as missing an opportunity to meet your partner. We’ve been trained to think the world is hiding our husband behind every door, and the one we don’t open is the one he’s waiting behind. It’s not gullibility, it’s hope, and “you never know”s are a demonic way to toy with it.

I can’t see the future, but I can see my present and my past, and I have never seen “you never know” end with anything more than disappointment and regret that I didn’t trust myself instead of a bullshit phrase. I think we should give up on constant vigilance, on seizing opportunities we don’t actually want, on exhaustive behaviors that lead to repeated let-downs. I think, as single women, we have to be motivated by things other than maybe.

I’m thinking if we release ourselves of the guilt of not doing everything, of the myth that our single state is all our fault for not trying hard enough not to be, we can instead focus on being happy with what is, rather than clawing our way to what might be.

We cannot predict the outcome of every scenario, but the suggestion that every scenario might end in meeting a partner is based on nothing more than chance, and I like to think that chance has a way of finding us on its own schedule, not ours. We will never know, but we can know ourselves, and a woman who knows and cares for herself and doesn’t root guilt and blame in a modern dating myth is a friend I’d like to meet.

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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