Single People Are Not The Family Joke

Shani Silver
7 min readNov 22, 2022

Tell the uncles and cousins to make fun of something else.

Photo by Shani Silver

Tension is coming. Long rows of place settings dotted by trivets labeled with post it notes. A slight dip in height where we had to dust off a folding table from the garage. People will gather, familiar dishes will be shared, new dishes will be criticized. And eventually we’ll get around to the part of the conversation that separates the white from the yolk, that reminds the room of how different, and immovable we all are when it comes to topics like politics, religion, or our ideas of who is worthy of human rights and respect. Tension does not feel good, particularly among those who are supposed to effortlessly, naturally love each other. But rather than resolving it with emotional maturity, we deflect it and offer relief to everyone in the room through the one thing that can almost universally soothe: humor. When you’ve got one in the family who’s single past the age the collective feels it’s appropriate to be unwed, there’s no easier tension breaker than that.

“So, Emily, still single? Whatsa matter with you, can’t keep one around?”

“Emily, tell us about your dating life! What’s that app you use, Bubble?”

“I could never be single these days, I don’t know how you do it, Em!”

“Emily, go on any good dates lately? Tell us a good story!”

“Give me your phone Emily, I want to play with Bubble!”

Everyone agrees again! Being single is incorrect, it’s a problem in need of solving, and anyone who remains single when the family thinks they shouldn’t be is obviously incapable of “finding someone” or they’re actively making the problem worse with their own flaws. Single is a great unifier—everyone dislikes it, so everyone can agree it’s embarrassing and funny. Except you.

Small talk as a vehicle is dying. I doubt when Gen Z sits at the head of a table beaming at its grandkids flaccid questions like “How’s work?” will cut much mustard. But for now those of us raised by Boomers, a collective not known for empathy, inclusivity, or any grasp whatsoever of modern manners, are still fielding verbal kicks to the gut any time we actually participate in family. And it’s never the one speaking who’s to blame for causing harm, it’s the easy…

Shani Silver

Author, podcaster. shanisilver@gmail