There was a time when being single felt like a flaw to me. If I didn’t have a boyfriend (or a husband), I felt like it said something about me and my character. Over the years, through a lot of work, I came to not only understand that being single is not a flaw but to actively enjoy being single.
There’s a freedom that comes with being single that makes getting into another relationship a little less inviting and exciting. That’s not to say I don’t want one — I do — but I enjoy being single so much that I won’t give it up for just any old guy that comes along.
But while I’m okay with this, other people seem to be bothered by it. Friends, occasional relatives, and even strangers like to offer up dating advice as if I just need to hear the right words and I’ll be able to fall into a wonderful, lasting relationship.
Trust me when I say that’s not the case. First, if it were that simple, it would have happened the first time someone offered up the same advice you’re giving me now. And second, most of the advice isn’t that great anyway.
Let’s look at some of the worst dating advice I’ve ever heard — and I’m betting you’ve heard it too.
So at first glance, this seems like good advice. I’ve even been guilty of offering it myself in the past. But it’s not always that great. Who else can you be? I mean, sure — if you offered me the chance, I might choose to be Jennifer Lopez. But unless there’s a new technology I don’t know about yet, that’s not an option.
More importantly, perhaps, is what’s implied by the words. When you tell someone to be themselves, you suggest that they aren’t already being themselves. For someone who is always themselves, this can be incredibly insulting.
And for someone who might have fragile confidence and self-esteem, telling them to be themselves when they already are might make them question whether who they are is good enough.
This advice might be good advice for someone who is young — a teen or someone in their twenties who is still finding out who they are. But for someone who is divorced or older and has or should have a pretty good handle on who they are — it’s not helpful.
What could you say instead? Try just telling them they’re amazing. Or just listening while they talk — they might just want to be heard.
Ignore (insert red flag here)
Some red flags are universal: abusive behavior or active addictions, for example. But other red flags are personal to each individual: one person might feel a criminal record is a red flag regardless of the crime(s), while another thinks it depends on the crime(s) on the record.
But just because you don’t think a red flag is that big a deal doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a red flag to someone else. Suggesting someone ignore their own instincts and the boundaries they’ve set for themselves is saying that they don’t know what’s best for themselves. Before you do that, consider how you would feel if someone said that you didn’t know what was best for yourself.
What if you really think your friend is making nothing into a red flag? Instead of simply telling them to ignore the red flag, try exploring why it’s a red flag for them. Ask why it’s such a problem for them and whether there’s a way it could be mitigated. And if you really believe they’re writing off a lot of potential matches over something insignificant, gently point out the pattern you’ve noticed and allow them to come to their own conclusion. They may or may not see the problem, but if you push, it won’t help.
Choose the one who loves you not the one you love
There’s a couple of different problems with this one. If someone is coming to you for dating advice, chances are pretty good they haven’t found love yet — they probably wouldn’t be asking for advice if they had. So telling them something they should do when they finally find love isn’t exactly helpful. And it’s probably going to make them feel bad and at least a little annoyed.
But there’s a deeper problem with this one. It presents a scenario in which you have two potential partners: one who loves you and one whom you love. And it suggests you choose the one who loves you. In other words, you should use someone.
Here’s the thing about love: it should be mutual. Yes, a relationship goes through ups and downs and one partner might love the other more at times and then it reverses, but the love should be mutual. Being with someone you love who doesn’t love you back is heartbreaking. It destroys your confidence, your self-esteem, and your happiness. And it can also destroy your trust.
If the one you love doesn’t love you back, you shouldn’t be with them. But you also shouldn’t be with someone who loves you if you don’t love them. You don’t want to be the one who is broken by a relationship with a partner who doesn’t love them, but you also don’t want to be the partner who breaks someone.
If the one you love and the one who loves you are not the same person, then choose neither of them. It’s not fair to anyone if the love isn’t mutual.
Give a nice guy a chance
This is another piece of advice that sounds good on the surface but really isn’t that great. Why? There’s a couple of reasons.
One is that, in my experience and that of many women I’ve talked to, this advice often comes from a nice guy himself — and unfortunately, he’s usually not such a nice guy. It’s usually said to manipulate a woman, particularly one who has complained about dating jerks, to go out with him. But if he was really a nice guy, he wouldn’t want a woman to go out with him just because he’s nice. He’d want her to go out with him because she actually likes him.
Which brings us to the other problem with this advice. No one of any gender owes anyone else of any gender a chance just because they’re a nice person. Niceness, kindness, generosity — whatever you want to call it — is only one characteristic that counts when deciding whether or not to date someone. If there’s nothing else that would cause you to date this person other than their niceness, and you’re really not interested, then there’s no reason to date them.
If you want a friend to give someone a chance, offer up some reasons beyond niceness. Point out some other qualities or common interests to persuade them that this person might be worth their time.
Don’t intimidate him
This piece of advice really means don’t do anything to make a man feel insecure or unneeded. In other words, tone yourself down if you need to so he can feel big, strong, and manly. But I would argue that if a man needs a woman to pretend to be “less than” so he can feel big, strong, and manly, perhaps that’s a problem he needs to deal with rather than expecting her to tone herself down.
This advice can also directly contradict the advice to just be yourself. If you have to tone yourself down to avoid intimidating someone, you’re not being yourself. And if being yourself intimidates someone, that should be a sign that it’s not a good match.
Instead of suggesting that someone not intimidate someone else, it would be better to suggest that everyone work on themselves so that they have confidence and self-esteem that isn’t shaken by someone else’s accomplishments, confidence, and self-esteem.
Just wait for the right one
Whenever I hear this, I think to myself, “Really? Because I just thought I’d keep waiting for the wrong one.” We all know that we’re supposed to be waiting for the right person. It’s not a newsflash.
But Mr. or Ms. Right also isn’t going to show up with a flashing neon sign above their head that tells you they’re the right one. So if you just sit and wait, you’re likely to find that you never find the right one. The only way to find them is to date a few wrong ones while you’re searching for the right one.
This advice also implies that there’s only one right person out there for everyone. And this belief can lead to missing out on a lot of great matches because you’re seeking the perfection of that one right match.
Instead of stating the obvious to wait for the right one, ask instead what they’re looking for. Prompting someone to consider what they’re seeking in a partner may help them realize they don’t actually know or to clarify what they’re looking for so it’s easier to determine if a potential match is a good fit or not.
You need to get out there and date
This might actually be the worst of the worst. Telling someone they need to date, as if being single by choice simply isn’t an option. And this advice is almost always unsolicited.
There are many reasons someone might choose not to date. It might be a permanent decision, wanting to remain single for the rest of your life because you’re happy that way. It might be a temporary decision, as you decide what to do about a former partner, heal from past relationships, or get other parts of your life in order. It might even be that you’ve just decided you’d like to take a little break from dating — there’s nothing wrong with that!
The only time it’s appropriate to tell someone they need to get out there and date is if they are complaining that they can’t find a date in their living room. Otherwise, it’s best not to assume anything about why they aren’t dating or when they might start dating again.
And if they’ve specifically stated that they’re choosing not to date and to remain single on purpose? Don’t tell them they need to get out there and date! Respect their decision, even if you don’t understand it and wouldn’t make it yourself.
Dating can be fun and exciting, but it can also be complicated. Most people give advice with the best of intentions, but it’s not always the greatest. The best thing you can do when it comes to dating advice is to listen to your own heart. If a piece of advice doesn’t sound right for you, ignore it.
What’s the worst dating advice you ever received?
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. She helps moms use mindfulness and meditation to create the life they really want. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. You can also sign up for her newsletter where she offers more insights, tips, tricks, advice, and information to help single moms find purpose, creativity, passion, and peace.
You might also enjoy:
Under 25? Take This Dating Advice From Women Over 40
Whether you’re just getting started or starting over, heed these words from women who’ve been there
The Relationship Advice I Wish I’d Gotten
Of all the advice I ever got about relationships, it’s what people didn’t tell me that would have helped the most.