If there ever was a sentence starter that causes me to twinge, roll my eyes on the inside, and tune out all at once, it’s, “What you need to do is…” Who do people think they are, telling me what I need to do? How is it they feel the need to offer their solution to what they perceived as being my problem to solve?
Different from “What you may want to do…”; “What you need to do” suggests the speaker knows more about you than what you do. Whether we’ve talked 15 minutes or have had 15 conversations, it is very possible that person doesn’t know me as well as they think. Certainly, not well enough to tell me what I need to do.
The latest example occurred just the other day. I’ve known this woman for about six months. I’ve shared time with her in her home and at public events. We’ve enjoyed game night and live music and have talked on the phone. She’s let me in on some personal things she is dealing with and what she’s overcome. I can say she has shared more about herself than what she has wanted to know about me.
The other day she asked, “Do you date?” Now if you think about it, this might be one of those things that can classify as a stupid question. Don’t give me that jazz about there being no such thing as a stupid question. Oh yes, there are stupid questions. For example, you have a moving van parked in front of the house you’ve been making trips back and forth from, when your neighbor strolls by and asks… “Are you moving?” Oh, how I’ve wanted to say, “No, I’m giving myself a manicure!” Why? Because it’s a stupid question!
But back to the issue at hand: “Do you date?” The way I see it, a “Yes” means, I am open to dating. A “No” to that question would mean I am opposed to dating. Yet, if I answered yes, it could then give the impression that I date regularly. What I was clear on was no matter how I answered, there was going to be a conversation I didn’t want to have.
Wanting to address all possible angles I stated, “I am open to dating but I haven’t dated in a while.” “Why not?” Again, another stupid question. It’s stupid like, “Why aren’t you married?” To ask a single person why they aren’t married, or dating, or have any children… implies there is something that person is doing to hold up the “progress” the questioner deems important.
Annoyed by this time, I say, “No clue.” Did it end there? No! My concerned inquisitor went on to say I should volunteer for the courts so I could meet a lawyer… WHAT??!!! Still reeling from that, I then hear… “What you need to do is get out of the @#$% house (yes, I know people with potty mouths).” Given it was a phone call I could have rolled my eyes undetected, but I needed to exert all energy and focus on holding my breath and pursing my lips so I could mutter a convincing “Hmm.” (I’m getting all worked up again just thinking about it.)
Like I said, when we offer our “What you need to do’s,” we are saying there is an urgent problem that needs attending to… even if this problem is only in our own minds. For this woman, my not being asked on a date was an issue that could be solved by me being more “out there.” Did she ask me what I did daily? No. Did she ask if I was bothered by not dating? No. Did she ask if I wanted to meet a lawyer? No. Did she ask… anything? No! She just offered her solution to my problem she created.
Now, I know everyone hasn’t been trained in Motivational Interviewing (MI). I understand, that not everyone has the gift of active listening or counseling. I know all that. But what I don’t understand is why would those who are deficient in such skills, go looking for something to solve. See, it would be different if I was complaining about not dating. I wasn’t. I promise you, I wasn’t! We were talking about health matters one minute, then… “Do you date?”
I sat down to write this to discuss words or phrases trigger me. Now, if these are truly trigger words, then what previous emotional event are they triggering? While I can’t think of a single event, I can recall may times when others have offered me advice that wasn’t asked for. Specifically, advice and opinions about the “problem” of my singleness.
“You don’t go anywhere. Only church, work and home.” “Maybe you should grow your hair long.” “Maybe you should date outside your race.” “Maybe, you should try on-line dating.” “…speed dating.” “What if you lose weight.” “…wear tighter clothes.”
I wonder if anyone, including me, has considered, I was just meant to be single. Single and okay! Maybe, the next time someone brings up the subject, I will tell them, “What you need to do is mind your own business!”