MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to end the program today by standing in solidarity with single women who've had to navigate a minefield of unsolicited advice and insensitive questions this weekend - something that will likely continue through the holiday season. Questions such as, I can't believe you're still single. Have you tried volunteering? What about that online dating thing? And, worse, the implication that, for single women, the holidays are not something to be enjoyed but an ordeal to be survived.
Essayist Shani Silver has had it, people. She wrote a piece for Refinery29 called "Dear Single Women: This Holiday Season We Fight Back." She offers advice for how single women can make it through the holiday season with their happiness and self-esteem intact. And she's with us on the line now from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Shani, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
SHANI SILVER: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: And so you were telling me earlier - and, actually, you said in the piece that you've written a few of those how to survive essays yourself over the years.
SILVER: I have. And, you know, initially, I think that they were a big help to me and hopefully help to people that were reading them as well. But I think, after living in that mindset for a while, it's sort of worn out. And I think that there's way more to do over the holiday season as a single woman than simply brace yourself and survive the questions and the overly personal exposure of your private life that really doesn't happen once you become a partnered person.
MARTIN: Enough with the surviving, right? We're going for more than that, right?
MARTIN: But all the questions you've described sound really terrible. And, of course, you know, I'm wracking my mental Rolodex to see if I've actually said any of those things, and I'm really hoping I haven't. And if I did...
MARTIN: I apologize. But what would you identify as, like, the worst?
SILVER: I think the go-to question for most people that you haven't seen in a while is, so are you seeing anybody kind of question. That is just the immediate go-to that comes up every time. That one is the one that I have the hardest time pushing past because it's a very private thing to ask someone. And it's also not necessarily going to be the answer that the person who's asking the question is hoping to hear.
MARTIN: OK. But let's talk now about your strategy. Your essay is basically a call to arms, people. It's, like, fight back this year. What do you suggest women do?
SILVER: I think changing the conversation is really what I was trying to do with this piece and sort of use similar tactics that have been used on us in the past. And I give a couple of examples about, you know, common questions and common phrases that come at us and maybe what we could say instead. And, usually, that strategy in my mind - and, well, there is a lot of humor baked into this - but that strategy in my mind is sort of feeding that guilt back to the person who's been previously serving it to you.
MARTIN: So how do you steer the guilt into there to make it really effective?
SILVER: Oh, I love that part.
MARTIN: How do you amp the guilt up? Yeah (laughter).
MARTIN: I would say letting people know that they're definitely not being helpful even though that - they think they are being helpful. So turning the question around and letting them know, you know, the suggestions you're giving me, the questions you're asking me - I know you really mean well, but what you're actually doing is, you know, hurting my feelings (laughter), actually, and a little more detail letting them know that I've tried everything you're suggesting. I've tried more than everything you're suggesting. And if you really want to help, like, let's get into it. Let's really discuss how you can help me. Unless, of course, you don't actually want to help me.
And that's where the amazing guilt part comes in as you get to say to them, do you not want to help? Am I not, you know, somebody that you want to help out? Like, is this not a discussion you really wanted to get into at the table with the whole family watching - that kind of thing.
MARTIN: Oh, ouch. Yeah, that's pretty good. All right, let's turn up the burn a little bit. You know, Uncle Greg, when you - this is really horrible. Did somebody actually say this to you when you refer to my eggs as a product with an expiration date? Has somebody said to you, or...
SILVER: Not directly to me. But it is an anecdote with some truth in it. I'll say that.
MARTIN: Oh, my gosh. Well, so when you refer to my eggs as a product with an expiration date, that's an incredibly offensive way of letting me and all the women seated at this table know that you think women have nothing more to offer the world than childbearing. So how do we amp up the burn on this one?
SILVER: The way that I would approach that is just really being direct and saying, you know, tomorrow morning, I'm going to be cooking breakfast for the entire family, and I do hope that there's nothing wrong with your eggs...
SILVER: ...That sort of moment. A little bit of honesty, a little bit of feeding them with their own ingredients - that sort of message.
MARTIN: OK. And this one, I think, is probably a classic. Probably a lot of people have said this. And, again, if I have said this to anybody, I apologize - asking how dating is going. And you have...
MARTIN: ...A lot of suggestions for really bringing the honesty to this. So how is dating going? What do you say?
SILVER: Sure. So the realities of how dating is going is that what's actually happening most of the time is you're enduring a lot of ghosting. And if you've been married for the last 10 to 15 years, you won't know what ghosting is, mercifully. But ghosting is when you have met someone, you've gone on a date with someone, or you've gone on a good, you know, 20 dates with someone. And then, out of nowhere, they sort of vanish into thin air as if you've made them up in your mind. And that can sort of drive you a little bit insane.
And that question and telling the truth about that question is feeding that back to the person that's inquiring about it and making it a little bit more real for them and a little bit more honest for them. So what's happening is I'm going out on dates, and then I'm never hearing from people again.
MARTIN: And you finish with, but I'm so glad you asked about this publicly because another blow to my self-esteem was just what the doctor ordered. Did I answer your question?
SILVER: Yes - at the table.
MARTIN: At the table. Yeah. Thanks so much. Here's one of my favorites from back when I was single. I was going on a business trip and having somebody - a man - who'd sit next to me and say, oh, you know, are you married, or are you a single gal? And I'm, like, yeah. And? And he's, like, well, pretty busy with your career, huh?
SILVER: Oh, yeah. That's a gem.
MARTIN: And I said, what do you suggest I should be doing (laughter)?
SILVER: Yes, precisely. Because that's the go-to, right, when someone's single and over a certain age. They've clearly been spending too much time on their career and not enough time dating.
SILVER: That's typically an assumption but not necessarily true.
MARTIN: Is there anything that people could say to you that you would find helpful?
SILVER: I think just say, are you happy? What's making you happy right now? What's interesting to you right now? You know, what's sort of driving you or inspiring you right now? There's a lot of life that has nothing to do with being single when you're a single woman. And we would like to talk about all of that.
MARTIN: The writer Shani Silver is with us from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Shani, thank you so much for talking with us. And, once again, on behalf of all the insensitive partnered people, I apologize.
SILVER: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.