There are a few times conversational cues trigger involuntary apologies from everyone in the vicinity: the death of a family member, the news of a serious disease, and, for some reason, being single. Why are you apologizing? It's neither your fault that they're single, nor is it even a problem. "Single" is not synonymous with "depressed" or "lonely" or "celibate." But the worst thing you can do if someone says they're single? Tell them they should be dating more.
Actively dating is not a requirement of being single. It's a chore. Yeah, meeting new people can be fun, but it can also be stressful or boring. Prepping for a date means hours of anxiety beforehand, and honestly you'd probably have more fun going out with your friends. Not everyone wants to roll the dice with a new date every night, and that's chill.
To be clear, going through a breakup and being single are not the same thing. Breakups are rough, and people are allowed to mope about despondently after going through a horrible split. You can hug these people, and bring them ice cream. But single people—people who have not been in a relationship for some time—probably aren't spending their nights curled around a carton of Rocky Road, crying while hitting play on Dirty Dancing for the third time in a row. There's no government-funded organization polling people on the length of time they've been single and handing out a sweatpants, cats, and Netflix accounts to qualifying spinsters. No one is going to board up their windows and say goodbyeto this cruel, cruel world just because they haven't had a boyfriend for a year. Well, they might, but they can do whatever they want. They can focus on working out, or learning an instrument, or watching TV. That's the great thing about not dating: you answer to no one.
And another reason not to pity single-not-dating people: they aren't alone. They spend more time with their friends, and having close friends is often a better support system than having a romantic partner. Frantically dating makes people spend less time fostering the close relationships they have, and couples often drift away from friends and family as the relationship gets more intense. Maybe, just maybe, the single person you're talking to loves their friends and family, hates dating, and is getting plenty of ass from casual hookups, thank you very much.
Coupled people and serial daters act like not dating means you've given up. Like it means you're in a bad place. You know what's worse than singledom? Being in a relationship that doesn't work for you. To quote the late Robin Williams in World's Greatest Dad, "I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone." Not everyone wants to dump time and energy into Tinder meetups just so they can guarantee they'll have a plus one to a wedding. Not everyone wants to meet someone and "see where things go."
So the next time you're about to grab someone and give them a big hug when they casually mention that they're not seeing anyone, pause for a moment. Look at their face. Are they crying? Are tears streaming down their face while they blubber uncontrollably? Do they look like they haven't showered in days? If not, they're probably pretty happy spending their evenings with friends instead of pretending to be interested in your coworker's good-on-paper-but-boring-as-fuck son. Leave them alone.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.