Dear Thelma: Catty colleagues are bullying me into getting a guy

"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.

Dear Thelma

I’m a 34-year-old office worker. I’ve been single my whole life.

It is not by choice, but simply because no man has ever courted me, and the men that I felt any attraction to are usually already in a relationship.

I have never pursued a guy actively before as well. I have no problem with this, other than feeling a slight embarrassment. So whenever I am asked, I simply say that, “I have dated before but I am single now.”

But as with any other single woman in her mid-30s, my colleagues always tease and pressure me about this, especially since I am the only single lady of my age in the office.

I am quite frustrated by their insinuations (and sometimes even direct remarks) about me being “picky”. There are even those who have told me that I’m not in a position to be choosy because of my physical appearance (plain looking and slightly overweight) and age.

I am aware that I’m lacking in terms of looks, and I’m not sorry for that, because beauty is not everything. I believe that I should let nature take its course in terms of my love life, however late that may be. But I’m tired of my “helpful” colleagues who seem to put the blame for my single status on me and that it is my fault for not trying harder (slim down, spend more money on my appearance, act more feminine, etc) and be less picky in order to catch a guy.

I have already told them many times that it is fine to be single, and I’m not losing any happiness over the lack of a husband and child. How else can I respond to my colleagues in such a way that I do not put them off? I still like to be friendly and social with them. – Single Office Lady

Dear Happily Single

My opinion is that your co-workers are a bunch of nasty bullying cats. You are happy with being single, and that’s a personal choice. They have no right to question you. But not only are they overstepping the boundaries of simple good manners by pestering you about your private life, they go on to criticise your looks. That is just plain abusive.

Sadly, office bullying is very common. In toxic corporate cultures, bullying takes a severe emotional toll. Victims can become depressed and anxious. Some become suicidal.

My advice would be this.

Don’t get sucked into these discussions. In your letter, you state the important fact first: you are happy and you don’t want their opinion. But then you go on to justify yourself. I’m guessing that this is exactly how the office conversations are too.

My dear, in real life, you cut them off straight away. There is no reason whatsoever for you to explain your life choices to anyone.

The next time they start on your personal choice, you say, “My private life is not up for discussion.” And if they have the cheek to talk about your personal looks, you say, “Your remarks are hurtful and I don’t want to hear them anymore.”

You sound like a very sweet lady, so you may feel a little embarrassment. We both know this is misplaced; it’s the nasty cats who should be ashamed of themselves. However, feelings can be very illogical, so I suggest that when you say this, you immediately get up and walk away.

Don’t stomp or storm. Just move away, cool and elegant, knowing that you have the high hand in this. Your co-workers will very quickly learn that you can’t be engaged, won’t be engaged.

I expect they’ll be angry that they can’t bully you anymore. But if you’re not there, they can throw their little tantrums and they won’t affect you.

This is easier said than done, so I suggest you practise this at home first. In therapy, that’s called modelling. Basically, you try it out, a bit like a theatre play rehearsal in a safe space. You do it over and over again, so that you can explore how it will go. Repetition means modelling will give you courage, too.

Also, I suggest you read up on how to boost your self-assertiveness, looking especially at books that address bullying. You’ve been suffering at the hands of these bullies so you might value a bit of a boost.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, you might google, “why is being single a stigma”. It’s a fascinating cultural phenomenon, one that is thankfully fading fast, but as you sound a very thoughtful and educated lady, I think you might be interested in the subject.

Good luck, and don’t let those nasty cats get you down!