This blog post was borne out of the frequent needling from (usually) well-intentioned relatives that I and many of my friends have experienced: you probably know the question. I’m almost always inevitably asked “so, do you have a boyfriend?” at every family event, big or small, Christmas or birthday party. There are a few problems with asking this question, and I know people who react in all different ways when asked. Let’s take a look at some of the assumptions this question makes, and some of the problematic ideas it is based on.
1. First of all, what has made me bristle about this question in the past is the implication that having a boyfriend (in college, especially) is a goal for most women. Clearly, many people want to date and have romantic relationships at some point in their lives, but college is a time where you are learning and trying to figure out what you want to spend your life doing. Personally, I did not go to college with the specific goal of finding someone to date– when I first started, I was more worried about making female friends than striking up a relationship with someone. One of my good friends dreads being asked this question because she has never been in a relationship before, and she feels like she is disappointing her relatives or a failure of some sort when she responds that she is single. When people constantly have an expectation that you will be dating someone, and that if you aren’t, you absolutely want to be, you start to feel bad if you are not, even if you are perfectly or mostly content with your life. This kind of question inadvertantly adds to the 80’s fear that women over 30 are likelier to get killed by a terrorist than get married; in our early 20s we have many more things to worry about (like paying tuition and rent, finding work, passing classes, and staying sane) than settling down and getting married.
2. Secondly, this question has a lot of problems for someone who is not heterosexual or who does not identify with a specific sexual orientation. I don’t think much more needs to be said– but if you are someone who gets asked this question but is not interested in dating men, it could bring up a lot of feelings: exasperation, discomfort, anger. Heterosexual-identified people are not burdened with the business of “coming out” since hetersexuality is assumed; and we make a lot of assumptions when we asked someone if they are dating.
3. Then, when you do start to date someone, things change. When you start answering in the affirmative, the questions became “oh what does he do?” and things like that. And those are all really good questions to ask– but not as a conversation starter. I and women I know would rather be asked about our classes, our majors, our jobs, and our career plans first– these are the things that my life and the lives of many of my peers revolve around. Of course dating is a part of many people’s lives. But we live in a culture where women are expected to date men, and popular culture pits us against each other so men will take note. I know that men deal with these things too– dating pressures and the like. But there is a reason the term bachelor has mostly positive connotations and no equal term exists for women. Instead, we are left with spinster, old maid, and cat lady. Those labels are unrealistic and cut us down. I still sting when I think back on the Italian professor who asked me how many cats I would have after I answered that I didn’t want children. As women, our value does not lie in our wombs, in a marriage, and in someone else. A disservice is done to single mothers, women who choose not to date or not to marry, and women who are just content with being single when we value heterosexual relationships in this way.
This picture is inspiring, sure. But maybe for Mad Men, maybe for the 60’s. We do not need to dress for men, we do not need to live by men–lot’s of guys don’t want us to! Other people should not make us feel like we’re doing something wrong if we are single.