How’s the love life? Been on any dates lately? When are you going to settle down and find yourself a nice man? And the simplest and most hated of them all: Have you met someone yet?
These are the questions I was asked on a regular basis in my life before COVID-19. But since lockdown went into force in the UK, prohibiting meeting anyone from outside our households, that infuriating last question and its accomplices have been notably absent from conversations.
As someone who’s been single for over a decade, I have spent the last 10 years fielding questions about my relationship status. I understand the appeal of asking someone about their love life — it’s a go-to conversation topic that you can pluck out in awkward silences and conversational lulls. In instances like that, where it’s simply a chat-filler, I don’t really mind being asked. But, when the tiny but powerful word “yet” is tagged on to the end of questions like “have you met someone” it carries a far less innocuous message. The assumption being made is that because I am single, I must surely be seeking a partner to put me out of my misery. This couldn’t be further from my own lived experience.
During the two months since lockdown began in the UK, I haven’t been asked once about my love life.
During the two months since lockdown began in the UK, I haven’t been asked once about my love life. Gone are the days of other people projecting their own expectations onto me — albeit temporarily. This momentary respite from the societally imposed pressure to couple up has been liberating. So liberating, in fact, that I believe we should leave these archaic questions behind once and for all.
I’ve come to expect these types of questions from family friends, older relatives. Last year, while dressed head-to-toe in black at a funeral, a relative asked me if I’d “found a man yet” and then followed up with a simple “are you not married yet?” That question, it occurred to me, was purely rhetorical. I was demonstrably not married and if I had been, that family member would have known about it. Stating the obvious only served to reinforce the perception that I was deficient in my absence of a partner, and to pressure me to do something about the apparent gaping chasm that existed in my life.
When I get questions like these from close friends, and people from the same generation as me, I find it even harder to digest. The thing that bothers me the most, however, isn’t so much the question itself, but the underlying commentary lurking behind it. The real subtext seemed to suggest one thing: How could I possibly be happy alone?
The real majority
The reality is, as a single 31-year-old woman, I am far from alone — I’m in the majority. According to the Office for National Statistics, heterosexual people who are married by age 30 are now in the minority in England and Wales. To put that figure into context, 91 percent of women were married by the age of 30 in the mid-1970s. In the U.S., 2009 marked the very first year in American history that the number of single women outnumbered married women. Statistically speaking, my lack of partner does not make me unique at this moment in history — so why am I still getting cross-examined about it?
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed all our lives. In the UK, the lockdown restrictions ordered everyone to stay in their homes, and prohibited visiting or seeing anyone outside of your own household. For single people, dating changed overnight. In-person meet-ups were replaced with virtual dates, sex with people outside our households became out of the question, and meeting anyone that you didn’t live was against the rules. With those dramatic changes came an almighty halt to the asking of that constant question, “Have you met someone yet?” But in a time when meeting someone, anyone, even our own grandparents is against the rules, the answer for everyone is, of course, absolutely not.
I’m not alone in noticing this absence of questions. Francesca Specter, host of the Alonement podcast, told me she’s enjoying the lacuna of love-related queries. “For the most part this time has been a nice break from dating, and all those dodgy questions about whether you’re dating or if you’ve ‘found someone,'” she said. Nicola Slawson, creator of the Single Supplement newsletter, told me during an IGTV chat that she’s not being asked the “dreaded question” of “how’s your love life?” in this time. “I’m finding that I’m getting it less right now because there’s nothing we can do about it,” Slawson said. Not everyone is getting the relief they need from remarks about their singledom. I spoke to three single people who told me they’re receiving comments like “you have to get out there when lockdown is over,” or “how are you finding lockdown alone,” and even “if you had just gotten married.”
The lockdown has prompted a hiatus on questions about my relationship status. For the first time in a decade, this dearth of questions has given me a blissful taste of how it feels to not have a running commentary about my lack of partner. I have found it liberating to be able to speak to people without having to justify the absence of a boyfriend or husband in my life. But, as lockdown restrictions begin to lift, I wonder how much longer this free pass will last.
Enough with the questions — and that goes for everyone
Single people aren’t alone in being inundated with questions about their relationship status and long-term plans. Journalist and author Kate Leaver wrote about her experience of being in a long-term relationship penned a piece for Refinery29 imploring people to stop asking her when she plans to get married. “When you’re a lady human of a certain age, you start getting interrogated about when you’ll get hitched,” wrote Leaver. “If you’re in a committed, long-term relationship with a special someone, your family and friends give themselves ample permission to quiz you on your nuptial plans, whether you have any or not. ‘When are you going to put a ring on it?’ they’ll ask your partner. ‘You’re next,’ they’ll whisper, with a wink, when someone else walks down the aisle.”
Married people aren’t immune from questions either. Childless couples are often asked similar questions about their plans to start a family — something that’s insensitive to people experiencing fertility issues, and highly presumptuous that all couples want children. As journalist Poorna Bell explained in Mashable’s History Becomes Her podcast, widows and widowers are asked deeply insensitive questions about when they’ll “move on” and find a new partner.
When lockdown eventually lifts, let us leave with a greater amount of compassion…
When lockdown eventually lifts, let us leave with a greater amount of compassion for the people in our lives, and those we’ve yet to encounter. Rather than going “back to normal,” why not strive for a kinder way of navigating our interactions, relationships, and lives. That starts with exercising caution around questions to do with people’s relationship status and their life plans. What might seem like a simple, straightforward question to some, could be a topic that’s marred with pain and upset.
All these questions pertain to other people projecting their ideas and expectations onto your own life. But what’s a dream-come-true for one person might be someone else’s worst nightmare. How we envisage our life unfolding is actually deeply personal. What might seem like a harmless question could be a deeply upsetting and traumatic topic for someone. Unless the individual volunteers that information to you, my advice is to steer well clear — even if your intentions come from a place of kindness.
To me, being asked when I plan to couple up underlines the fact that people still see the relationship as the default human condition. In reality, though, single people are not always looking to change their relationship status. Being alone doesn’t mean “looking for love.” Some of us are blissfully happy on our own.
Let’s leave these questions behind in our pre-lockdown lives.