The most frequently asked question at our family gatherings, besides ‘Are you going to eat that?’ is ‘Do you have a boyfriend yet?’
At first my jokes of ‘yes, of course, he’s right here’ whilst gesturing to my cardboard cut-out of Benedict Cumberbatch, prompted laughter amongst the family. After two years, Benedict is starting to look dog-eared and I, through the pitying eyes of my relatives, start to look more and more like Annie Wilkes from Misery.
This question of partnership soon stopped confining itself to family affairs and began to take priority in any context. Upon telling people that I had got a job teaching the army how to snowboard in Austria, the first response was “oo you might find yourself a handsome army man.”
When I announced that I was going back to university to do an MA, the excitement was more about the prospect of me meeting a nice chap rather than the course details. A group of young adults could be in a war room, discussing matters of a global impact and the conversation would be put on hold to discuss my love life.
“Have you got the atomic bomb ready Daisy?”
“Yes. Did you hear that Rhian got a match on Tinder?”
“Pause that countdown right now. Tell me everything.”
Such questions shouldn’t alarm me. 80% of the people I know within my age bracket are engaged, married, having children and/or buying houses with their long-term partners whilst I sit at home on a Friday night doing an online quiz to find out what type of cheese I am.
For the most part, I get a sense of empowerment out of being single. An independence and confidence of self. And no one to judge me when I get yoghurt down my front after trying to drink it straight from the pot.
And yet, the engulfment of these happy couples in my day to day life and the constant questioning about my singlehood do sometimes chip away at me until I have a minor break down. One of my personal, cliche’d highlights involved crying during the movie ‘How to Be Single’.
Being a hopeless romantic due to a love of Shakespeare made me think that I was above modern dating methods. Tinder certainly wasn’t for me. Two G&Ts and some peer pressure later and I had downloaded the dating app. My Tinder experience lasted four days. Because I met the love of my life and lived happily ever after. That didn’t happen.
I maxed out the distance and after ninety-six hours of obsessive swiping Tinder informed me that it had run out of suitors. In the one-hundred miles, the app covered I got matched with Lenard and spent a romantic evening correcting his grammar before he dumped me. It was probably for the best.
By this point, Tinder had transformed me into Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Obsessive and devoid of vitamin C and I don’t ever recall him getting a date.
A friend of mine suggested setting me up on a blind date with someone she knew. A risky plan on the Isle of Man as most males will either be ex-boyfriends, ex-boyfriends of your friends, relatives or registered criminals.
But my mother’s motivating words of “beggars can’t be choosers” persuaded me otherwise. As I sat in the car waiting to meet this mystery chap, wondering if he was going to turn out to be my cousin, my nerves threatened to reunite me with my lunch. Then I saw him. And my nerves evaporated. Because he bore a little too strong a resemblance to Jabba the Hutt for my liking.
I found myself becoming unhealthily attached to literary and movie characters. Particularly Peeta from The Hunger Games and Sam Neil from Jurassic Park. Then one day I got to wondering about where this pressure to be in a relationship comes from.
Why is it a social norm for single folk, both female and male, in their late twenties to be regarded as the lepers of society and looked upon with pity? To become the human equivalent of Oxfam as your friends donate their boyfriend’s cousin’s best mate’s window cleaner who will be just “perfect for you”. Perfect because he is male and not dead.
Why is this the focal point, particularly amongst female friendship groups, above careers, travelling, passions, being content in being in your own company?
Despite the impact of feminism and evolution of the independent woman, social stereotypes still often dictate that a woman’s primary aim in life is to find themselves a husband or long-term partner. And that one mustn’t be completely happy if that is not achieved.
A friend of mine, a strongly independent, career driven, house owning, 1950s poster girl looking lady, recently went on a night out and was brought to tears by her own friendship circle by their relentless inquisition about her relationship status.
Why had she been single for so long? What was she doing about it? Why wasn’t this her top priority? Has she tried internet dating? Has she considered divorced men with foot fetishes? Has she considered sacrificing a house pet to Aphrodite? She confided in me, over a restorative cup of tea, that she didn’t know why she got upset because in a non-alcohol infused state she isn’t even looking for romance.
Her take on the ordeal was that it was a great example of the social pressures put on people, women in particular, to be ‘normal’.
Certainly, men can and do face similar issues and the reality of bachelorhood can be far less glamorous than that of the early years of George Clooney. Though it is more socially acceptable for men to be a bachelor focussing on their career, if you’re not in a relationship by forty it is assumed that you must secretly be gay. Family members then make it their mission to gently coax you out of the closet by asking if you’d like to go and see Dreamgirls Live on Tour at the weekend with Auntie Maureen and the Weightwatchers gang.
Perhaps this pressure for companionship so early on partly comes down to a primaeval concern with our biology. The need to reproduce and continue our species before our ‘body clock runs out’ to the chirpy tune from Countdown accompanied by Carol Vorderman totting up how many kids you can have in the time you’ve got left.
However, once a boyfriend is acquired you are then condemned to facing the Spanish Inquisition about each stage of the relationship; “when are you moving in together?” “when are you getting engaged?”, “when’s the wedding?”, “when are you having kids?”, “Have you got your matching headstones sorted yet? Paul and I have and they’re to die for!”
Don’t get me wrong, I personally believe Ewan McGregor got it right when he sang “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return”. If it’s right and you’re happy that’s all that matters. And by all means, if Benedict came knocking on my door, I would wade through my two hundred and seventy cats and elope before he could even acknowledge the chloroform-soaked cloth over his face. But in the grand scheme of things I just find myself wondering, ‘what’s the rush?’