Written by Astral-Anais Brown
Growing up, my family was a little too overly invested in my dating life. From the family friend who tried to set me up with her son for years, to my grandma asking me nearly every Sunday lunch if I had started ‘courting’ anybody yet. Their so-called harmless preoccupation with my romantic life was not only intrusive and insensitive, but it also encouraged me to view being single as some sort of defect.
During my teens years, I never engaged in dating culture. There were times when it felt isolating sitting on the sidelines of adolescent love and vicariously living through my friends’ experiences. At home, questions regarding my single status started to circulate my family dinner table. Whilst I remained perpetually single, my older brother was falling in and out of relationships like a revolving door, constantly shuffling up at our cramped dining-room table to make room for his plus-one. I spent a lot of my teen years having my dating life (or lack of), compared to those around me, leaving me with feelings of inadequacy and alienation from a world I didn’t feel welcome in.
Although it’s completely normal to express curiosity about someone’s love life, our families can often trespass into private territory. They tend to forget that although we may sit at the same table and eat from the same fridge, this doesn’t grant them exclusive access to personal information, such as someone’s love life or sexuality. The endless questioning and obsession with other people’s dating habits are when curiosity transforms into an invasion of privacy, and our so-called ‘good intentions’ actually have detrimental effects on those they’re intruding upon.
Society idolises romance, viewing it as the paramount form of love. It saturates all forms of media, with nearly every book, song and film conveying its message. Whilst romance is an incredible and powerful thing to portray, it often squeezes out other equally important forms of love and life experiences. These messages clawed their way into my home, encouraging my family to bombard me with invasive questions such as “have you found a boyfriend yet?” or “don’t you want to find someone?” Whilst they assured me that they only wanted me to be happy, they were inadvertently sending out the message that this could solely be achieved through romantic love.
I thought leaving home for university would reduce some of the pressure placed upon me to find love, but it only increased their suspicions surrounding my sexuality and lack of dating habits. It didn’t matter that I had spent three years curating friendships with girls who held my hair back over a toilet bowl, who held me when I cried without asking them to be there, and who held my hand when I didn’t even realise I needed it. It wasn’t enough that I exceeded my predicted grades and was accepted into an esteemed university. It didn’t seem to matter that I achieved a First Class Honours in my dissertation once I graduated, or that I was accepted to study for a master’s degree at another great university. All of my achievements were drowned out by my inability to find romantic love, despite me not seeking it out in the first place.
In their eyes, I would always be reduced down to whomever I was romantically attached to, and for a long time, I believed that I would never lead a happy and fulfilling life until that was achieved. Not only were their comments extremely heteronormative, but they failed to understand that being single is a choice that I actively made, in the same way that most people consciously decide to no longer be. They projected their fear of singlehood onto me, making it feel like I could have brought home an emotionally unavailable boy who ignored my texts and had a long list of ‘psycho’ ex-girlfriends, as long as I brought my own plus-one to the dinner table.
The endless stream of questions and the pitying of my single status left me feeling anxious and at times, like a failure. Like there was something wrong with me for being single because naturally, that must equate with being lonely and miserable. The pressure they placed upon me transformed something that should be fun and empowering into something daunting and draining, actually driving me further away from love and relationships. It took me a long time to shift my perspective towards dating and being on my own.
Looking back, I realised that all of those teenage years spent being single was a crucial part of my development, helping me build the most significant and prevailing relationship of them all: the one I have with myself. Nobody should be subjected to the pressures and unfair judgements that my family made about me in regards to my sexuality and dating, particularly not at such a young and impressionable age. It is important to remember that it should be your choice whether you choose to date or not, but there is so much more to life than romance and finding someone, despite what society wants us to believe. Love doesn’t have to be a family affair, it just has to be supported.
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