“So, are you dating anyone?” It’s usually about the third question people ask you when you're single. Friends and family tend to wait for what they believe is a respectable amount of time after a breakup before bringing it up, but the question is always around the corner. Catching up quickly morphs from ‘how are you, really’ with tilted heads and scrunched up faces, to wide-eyed demands for wild dating anecdotes and requests to scroll through dating apps on your behalf. But for single people who aren't actively dating, the pressure to give the people what they want can weigh a bit heavy.
Though we’ve (arguably) evolved enough as a society to know that a person isn’t doomed to a life of unhappiness if they aren’t married before the age of 35, the reality of singledom is still relatively fraught. For every person that assumes your life is a montage of quirky dating stories and all-night benders, there are at least a dozen more who assume you spend your evenings crying over microwave meals.
For those of us sitting (comfortably) somewhere in between, we tend to find ourselves fielding a lot from our peers. The questions, the queries, the sympathy. Good lord, the sympathy. Friends in relationships either want to live vicariously through you, make it their mission to set you up with anyone they know who's a free agent — compatibility be damned — or, worse yet, they shy away from talking about relationships with you at all, assuming it's a sore point. Because everyone who's single must be heartbroken, right?
The common misconception is that there is more to being single than simply not being with someone.
People tend to project onto the lives of singles
I guess you can’t really blame folks for being curious about single people's love lives. I too have certainly been guilty of thinking I was living vicariously through my untethered friends, when really I was just projecting the rom-com ideal onto them like everyone else. After all, people's love lives are understandably fascinating. It’s the premise for about 80% of the shows and films we consume, makes up a huge part of social media use and is a multi-billion-dollar industry. The entertainment of it all is easy to see — romance is a messy part of life, ripe for drama and there's plenty to get stuck into for us voyeurs.
The common misconception is that there is more to being single than simply not being with someone. Perhaps this is demonstrated best in the questions we hear after we reveal we’re not currently dating. ‘Oh, so you’re just focusing on [insert either ‘work’ or ‘yourself’]'? A seemingly innocuous question, and yet, just as frustrating as being incessantly asked why you're not dating.
What people can easily forget is that being single can be shockingly unexciting, but it’s also not always a time that needs to be mined for opportunity.
"I always liken it to the part in movies where the protagonist buckles down and starts getting their shit together," says Janna, 32. "They'll start killing it at work and exercising and replacing their 'trashy' books with substantial ones. Cue the montage of them having dinners at their desk and watching out the window as their friends head out for a night on the town without them. But that's just Hollywood. In reality, I'm still seeing my friends and family, work is fine but not my whole world, and I'm not doing anything I wouldn't be were I to be in a relationship."
Particularly if you're one of the few singletons — or even the only one in your friendship group — there's an unspoken pressure to provide people with snapshots of a life well lived.
"Oh, I'm a writer so everyone thinks my life is Sex and the City," says Sonny, 29. "If it's not my family or settled-down friends trying to patronisingly remind me that I am a catch and I will find someone, then it's friends asking me how many dates I've been on that week. The answer is zero. It's always zero!"
"I'm on [dating] apps so I do go on the occasional date but I'm really just not interested in spending too much time with someone right now," Sonny says. "But when I say I went on a date, which is usually a lacklustre experience, people want you to spill every salacious detail, when there's really not much to say beyond it was a good or bad time."
Being single doesn't have to have meaning
On the other hand, if you're not dating, people in your life can tend to assume the reasons for that, or worse, ask for explanations.
"I've been wanting somebody for so long and wanting somebody to love for so long, but it's a real responsibility," he said. "You have to give this person your time. And I like to go missing for like a week to focus… not talk to anyone... And I'm more in love with what I'm doing than people.
"I feel I still want to hang out with guys every now and then... I don't want anything that's — not to be a whore or anything, but I don't want anything that's like, 'I need your time right now.'"
It’s a sentiment that many of us can relate to: coming out of a serious relationship and simply not being in the mindset to enter another. But why does the single label, more often than not, lead people to assume you're focusing on your career, or 'working on yourself'?
Though most of us have full-time jobs, an issue that faces single women in particular, is that we're often painted as having chosen ambition or our careers over our personal lives. As Sonny tells me, "I spend my weekends not thinking about work, going for hikes, catching up with friends and bingeing mindless TV shows. I'm definitely not climbing the corporate ladder any faster than my coupled-up colleagues, or reading self-help literature to work on myself, either. I don't really understand why there's this idea that I'm supposed to be working towards something bigger than just enjoying my life as it is."
Janna shares this sentiment. "I'm definitely not a 'career' person. And yet, if you’re not on a Hinge date every other week, people tend to assume it’s because you’ve got lots going on. And you might," she says. "But for me, I’m really just enjoying my time, the same as I would had I been in a relationship. Sure, there are things you miss about dating, and it’s not like everyone who isn’t dating has sworn off it altogether, but are we sitting around crying onto journal pages? Only sometimes."
Try not to single out your single friends
So, how are you supposed to be around your single friends if you are guilty of giving them the third degree? Absolutely normal. There's no use skirting around the topic, because that's not pleasant for anyone, but a little self-awareness never goes astray. Know that you’re probably not the only person asking about your single friend’s romantic endeavours, so try not to badger them too much, especially if they’ve previously shared that they’re aren't dating. And while you don't need to hide your happiness out of fear of 'rubbing it in', you also don't need to invite them to every couple-y thing you and your SO do.
A little self-awareness goes a long way.
It's time we take a look at how we approach the subject of singles' priorities. Or at the very least, accept that no one really needs to explain why they’re not dating. People are more than their relationship status, and that doesn't need to invite presumptions about what's wrong, or broken, or in the works. We don't need to be hungry for a date, a promotion, enlightenment, or anything in between.
I wish I could say it was because we singles were on a greater spiritual journey to rediscover ourselves but, for the most part, we're really not. Much like you folks that are in a relationship, we're just trying to get by in a very confusing world.