By Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer
Small talk is a common part of life. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I frequently interact with and get to know the people around me. A recent small talk instance happened on my flight back to Texas after summer break with a lady sitting in the seat next to me — let’s call her Airplane Lady.
Airplane Lady asked me how I was and where I was going, to which I explained I’m a Baylor student studying journalism. What happened next was an all-too-frequent occurrence. Instead of asking how I enjoy the school or what I’m involved in or passionate about there, the next question she asked was, “Any boys in your life?” Upon answering no, her follow-up question was, “Why not?”
Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t have any problems with Airplane Lady. She was genuinely sweet and had good intentions, but her desire to know my relationship status and reasons for not dating, more than my interests or career goals (upon first meeting me) is reminiscent of a common narrative in today’s society in which young people are defined by their romantic interests or dating history.
Relationships don’t define who a person is. Your personality, interests and goals are far more indicative of your character than the last person you dated, and your conversations with others should reflect that. Having a significant other should only build upon who you already are and challenge you to grow to be the best version of yourself.
This narrative is especially common in media and pop culture. Characters are defined by their love interests and celebrities often defined by the famous singers and actresses they are connected to. This was especially obvious in an unfortunate headline I read a few weeks back after the death of rap legend Mac Miller: “Ariana Grande’s ex-boyfriend Mac Miller dies at age 26.”
I understand the draw of highlighting and featuring relationships, as they tell a story and often make for a more interesting plot or a juicier conversation. I personally have no problem answering questions about my relationship history, but the real conflict for me comes when my relationship history or choice to date or not date becomes the defining factor of a conversation about my life, or when I am pressured to explain these personal decisions to people within the first few minutes of a conversation.
This questioning is typically not meant to cause a negative effect and is usually asked with good intentions by unsuspecting relatives or acquaintances. However, I think it’s more important to ask people about what they’ve been passionate about, what they are interested in recently or what they are excited about for the future. By inquiring about these things first, you let who a person is define a conversation rather than their romantic relationship status.
In no instance should you feel pressured to answer “why?” in response to stating your relationship status as single or having a boyfriend or girlfriend. Your personal choice to date, work on yourself, get to know different people or other options is entirely up to you. Questioning these choices can often put people in a difficult or uncomfortable situation depending on the circumstances.
Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, but my conversations with friends and peers my age have led me to believe otherwise. From as early as age 8 or 9, I’ve been questioned and pressured about my relationship status or desire to have or not have a boyfriend — often by people I don’t talk to on a regular basis. Growing up, this led to a harmful narrative that I began to truly believe: my relationship status is a reflection of who I am as an individual.
Whether you’re a parent only allowing your child to attend a high school dance with a date, a friend pressuring a classmate to go out with someone or even a relative not realizing that relationship status is the first thing you ask someone about at Thanksgiving, just know that allowing a person’s romantic choices to define a conversation about their character can be harmful and perpetuates a dangerous narrative.
Asking questions about a person’s relationship status in and of itself is alright, as long as it doesn’t in any way pressure someone and isn’t the defining topic of a conversation. Next time you catch yourself wanting to ask someone why they don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend or feeling the need to criticize someone for their relationship, know that seemingly innocent remarks can lead to insecurities, self-doubt or a destructive mindset regarding the role of relationships in one’s life.