No, I don’t have a boyfriend. It’s the answer to a question I’m asked all too often. A fury rises up in me when I hear it, and today I’m taking the opportunity to voice that anger. As a lover of good conversation, this question frustrates me, it feels lazy and uncreative. This question holds dating as the most interesting thing a woman can be doing, which is completely untrue. As someone who has recently graduated from college and then started my own business, this question leaves gaping holes as to what my life is like currently. If I’m talking with you, I want to tell you how my business lights me up, how my clients are amazing people that I feel lucky to work with, or how the college I went to changed my life. It also can’t be ignored that all too often this question is asked by a straight man to other “women” or people who are perceived to be women by cisgendered* people, and it perpetuates harm. No person should have to out themselves or lie just to satisfy the curiosity of one person.
And with that, let's dive in.
Recently while visiting my hometown I ran into an old friend, who I’m very fond of. We got to chatting, and the usual banter among acquaintances ensued.
“What about you?” He asked, “Any boyfriend?”
“Nope” I replied. “I had a college sweetheart who I was with for almost four years, but we broke up after graduation”
Not the response he wanted
“Oh”, his face faltered. “I’m sorry”.
“Yeah, it’s okay, it was a great relationship and it ended mutually and with kindness, we just didn’t want to be together anymore” was my quick oversimplification of a grieving process too grotesque to detail to acquaintances.
In that conversation I felt a similar heat rise up in me that I’ve experienced for months, if that heat could talk, here’s what she would say:
“You’re talking to a woman fresh out of college and you want to know if I have a BOYFRIEND?! Surely, there are better things to ask me. Ask me what I majored in, and why. Ask me what professor influenced me the most. Ask me what friendships in college changed my life. Ask me where I’ve traveled since you’ve last seen me. Ask me how climate change impacts my view of life. Ask me what my hobbies are, what art I love if I like to dance or sing. Surely, there are better things to ask me, than if I have a boyfriend.”
This exact conversation happens to me all the time, with a variety of people. With my own family, to friends, acquaintances, and total strangers (the last is probably the most infuriating). Since I’ve been single this past year if I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to answer “no” to that question, and deal with the awkward consequences of a person not knowing what box to place me in, I could start a scholarship fund for other young, single women. It’s a question I’ve not had to grapple with before in my adult life, because I had always been able to answer ‘yes’ to it, and receive the affirmation from the general public that I was heading in an approved direction. Here’s the thing about this story, it’s not just this man who wants to locate me based on my relationship status. There have been endless people who have prying eyes and ears asking me if I have a boyfriend. From family and friends to strangers, we are programmed to ask women about their romantic life over other accomplishments.
Yes, I have been dating this year. But that is not the most interesting thing happening in my life by a landslide. Most of all, my career helping other women lights me up more than anything else in my life ever has. So why is it so hard for people in my life to grasp that? I made a list of 12 questions that you can ask instead of “do you have a boyfriend?” May they serve you well in your efforts to dismantle the patriarchy.
What's your biggest challenge in life right now? (note: wait for an answer, and then, don’t give advice, that's right, just listen!)
What's your favorite city?
What is something you know a surprising amount about?
What is the most fulfilling aspect of your life right now?
How are you doing? (note: genuinely mean it)
What makes you laugh the most?
What makes you a good friend?
Who do you consider to be an icon?
What is your favorite type of climate?
What is a place that has special meaning to you?
What is a recent accomplishment you’re proud of?
If you could enact a new law, what would it be and why?
Bonus round because that was way too easy:
13) What is the hardest thing you’ve gotten through?
14) What is your favorite thing about yourself?
15) What does friendship mean to you?
16) How has the ‘Me Too’ movement affected you?
17) What creative person influences you the most?
Instructions for listening:
Sit with the person and ask them a question
Be present and receptive to what they are saying
If asked something directly, answer truthfully, if not asked for your advice, don’t give it. (Especially if you occupy a different social status than your conversation partner)
Let them know you appreciate their thoughts
Taking the time to listen to another human being, and seeing them in their complexity is valuable. It’s a peacebuilding effort. It invites our humanity into a connection. It invites us to dismantle old systems that hurt everyone. Take action today, ask a woman you love an interesting question, I guarantee she has an interesting answer.
Note: *cisgender= of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth (Source: Merriam Webster ). Someone who aligns socially with their biological sex, someone who is not transgender, gender non conforming, or genderqueer.