Relationships on a year abroad & why we don’t need them

Our life experiences shouldn’t be defined or validated by love

Iona Cleave details her frustration with constantly being asked about her relationship status.

When I arrived back in England from my first semester abroad at Queens, I was full of excitement and stories of my time here. However, I quickly found that few people really wanted to know what it was like, beyond love-life-related dinnertime chatter.

My time here had been so wildly different to anything at home that it seemed too daunting for my family and friends to try to understand my new existence in far away, unknown Kingston.

The questions I was asked over and over again centred around finding a significant other—not around my personal experiences. I was beyond frustrated to realize that my answers seemed to form the basis for judgment about how good my experience in Canada really was.

I was constantly greeted with not-so-subtle questions such as, “Have you met somebody?”, “Seeing anyone?”, or “Any Canadian boys we should know about?” Perhaps this is because these questions are familiar ground for many, and an easy point of relatability.

I’m sure all of us know how it feels to be asked these dreaded questions, whether you’re on a year abroad or not. Everyone can understand relationships, and we’re all innately nosey, which speaks to why my experience isn’t necessarily unique.   

I usually tolerate these questions, answer dryly, and move on—whether I’m single or dating someone. Yet, this past winter break, something changed. I’ve steadily been growing more vexed with and drained by this line of questioning and its prevalence in my life, to the point that I felt the need to sit down and write about it.

Many of my female friends regularly face the same tiring questions, regardless of whether they’ve travelled abroad for school. At first, it didn’t bother me to be asked if I’ve found romance. I guess it’s a common question to ask someone, especially when faced with the unnerving prospect of small talk.

We’re all sadly guilty of perpetuating this line of questioning. In a slightly narcissistic way, we’re also sometimes guilty of the shallow sense of satisfaction we get if we’re able to answer, “Yes, I’m dating someone.”

It’s almost as if you’ve reached the peak of your existence based purely on the fact you’ve found a romantic partner—but to hell with this notion.

It’s wrong that we validate ourselves and others based on whether another human is interested in us. It’s wrong that we’re made to feel like we’re missing out on something, or somehow not complete, if we’re single, happily or not.

It’s a recurring issue, and I don’t have the answer as to why it’s so pervasive.

Maybe it’s social conditioning that teaches us that dating someone is just as important as doing well in school and having friends. Or, maybe, it’s the patriarchy interfering further in our lives, teaching heterosexual women that they need a man to be happy and complete.

Both of these forces are equally powerful in shaping our views of success as we muddle through our early 20s. The sad truth is that, whilst women’s experiences often get defined by their relationship status, I don’t hear my male contemporaries being asked the same questions.

They’re mostly asked about academic achievements, friends, and experiences instead. And funnily enough, it’s my female friends who are most desperate to find out who I’m seeing rather than what else I’m doing with my life.

So, while it may be a phenomenon faced mostly by women, we all help to uphold and perpetuate it.

I hope that we can change this, but there’s a chance it’s too deeply ingrained in all of us. We could blindly ignore it, and stumble through years of feeling inadequate without a romantic partner—or we could confront these feelings and be empowered in acknowledging that they’re based in outdated, ridiculous gender norms.

On a personal note, I started writing this article while seeing someone, and now I’m not.

This definitely put things into perspective for me, reaffirming what I’ve always known but have often forgotten: scrap your partner if they don’t make you happy. You deserve to do so much better than settle. Don’t let anyone convince you that you need them.

My year abroad isn’t now any less special and shouldn’t be any less valid in others’ minds based on my love life (or lack thereof). We grow and learn with every relationship and their ends, and that’s all part of growing up.

There’s so more to life than relationships, and whether you’re in one or not shouldn’t define your success or experiences to others. It definitely doesn’t to me.

Let’s end the pointless mantra that life isn’t complete without having a romantic partner, and let’s stop letting others make us feel as if that’s true. It’s more than alright to be alone, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it.

It may be cuffing season, but I’m so glad I’m no longer cuffed. Ladies, it’s time to focus your energy on yourselves and not depend on anyone else for happiness.

So, the next time someone asks me that same, painfully boring question about my dating status—I will respond that me, myself and I are perfectly fine.

Iona Cleave is a third-year Geography student.

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