If You Don’t Have A Boyfriend, You’re Nothing

As many women between the ages of birth and death can attest, there is a constant sort of buzzing around your head that, if you stop and listen to it, can actually be identified as the repeated question “How is your love life?” Well-wishers — everyone from the internet, to your overbearing mother, to your girlfriends over brunch — can be found lamenting and celebrating the various ups and downs of your relationship status. In many ways, whether or not you have “found someone” becomes the defining arc of your life. There is your pre-marriage phase, the marriage phase, and then possibly the divorce phase — which is always expected to be followed by the re-marriage phase. If you find yourself alone in old age with nothing but pets, even if you can look back proudly on a life very well-lived, you have failed.

There are few people who love love more than I do, I think. I find myself enamored with the concept of togetherness, monogamy, and teamwork throughout an entire life. If one can attain it happily and naturally, I think a life spent with a partner who loves and supports you unconditionally is a wonderful gift. If such a partnership results in tiny versions of yourselves, all the better. But I am also aware that my admiration for the coupled life is far from universal, and even to me, it is far from being the be-all end-all of life itself. I would much rather end up single, say, than gravely disappointed and regretful of the choices I made for my own life. And while I am currently in a long-term relationship (full disclosure), I find that the love we share in no way alleviates the struggle I have with myself — I am working on my own life, successes, and education just as much as when I was single for equally long periods of time.

And that is perhaps the most insidious part of the whole “Do you have a boyfriend?” culture, this idea that having one is going to magically replace all of the deficiencies in your being that you were unable to patch up yourself. We as women are considered perpetually on the route to finding someone, lest we find ourselves one day at the irretrievably unattractive door of middle-age, with no one around us to hold us during our “undesirable years” through some sort of binding obligation to stay with us. Apparently there are only a limited number of years in our twenties in which to lock someone in, and after that, we are doomed to a life of scraping the bottom of the barrel and being cripplingly jealous of our friends and sisters who were smarter than us and settled down. The marriage relationship is almost conveyed like a shoot-and-cage scenario in our society, women hiding behind trees with blow darts, waiting for a suitable man to walk by so she can shoot it into his neck, tranquilize him, and drag him back to her cave to be chained to her forever — a fate that he begrudgingly accepts as he resigns to a life already over in doughy middle-age.

Yet no matter how unenthusiastic and obligatory your relationship may be, it is fixing that part of you as a woman which must, must be longing for a man, and which fears, beyond all else, being alone. I can’t imagine a single woman in her early-to-mid twenties — an age at which we should be running around completely untethered by the concept of passing time, making mistakes and finding ourselves around every corner — not sometimes feeling that we are already reaching the prime years for finding someone, and that if we don’t do it now, our prospects will become unbelievably grim. We’ll find ourselves at 30, ready to settle down with anything that can write its own name and provide us children, we fearfully imagine. Even those of us who aren’t sure of our desire to settle down or have a family have the cold wind of societal pressure nipping at their heels, telling them that this is a decision that, once made, can never be reversed. No one will want you after your 20s.

There are few things more consistently depressing than watching interviews with established, blindingly intelligent and successful women, whose questions are often reduced to a mix of who they’re dating and where they see it going, if they’re not married. Being married is seen as a hurdle we all must pass in order to be taken seriously in the rest of our lives, something that, as soon as we get it over with, we can maybe become a whole person on our own. Until that point, we’re going to be in a perpetual state of explaining our relationship status and plans for the future. Who among us wasn’t endlessly frustrated with Sex and the City, a show in which four of the most objectively successful and diverse women in a city as cosmopolitan as Manhattan were only interested in discussing love lives, and didn’t consider themselves complete unless they achieved some version of it. We came of age watching this, and it seems perfectly natural and appropriate. “Yeah, sure, you run one of the most prominent art galleries in New York, but tell us about that guy who didn’t call you back!”

I find that, in so many of the things I read and watch that aim to “speak to me” as a woman or represent me in some way, the base assumption is that the thing I am most interested in hearing about or centering at the discussion of life is love and sex. That is what is supposed to titillate, excite, and drive me. Every interesting story has to have a romantic plot line, and every “lifestyle” blogger worth her salt has to weave salacious and passionate stories into her “boring” talk of culture, travel, and cuisine. There is this idea that, if the book isn’t pink with curlicue font and a cartoon woman riding off on the back of a scooter with a handsome, dashing man, I’m not going to pick it up from the shelf. I need a happy ending, I need there to be an element of escapist romance. And of course it’s nice to have those things sometimes, everyone loves a good love story. But is that really how I decide to consume my media? Is that really the ultimate expression of my person as a human being? Is Brad Pitt sweeping a woman off her feet going to save an otherwise terrible film?

The thing is, we all love love. In some form or another, it’s something we need to have in our lives to feel comforted, to share experiences, and to explore new perspectives. The love of friends, family, and even kind strangers may rarely be so exalted, but they are all important in our lives. And yes, we all have broken hearts and new infatuations and things we can describe and relate about; talking about these things is cathartic and makes us feel not so different and alienated from each other. But the problem is that we are often drowning in these stories, these expectations, these weddings which everyone else imagines make us envious and desirous of the exact same thing. Our happiness, our excitement, our wholeness as a person is often placed in the context of whether or not we’re with someone — and even when we are, “the next step” becomes the central item of interest. We are always reaching for something, moving up a ladder, climbing higher and higher to attain a perfect kind of matrimonial happiness that, regardless of whether or not we even want it, is the only thing that will make us real. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.


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  • H

    Sometimes you write the most vapid crap but THIS is fantastic!!! That might sound like a backhanded compliment but it’s really not.

    • http://gravatar.com/packlightly Ve

      Honestly agreed…I was blown away by how well-written and spot-on it was. Really great article.

  • C

    That was beautiful.

  • M

    Thanks for this! Couldn’t have said it better.

  • toast

    FYI women are still attractive in their 30s and 40s, i am a man

    • Kate

      What about in their 50s?!?

      • Maria

        I don’t think he meant it as an “NOT OVER 40s limit”, but more of “Over 20s” rather.

      • Kazz

        50’s too, i am a young man

  • http://www.itmakesmestronger.com/2012/06/if-you-don%e2%80%99t-have-a-boyfriend-you%e2%80%99re-nothing-2/ Only L<3Ve @ ItMakesMeStronger.com

    […] Thought Catalog » Love & Sex Add a comment […]

  • http://www.soysalsa.wordpress.com Patricia

    Oh my god! You have to watch the documentary film- Miss Representation. You hit on so many of the same points- how media always makes the stories of women complete by adding the love story and how we have to explain our relationship status constantly. I, for one, truly believe that a complete, fulfilling life requires so much more than a romantic relationship. Happiness has to be found and constructed in all different aspects of our lives… Anyway, great article.

  • Christina

    One of my coworkers always tells me that I have too much time on my hands when I tell her about new events, classes, things i’m up to. Then she follows up with a “we need to find you a husband” as if life and interests stop as soon as you find that special someone. Ohhhh, dependency issues.

  • DW

    “The marriage relationship is almost conveyed like a shoot-and-cage scenario in our society, women hiding behind trees with blow darts, waiting for a suitable man to walk by so she can shoot it into his neck, tranquilize him, and drag him back to her cave to be chained to her forever — a fate that he begrudgingly accepts”

    CF hitting it right on the head, as usual. Your writing makes it so obvious we are the same age.

  • Olga

    Chelsea, that’s the very thing I am thinking of almost every single day! I am only 23 and I want to get married and bla-bla-bla…but sometimes I think: is that really what I want RIGHT NOW? I mean I undoubtedly want this, need this and look for this…but is the timing good for me? Do I want it so badly know because I really want this..or only because the society tells me that I want this?

    • http://www.facebook.com/HeatherElys Heather MacDonald

      Im the same age and I used to think like that too but now since I’m recently single…I’m like..I have the rest of my life to live..no rush for marriage/settling down =)

  • HP

    Oh dear God, yes. I’m 27, and relatives have reminded me not-so-tactfully of my impending “expiration date” as a woman. Apparently, being 29 and single is a huge red flag for men. I’m told that it signifies to the world that if you went through your 20s and nothing managed to stick, you’re the problem.

    • http://gravatar.com/danaowens danaowensDana

      Ah Jesus, that’s exactly how I feel (at 27 as well). It’s not the frustratingly flightly and callous men I date, it’s me. =P

    • http://arielinwunderland.wordpress.com arielinwunderland

      Just because something sticks doesn’t mean it is a good relationship. I’ve had a couple long term relationships that could have “stuck” but I ended them. Maybe I would have had someone “stuck” to me but I would be miserable.

      My aunt met my uncle well into her 30s and they are awesome. My other aunt got divorced in her 60s and is still dating. I truly believe, if you are open to it, you will continue to meet people your whole life and shouldn’t let one get stuck to you unless they are truly awesome.

  • Ashley

    Once again Chelsea, you’ve written an amazing and unbelievably truthful article. Please write a book so that we can make sure you get on the bestseller’s list!! :)

  • http://gravatar.com/meirakli Meirakli

    Dang is it well written, well done

  • The Old Duke

    I have known many, many women at age 20 who would do anything not to be alone on Saturday night. I have know many, many women at age 35 who would do anything to have a night alone. I have to laugh at the idea of an “expiration date”; you’re talking as though guys in their twenties are finished products and ready for life.

  • PiratesLife4Me

    This was an amazingly written piece, and is definitely accurate. I agree that it’s ingrained into women early on that you’re a failure as a person if you haven’t landed a dude by a certain deadline. And yet it seems that it’s not the case for the opposite sex. A man can feel he has a successful, happy life from his job, hobbies, family, pretty much any aspect of his life, and no one’s going to nag him about being single with the possible exception of his stereotypical overbearing Jewish grandmother saying “we need to find you a nice girl”. I don’t think men have that pressure put on them that we do, and I don’t quite understand how that concept has survived the current development of a progressive, feminist society.

    • http://www.facebook.com/claire.wallett Claire Wallett

      ARG LADIES STOP STRESSING! That’s because men own it! You don’t see them moping around crying about how no-one will ever love them and how they’re a big fat failure and expired at 29! They go out and pursue their interests…and hey that’s the best way to meet someone who is likely to have something in common with you ;) We women are the ones who keep harping on about how you get to choose between being a wife or a cat-lady. Is that what it comes down to? The lesser of two evils? We’re creating our own problem. What’s so bad about being alone?? If that thought terrifies you chances are you are nowhere near ready to make a success of a relationship anyway. Being with someone should enhance the life you’ve built for yourself by being happy and confident in who you are. Men finding you attractive has nothing to do with your age, there is so much that goes into it. Happiness and confidence are the two most drop-dead attractive qualities in a person. Would you be interested in a guy that sits there complaining about how lonely and miserable they are without a relationship? What’s in it for you if it’s going to be your job to make them happy…which a relationship cannot do. Stop listening to these other girls! You decide what success means to you. The flip side of the coin is that these girls and friends of yours are jealous of what you’re doing so they guilt you into feeling like you should have done what they did…Get married in your early 20’s, probably settle wherever you are with the job you’ll have until the children arrive and spend the other 75% of your life working on your marriage. What a neat tidy package…and slightly boring. They see you girls who haven’t found anyone, because you’re too busy living and doing things you enjoy and having amazing career opportunities open up that you don’t have to “check” with your husband whether you can take or not, and also feel sad and like they’re missing out on something. I’m in no way saying that girls who get married are unfortunate or failed…I’m just saying the grass is always greener. I’m 25 and broke off an engagement last year. Best thing I could have done. I discovered myself, found a world of value in forging a career and have decided that there are far greater tragedies in this world than me not finding a boyfriend. The world is full of exciting wonderful places and adventures. Don’t miss out while you’re waiting in your local bar or on dating sites only looking for a small part of it. LIVE YOUR LIFE! You only get one!

      • PiratesLife4Me

        You don’t have to attack women for their actions. I pointed out that it is a pressure that’s put on us from outside sources. I happen to be in a happy relationship, but I’ve still seen this pressure occur and I still agree with the original article. You respond by saying that it’s my own fault this pressure is put on me, and men aren’t as stupid and whiny. You don’t have to be so argumentative to make your point, and I believe your point is just that you don’t have to have a man to feel complete. That point has already been made, but thank you.

  • Joyce

    Thank you. Truly. Thank, you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/summer.gillen Summer Gillen


  • Mumblecore Is Better than Jean Renoir

    This is very true. I think part of this also is that most people now are so vapid and directionless. Of COURSE they need to obsess over mate x/y/z because to be honest they really have nothing else of any importance to think about.

  • Heather

    I really needed to read this. Its a beautiful piece.

  • Anon.

    This. This so much.

  • Laura

    SO TRUE.

  • http://Thepostsocial.com Lauren

    WOW. You absolutely nailed it lady

  • http://twitter.com/missphotojock Suzy (@missphotojock)

    This piece resonated with me and I am 33 years old, single and perfectly happy with that. I would rather be single and happy than attached, miserable or settling. I’ve always been extremely independent and felt that, even when in a relationship, each person absolutely needs their own interests going on aside from being around the other person. The space in between relationships should allow one to further explore the interests they didn’t have time for, when attached, and also to process their last relationship and try for better the next time around. One shouldn’t feel bad about being single in or after their 20s..I shrug off the boyfriend/marriage questions with I am not even sure I believe in marriage and also, just haven’t found a guy who is my fit yet…

  • r

    i saw you and marc (?) and a bunch of your friends at chez gladine the other week. IM A CREEP but you guys are a really adorable couple.

    • http://twitter.com/Chelsea_Fagan Chelsea Fagan (@Chelsea_Fagan)


      oh god this is so creepy do i know you???

  • A

    i really didn’t care for this. my career was inspiring, my daughter was (still is) the joy of my life, and i have and always will fill my free time with painting and travelling. but i didn’t know what i was missing until i met my husband when i was 35. i THOUGHT i had it all, but i didn’t. love IS the absolute best thing in the world.

    • Alex

      You rather missed the point of this article didn’t you?

  • chachacharlie

    **Stands up clapping** Great article! I feel the same way. I haven’t found the right person yet. But I have had a ball enjoying myself being single. My life has been more fulfilling than the people I know in relationships. I try not to get caught up in those people who say that you’re not complete if someone doesn’t love you back. I would love to have the experience of being in love, but there are so many people in my life who LOVE me. I know there is not the least threat of them walking out on me or divorcing me. People will try to make you feel bad. Single people have it hard–we have to deal with a lot of pressure. We should be commended for being strong and confident in the midst of it all. I find the people in relationships and marriages are oftentimes the bitter ones because some either miss their freedom, they settled too soon, they never took time to know themselves, or it wasn’t as great as they were led to believe. Stay real people and be true to yourself whether you single or in a relationship.

    • JL

      Here here

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