The ‘Missing Boyfriend’

For me ‘getting a boyfriend’ is up there with ‘travelling in East Europe/Central Asia/Siberia’ among my priorities. I am sure having a boyfriend could be a rewarding experience. I also think it could be a boring experience, or a frustrating experience, or worse. Likewise, I think travelling in Eastern Europe/Central Asia/Siberia could be rewarding, boring, or frustrating. I just might some day have a boyfriend, or travel in Eastern Europe/Central Asia/Siberia … yet if I never make it to Eastern Europe/Central Asia/Siberia, or get a boyfriend, I think that’s OK.

And quite frankly, given a choice between ‘boyfriend’ and ‘travelling around Eastern Europe/Central Asia/Siberia’, everything else being equal, I would probably choose travelling.

In other words, my life is complete without a boyfriend.

Yet in some people’s minds, there is a hole in my life which my (non-existent) boyfriend should fill (I say ‘boyfriend’ because most of these people have hetero-normative mindsets).

One taxi-driver asked if my companion was my boyfriend and I answered ‘HE’S MY UNCLE!’ (in Mandarin of course). I then asked why the fuck his first thought that he was my boyfriend. He answered that some people prefer older men (my uncle is more than twice my age, and he looks like he is twice my age) and that most people don’t go travelling with their uncles (but surely some people go travelling with their fathers – some people have mistaken my uncle for my father, which does make sense to me).

I get this reaction a lot from Taiwanese people – ‘where is your boyfriend?’ – particularly lately since I’ve been travelling more (people who already know me don’t have to ask me again). They say ‘but you’re so pretty – you must have a boyfriend’. While physical beauty is relevant to the ease of getting a boyfriend, it is irrelevant to whether or not I am interested in getting a boyfriend. So when Taiwanese people say this, the implicit assumption is that every young woman wants a boyfriend, and the only reason not to have one is that it is hard for her to get a good one. That, my friends, is sexual-normativity (of a very narrow kind at that – it excludes casual sex, polyamoury, etc).

Though I have been talking about Taiwanese, I get the same feeling from my fellow Americans too. Taiwanese are much more direct about talking about this particular subject, which makes it easier to get clear examples to blog about. But Americans have a way of dropping hints which show what they are thinking without actually having to come out and say it (or maybe the Taiwanese are only direct with me, an outsider, and would be more subtle among one of their own – I don’t know).

This might pressure some people into getting a boyfriend. However, to me, it makes the idea of having a boyfriend feel more insipid. I’d probably be more interested in getting a boyfriend if it weren’t so normed up.


2 thoughts on “The ‘Missing Boyfriend’

  1. I’ve sometimes felt similar pressures. People tell me I should go to a bar with them and meet some girls, and when I tell them that I’m not terribly interested or that I’ve got other things to do which I consider to be more valuable, they assume that something is wrong. It seems like a common human idea: we are shocked that other people don’t have the same preferences that we do. Spanish friends are amazed that I like peanut butter (because they don’t like it), Chinese friends are amazed that I see my family so infrequently (because they value seeing family often), and American friends are amazed that I can survive and speak the language in a different country (because they see it as something which is difficult). Even I find myself occasionally amazed that other people have different preferences.

    I’m not completely sure why people assume that everyone without a partner is in need of a partner, but I suspect that it is due to one of two reasons. Perhaps they are projecting their own insecurities (and there are plenty of people who feel like a more full person when they are a part of a stable relationship), or perhaps it is just the effects of socialization in a culture that values couples more than single people.

    As for Taiwanese being more direct, it is possible that finding a partner is just more important in that culture. I know that in mainland China lots of young girls are under intense pressure to find a boyfriend, get married, and ‘produce’ children as soon as they are out of school. Maybe the influences of a traditional, family-focused mindset are more present in Taiwan than in the United States? (I know very little about Taiwan, so this is all just hypothesizing)

    • Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been rather distracted lately.

      I think in Taiwan having kids is super important (culturaly), and birth out of wedlock is still a potent taboo, ergo coupling is important. However, if you take kids out of the equation, coupling is less important in Taiwan than in the US in my opinion. Taiwanese people are also often much more direct about discussing things which are considered personal matters in the US (i.e. what is your salary?).

      The irony is that, even though the official government policy in Taiwan is to increase the birth rate, Taiwan manages to have a lower birth-rate than China (with its one-child policy) and Japan. As somebody put it, Taiwan is winning the no-babies race.

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