When did it become socially acceptable to critique others’ relationships?
In today’s society, we feel uncomfortable discussing the personal aspects of people’s lives, such as race, religion, weight or salary. Yet when it comes to relationships, more and more discussions seem to be cropping up, usually camouflaged in polite conversation and almost always to an unrelated third party.
Perhaps I’m hearing it more lately because the holiday season seems to highlight couples (have you ever seen a Hallmark Christmas movie?), which implicitly emphasizes the apparent loneliness of single people.
Whatever the reason, I hear it all the time:
- “He’ll probably marry the first girl he dates.”
- “They’re engaged? They’ve only been dating X months/years; how well do they really know each other?”
- “If you marry your high-school boyfriend, you’re going to miss the chance to date all kinds of guys and see what your type is.”
I even read about a divorced man in the Dear Abby column who said he’d been told for every seven years he was married, he’d have to wait one year before he could date again. Who invented that?
If someone dates “too much,” they are criticized. If they date “too little,” they are criticized.
A friend of mine has been dating someone for more than a year. I’ve never met her, but because of some criticisms by two or three friends who have, I find myself inclined not to like her. This should be crazy – I’ve never met her! These are other people’s perceptions of her, perceptions that are based on brief interactions and could very well be invalid. Yet I feel I’ve been irreversibly swayed.
Simply mentioning that I’m returning to New Zealand has prompted strangers to ask, “Why? Did you meet someone there last time?”
I especially like the vagueness of that “someone” – as if I’m supposed to giggle giddily and think, “Oo, boy-talk code!” Usually I’m tempted to say, “Yes, lots of someones,” but I know what they’re implying. And even though they mean well, I find it slightly irking. I’m a single female moving abroad; therefore it must be for a man, or to find a man with a cool accent, yes? If I were a man, I bet the response would be more along the lines of, “Cool, what an adventure!”
Then today, this photo started circulating on Facebook via BuzzFeed:
And, like most people, I initially found it chuckle-worthy.
But then I read the comments, which were permeated with sentiments about how in a matter of years, two of these three women will be divorced; how the engaged women will soon be holding the gun to their heads; and how Gun Woman is the only intelligent one in the group (presumably because the other women are … excited for their engaged friends?).
These commenters are strangers to these women, yet they find nothing wrong with presuming to know about their love lives.
Yes, in your 20s sometimes it seems everyone else is in a relationship but you (preaching to the choir). But that doesn’t mean you have the right to judge other people’s happiness based on your opinion that the couple in question has been dating too long or not long enough, that the man is spending too much time with his friends or too whipped, that the woman is too clingy or too aloof, that either are too young or too unworldly. This is why aptly named “couples” consist of two people. And those two people are the best deciders of what happens in their relationship.
I feel I should clarify that I am not an all-knowing saint who has never done this. I have. But it was only recently that I started mulling over why I find this subject to be acceptable conversation. And thus a blog post was born.
I suppose one answer is that – regardless of how many relationships one has been in – this is a topic everyone has at least a half-baked opinion of, and one on which most people consider themselves an authority.
But here’s my thought: every relationship is different. Just because you dated for five years before you got married doesn’t meet the couple who got engaged after five months is doomed for divorce. X, Y and Z worked for your relationship? Fantastic! That doesn’t mean it should be universally applied to everyone else’s.
And, perhaps most importantly, if someone wants your advice (which, to be fair, is probably perfectly sound), they’ll ask for it.
I’m hoping this post doesn’t have an angry and/or bitter undertone. That’s not what I’m aiming for. I’m just laying this out here the way I see it (and I hate that Starbucks has coined that term, because I like saying it, and I hate Starbucks coffee). I’m curious to see what you, o valued readers, think.