I was sitting across the kitchen table from my dad, spending a rare night out of the city to visit my parents, when he nudged some food across his plate with his fork and cleared his throat.
"So, have you been on any dates recently?" He let his voice trail for a moment before he continued, "Any guys... any girls?"
I knew exactly what he was insinuating from the way he hung on the last word of his question. I was so surprised that I choked on my food and started to cough violently; all the while, I stared back at him through teary eyes as my mom looked back at us both in silent confusion.
"Dad, you realize the fact that I'm 23 years old and have been single for a while doesn't automatically qualify me as a lesbian, right?"
I watched his face contort with discomfort. Bless his heart for being the loving, supportive and open-minded soul that he is on sexual orientation, but this was the third time in less than a month he had suggested I might be a lesbian because I was 'still' single.
Perhaps it was because I went on a trip to Mexico in April with a group of lesbian friends, or because I hadn't dated anyone seriously for two and a half years now. Whatever it was, my Dad seemed to be genuinely perplexed by it.
Here's the thing though: he isn't the only one. I don't know what it is, but there is still a mindset that exists in our dating culture that most women are looking to be in a relationship, on some level.
Sure, we talk endlessly about hook-up culture and how casual dating has become. I've basically become a self-proclaimed real-life version of Will Smith in Hitch through means of writing about this stuff. But within that culture, there seems to be an assumption that people (women especially, I think) are inherently uncomfortable with being single for 'too long'.
That girl who's been single for three years? She must really want to be in a relationship. She must be lonely. Can she not get dates? Guys must never want to date her. Why is that?
These are the subconscious thoughts that we often find ourselves associating with a prolonged single status. People assume we are casualties of a commitment-phobic culture, unable to nail down the elusive relationship-oriented man in a sea of hook-ups and one night stands. Right?
No. Give me a break.
Don't get me wrong. I am fascinated by hook-up culture and I constantly preach the importance of sticking to your emotional guns on what you want and need in the relationships you keep. That said, I also know there is nothing unusual or 'wrong' with being alone in your early twenties.
And you know what? I'm sick of being asked why.
Sometimes I genuinely think my parents need to be reminded that I don't spend my nights sobbing incoherently into a tub of Ben and Jerry's while watching a rom-com on Netflix. And I haven't committed to a life path involving too many cats and 'dying alone', either.
The truth is, I'm totally okay. In fact, I feel pretty great about where I am at in my life right now.
Really, with only a few exceptions, all of my single friends feel good right now as well. And we certainly aren't spending afternoons gazing out of our office windows, daydreaming about the guy (or girl) who will swoop in and end our term as single women.
As I've said before, being single isn't a sentence that you have to serve. It's not meant to be an uncomfortable purgatory. It's an independent state of being that allows you to explore yourself in a singular, limitless sense until you meet someone that inspires you to make that shift into a state of partnership.
Being single for a while also doesn't mean we aren't dating. It doesn't mean we aren't getting laid. It doesn't mean we are a nightmare to date. It doesn't mean we are emotionally unavailable or damaged. It doesn't mean we are promiscuous, or unappealing to potential suitors. And it doesn't mean we are too independent and career-oriented. It also doesn't mean we are bitter. In my case, dad, I am still, in fact, straight.
So here's to the concerned parents and friends, the speculating family members at Christmas, the curious date companions or the candid hook-ups. You don't really need to ask why we're single. Don't make assumptions, don't feel concerned, and don't rack your brains for new blind date suggestions or download Tinder onto our phone when we aren't looking.
Instead, maybe trust that we are navigating this culture for ourselves and pursuing (or not pursuing) connections as we see fit. If we are lonely, going through something, or uncomfortable with our current status or situation, we may choose to discuss those feelings with you.
But in the meantime, it might not be so unreasonable to assume we are just badass single people having fun exploring our lives and ourselves. When we want to enter a non-single phase of our lives, we'll do it.