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02 Dec 16

Through the Eyes of a Gen Y: Single in Serbia

Emma Krstic

Whether a neighbour, landlord, taxi driver, colleague, new friend, corner-store owner or fellow bus passenger, everyone wants to know your relationship status in Serbia – and “single” just doesn’t seem to cut it.

Photo: Flickr/Dan Masa.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked why I don’t have a Serbian boyfriend. At this point, it seems a genuine concern to people, many of whom seem to liken finding a partner to supermarket shopping in your local Maxi.

But this common query is starting to irk me, as there is an underlying current of “you need a man”. While Serbia is a modern country, it’s clear some patriarchal and traditional attitudes remain.

I first noticed it soon after moving to Belgrade a year ago when anyone over the age of 40 would sound shocked that I had relocated to Serbia as a single woman. “You don’t have a boyfriend/husband?” men and women alike would ask with consternation.

Ask other female friends of mine in their twenties and they’ll tell you that they also feel the pressure. One twenty-four-year-old friend is facing prodding from her mum to tie the knot with her boyfriend of two years, as apparently they’ve been together long enough and “he has a good job” as a cook. Another, a foreigner who moved to Belgrade as part of her masters’ programme, faced more overt coercion.

Her landlord used to call up every month to arrange rent collection and would also always ask if she’d found “a nice Serbian boyfriend” yet, which at times balanced on the line between chit chat and harassment. In the end he offered himself up as a possible candidate, telling her “it is normal for older men to have younger girlfriends here.” She was appalled.

In my own case, just about anyone I come across – whether friends, colleagues or cabbies – also apparently moonlight as matchmakers, all with someone in mind who I should be dating.

Others claim to be more concerned about linguistics as the reason why I particularly need to find a Serbian man, because apparently there’s no better inspiration to learn a language than love. Well, my Serbian definitely needs improving, but I don’t think even head-over-heels adoration would help me there.

The hasty approach to finding a partner in Serbia is also something I’m not used to. While my concept of dating means you might see someone for many months before you decide to ‘make it official’, here, two meetings is enough to say that you’re together.

Even when flirting, speed is apparently of the essence, with a Serbian man bluntly dropping the “are you single?” question into a conversation within 30 seconds of meeting, which determines if they stick around for a chat or not. No one is wasting any time.

With the importance of family so tightly woven into Serbian culture, this could explain a lot about the focus on finding a partner, which extends into many aspects of Serbia’s dating culture – from the onus put on always being immaculately presented to the speed at which things progress to serious. The pressure is undoubtedly also even more intense for women, when you throw in the biological clock as well.

But one retort that anyone questioning my relationship status can’t seem to answer sufficiently enough for me to accept as a valid reason to need a partner is: What’s wrong with being single?

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.

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