The tag “I have no boyfriend” has suddenly become wildly re-tweeted, coming out of nowhere to reach the top spot on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. As the original post from a (presumably) single young woman in Beijing demonstrates, these posts often start off with a sickly sweet scene with one’s significant other. To wit:
@草莓小姐她有一个梦：“Every day I get home very late. Sometimes I don’t even get home until two or three in the morning. But then my boyfriend comes to meet me when I get home; he’s willing to listen to me vent about everything that irks and stresses me out at work, and we go to the outdoor food market by the local college’s east gate to sit and eat some skewers. He grabs a handful and gives it to me – he’s not even afraid that I’ll gain weight.” #I have no boyfriend#
And just like that, the beautifully-painted romantic scene that seemed real enough to touch just a second ago dissolves into a sad, sad abyss of emptiness. No one to listen to the troubles at work, no food stalls, no skewers, no boyfriend.
Like some other Chinese memes that have made it big, the post was both humorous and able to capture something more fundamental, in this case the isolation felt by many Chinese netizens. As @爱上笨蛋的傻瓜儿 says, “#I have no boyfriend# – It’s true.” The post is remarkably similar to “Jia Junpeng your mom wants you to come home and eat”, which was posted in a World of Warcraft forum in 2009 and had 243,000 replies and 6 million hits by 9 PM the next day. As some commentators put it, the Jia Junpeng post resonated with people because of its whimsical nostalgia, and the way in which it juxtaposed thoughts of a simple childhood and a mother’s call with the fast-paced Internet age (the state-run China Daily begged to differ, calling it “a collective act of boredom”).
Indeed, when the daydreams disappear, the uneasy loneliness in both posts is what’s palpable and hilarious. Some posters have even explicitly tagged “This is in fact a tragic story” right before “I have no boyfriend.”
While some may see the posts as the trivial exercise of many teenage girls, at the core of the story is the increasing tension between work and family for women. In the past, media attention has focused on the single male problem since men outnumber women in China (As @泡芙先生不搓麻ggg says: “Keep on not having a boyfriend, so I can have a girlfriend”).
These days, women are also having increasing trouble finding a suitable partner. As The Economist explains, traditional Chinese culture dictates that women be the primary caregiver for husbands, children, and ageing parents, even while they are fully employed. Many women are putting their careers first, but then reach an age in which they are deemed “leftover women.” @小昭2012 captures the tradeoff well: “I’m so tired I want to sleep on your belly – #I have no boyfriend# – well alright, gotta keep working hard.”
But then again, as @小鬼爱吃饭团呀呀 says: “Haha, seeing everyone’s comments, I can’t help but think that this is actually a happy topic.”
Bonus section: additional meme highlights
@当时我就震惊了: My mac runs out of batteries in five hours, iPhone in half a day, iPad in one day. I only need to charge my boyfriend once to keep him active for a long time, which includes eating, drinking, strolling around town happily swiping his credit card, dancing, driving, and all sorts of other things. So who cares about having Apple, Louis Vuitton, Armani? The real use luxury product is having a good boyfriend. #I have no boyfriend#
@胡须姐是个有钱人: After work, I try to avoid interacting with anybody. I go and drive to get ready to go home, and I realize that a lot of my co-workers are gathered around the parking lot and my interest is piqued. When I get close, everyone separates to reveal him, carrying bunches of tulips, slowly turning around while grinning, offering me a velvet red box and getting on one knee. And he asks “will you marry me?” #I have no boyfriend#
@yamashitatomohisa: In the middle of night, I suddenly get hungry and I send a text to my boyfriend: “I’m really hungry.” He doesn’t reply at all, and I slowly drift off to sleep. After a while, he calls me and says “Come down, I bought you some food.” In fact this is a tragic story. #I have no boyfriend#