Last night I made a terrifying discovery.
I was eating my second pint of Ben & Jerry’s and looking at Instagram while watching Gilmore Girls (yes, I’m an amazing multi-tasker) when I noticed a pattern. (Cue the dramatic montage music.) Different accounts, belonging mostly to gay men and adolescent girls, showed photo after photo of them with their boyfriend or husbear. Everything appeared happy and normal until I noticed the mysterious label they all had in common, usually accompanied by a hashtag: #Taken.
Had they been abducted by aliens? Were they being held hostage and waiting for Liam Neeson to come save them? It was time to alert the authorities. You can imagine my relief when the 911 operator told me that “taken” is Internet shorthand for “in a relationship.”
Apparently it means they’re off the market. They’re a “we” now. They bought the dining room table, the decorative china, the matching salt and pepper shakers. They cook together and finish each other’s sandwiches.
At first I was relieved there had been no abductions, but then a different kind of unease started to creep in. Is “taken” really the best way to describe being in a relationship?
I get it. I understand. The Internet is a borderless, nuance-free world of endless abbreviations and acronyms that, appropriately enough, often make us sound like we’re talking in code. YOLO. LMAFO. SMH. I know it’s easier to write “taken” than it is to write a sentence like “I’m in a committed, long-term, dog-owning, vacation-going, furniture-purchasing relationship,” but out of all the words to use, “taken” strikes me as a problematic choice, especially when it defines one’s identity.
For example, I saw a lot of profile bios that ended in “Sorry, guys. I’m taken.” I started to wonder, what would it be like if this introduction was used in real life situations? Imagine you’re at Soho House, lounging at the pool and your best friend Charlize Theron introduces you to Naked Tom Hardy. (Hey, we may as well have a fun hypothetical, right?)
Charlize: “This is Tom, the hottest man on planet Earth.”
You: “Hi, Tom. Nice to meet you. I enjoy your movies and smoldering onscreen presence.”
Tom: “Sorry, I’m taken.”
As hot as Tom is, he would still sound like a crazy person if he said something like this. People who describe themselves as “taken” in their profiles assume an interest on the part of the audience in knowing such information. It suggests that being in a relationship is one of the primary parts of their identity, which tells you something about the premium our culture puts on being in a relationship.
I’m gonna take a stab at some feminist theory here and hypothesize that “taken” is most likely left over from our patriarchal past when women were considered men’s property. Besides the obvious and unsettling evocation of a rape scenario, “taken” also sounds a lot like “taken care of” and suggests the effortless life of a passive spouse who is pampered and spoiled by the owner/partner; like a Pomeranian puppy that’s saved from an animal shelter, placed in a Louis Vuitton purse and brought to live in luxury at the home of a Beverly Hills housewife.
And I’m gonna take another guess, this time at queer theory, and acknowledge that gay men have every reason to want to be taken care of and protected like a spoiled purse puppies. Adolescence and puberty are fraught with a lot of anxiety and drama for most gay men as we come to know our sexual selves. We feel alone and freaked out. When we meet someone who loves us unconditionally, we feel safe. It feels good and it comes as no surprise that some of us might get a little too caught up in our identities as partners.
So let’s save “taken” for that sandwich we ordered at Arby’s that we’re too embarrassed to eat in the restaurant. Let’s use it for the movie tickets the usher takes when you go to the latest Michael Bay abomination. Let’s use it to describe how we feel after we’ve seen the latest Michael Bay abomination. And, finally, let’s drag the relationship description version of “taken” to the trash.