Once upon a time, I was a single girl for a long long time. Despite that I have been in an extra delightful relationship for almost 2.5 years (high five!) I still get random flashbacks to how it felt to be single when it felt like everyone else was in a relationship. Most of the time it was A-Okay happy like a bag of ketchup chips, but there were times it kind of sucked.
One evening many moons ago I was at a restaurant with two sets of coupled friends. After a lovely evening with good company, our server asked, "So, is anyone here dating?" in lieu of asking, "How should I do up the bills?" It was an odd way to ask how many cheques should be brought to the table, and although I knew the obvious intention behind the question, I still felt like a loser and a deflated fifth wheel. It also was not really a great day to hear a question like that. Earlier that day (or perhaps the day before) I had found out not-so-awesome ex-boyfriend who was still a kinda-boyfriend was pretty much in a long distance relationship with someone who wasn't me and sort of stringing along both of us. I had asked him to retrieve his things from my place and to just leave me alone. Needless to say, on that particular evening I was feeling a bit emotionally drained and probably 10 mL or so of self pity.
(I feel like I'm accidentally lying above as it's been many years since this happened, but I feel it's decently accurate enough to get my point across.)
No, I am not dating anyone, I will pay for my single order of my single food things and then take my mopey single-person feelings elsewhere.
In December I was chatting with a friend about her Christmas day plans. She was going to the home of an aunt, uncle, and cousins. She wasn't looking forward to it as every year the questions were the same: are you seeing someone, why haven't you bought a house, etc. Really exciting things to discuss to make you feel good about yourself! PS: Merry Christmas.
I have witnessed and been the recipient of many, "So, are you seeing anyone?" type questions. I know it's an innocent question, sometimes people can't really think of anything else to ask, and it seems logical enough that a mid-late-whatever twenties person might be seeing someone, but it's kind of a shitty question. Fun fact: if the person you are talking to is seeing someone worthwhile, is married, or has 900 children, you will hear about it. I spend a lot of time with Boyfriend, we live together and adopted the World's Best Cat, there is a good chance he will be mentioned in conversation (he = boyfriend, not Michu.... actually, there is a very high probability I will mention Michu in conversation as well). When things/people are important to the person to whom you are speaking, those topics will likely come up in conversation.
Side note: once an aunt did ask me if I was seeing someone, I said no, and she said something like, "No need to tie yourself down. Take one for the night, let him leave in the morning!" Sometimes you need to hear a response like that. However, I started dating Boyfriend about two months later, so clearly I didn't listen to her advice. Thankfully! (I'm sure she will be okay that I ignored her advice since this gentleman was worth keeping around for more than 8 hours.)
Maybe I was just overly sensitive about such things. Why did I hate when people asked me if I had a boyfriend? It was slightly bringing up a sore point in my life. Sure, I could have had a boyfriend at that point if I wanted to, but after some not-awesome relationships I was kind of hoping for a good boyfriend. But that fact was I didn't have a good (or bad) boyfriend and sometimes felt like a loser over the whole thing. I shouldn't have felt poorly about it, but I did. Saying no also stops the conversation quite immediately.
"So, are you seeing anyone?"
So, as I caution you to not open a conversation with a new person by asking them their relationship status unless you are trying to pick them up in a bar, what should you ask people? Taking into consideration the setting (office meeting vs. house warming with strongly spiked punch), the best way to get to know a bit about someone is probably to ask them what they like doing or what they do in their free time. Asking where they work is... uggh... I'm terribly biased because I don't like to talk about my job because it's super top secret (or boring, one of the two, or maybe both), but I actually do like talking to people about theirs jobs because I apparently need to know everything and am trying to figure out what I might like to do... at the age of 31, but whatever. We all can't be successful right away or the self-help book industry would be, like, two books instead of multiple rows of books at the local bookshop.
In closing, if you really want to find out if someone is seeing someone, I suggest asking something along the lines of, "Isn't it shitty how people always ask if you're married/have kids when you first meet?" and I'm sure it will all come out.
Or maybe I'm the only one who cared about this and was put off by relationship status queries. If indeed I am the only one (a quick Google search says I'm not), I apologize for wasting your time and encourage you to go about your business.