“I’m not a fan of labels.” If you’re a millennial in the dating market, you’ve undoubtedly heard this in the past five years. Despite all the proponents of this way of thinking, neglecting to define the relationship is a recipe for disaster.
Dating culture has changed. In the past, you could just end up in a serious relationship with someone if you were both feeling it. No conversation needed, you’d just go on a certain number of dates and that was that. You were suddenly “going steady.” Now, you have to sit down and clearly define what’s going on because there are so many different scenarios in modern dating. You could be just hooking up, in an open relationship, or even “exclusive but casual.” At this point, we’ve heard it all and there’s no way to know what your partner is thinking unless everything is clearly laid on the table.
It makes things confusing when talking to other people. Just because you’re not putting a label on it doesn’t mean other people won’t. Sure, you could argue that it really doesn’t matter what other people think. And it shouldn’t. But when you have to correct someone for the millionth time that he’s not your “boyfriend” or try to explain to your grandma what your relationship is, it’s going to start weighing on you. The reality is that external pressures affect your relationship whether you want them to or not.
It’s awkward not knowing where you stand. It’s like being in the beginning stages of dating…forever. And not in a good way. Should you surprise him? Should you have him meet your parents? Do you get him a birthday gift? No idea because there are no clear-cut standards or expectations.
Does it ever work? I’ve known lots of people who were “dating” without labels. None of them are still together. I’m sure there are certain cases where it does work, especially if you’re both of a progressive, hippy mindset. However, for the most part, it isn’t pretty and someone ends up getting hurt.
It’s usually an idea brought up by one partner. The other partner just goes along with it. And it might even seem like a good idea at the time, but ultimately, going along with this idea is going to lead to insecurity at best or resentment and heartbreak at worst. Even if you’re okay with it now, you’ll eventually want answers.
It’s a cop-out. By not putting words to the relationship, you can avoid confronting it. This is great for those who are afraid of commitment. At the end of the day, words do matter. Talking about something makes it feel real and important. If it’s not defined, it’s insignificant.
If you can’t talk about “what” you are, how will you be able to discuss more complex issues? Regardless of whether you’re in a committed relationship or just hookup buddies, problems will arise that need to be talked about. And if you can’t sit down and define your relationship, then how will you deal with these other issues? For instance, even hookup buddies need to respect each other for it to work. But if you don’t have these conversations, you’ll be too afraid to bring up how annoyed you were that he bailed on you last minute. Not cool.
It could mean one person isn’t quite sure about the “relationship.” Doubts about the other person, or about relationships in general, are usually behind the “no labels” decision. After all, it’s much easier to break something off if it was never “something” to begin with.
It makes for an easy exit. You don’t have a “breakup.” One of you just ghosts when someone better comes along. And somehow it’s considered perfectly acceptable. You want an explanation? Too bad because you don’t “owe” each other anything.
It’s harder to justify feelings. You can’t be jealous if you’re not “together.” You can’t be mad that he talked to some other girl or didn’t wish you a happy birthday. Simple actions and reactions that are considered normal inside a relationship seem clingy when there are no labels.
Clarity is key to sanity. Are you seeing other people? Are you in this for the long-run or is it just a fling? If you don’t talk about it, there’s going to be a constant, underlying anxiety. While it’s normal to have anxiety in the beginning when dating someone new, it can’t be good for your mental health to prolong it.
If you really want each other, you’ll do what it takes to make the other person comfortable. He might be against labels, but if it would make you feel more comfortable to know where you stand, speak up! If he really cares about you, he’ll put these beliefs aside in the interest of what’s important: you.
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