I’ve been seeing this guy for a few months, and we’ve spent a lot of time together. We have sex, go on dates and are emotionally open with each other. It’s pretty much understood between us and among other people that we’re exclusive, but every time I bring up commitment, he gets weird – he never calls me his girlfriend and doesn’t understand why it upsets me so much. Besides this issue, we’re very happy. I don’t want to ruin our relationship if I keep pushing him.
Lost in Never-Never-Committing-Land
Dear Lost in Never-Never-Committing-Land (clever!),
How important are labels? What is accomplished by using them? You say there are no other problems in your relationship . does it really matter if he calls you “girlfriend,” or Betsy or refrigerator?
OK, it obviously does bother you. And I must admit to obsessing over “what are we?” with one of my exes. If he heard “we need to talk” one more time, he was going to break up with me . oh, wait, he did! Anywho . I know both girls and guys who have felt pressured to define and label their romances. I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss from where and from whom these pressures come.
Reasons for being publicly committed (calling someone your boyfriend or girlfriend):
– To ensure romantic and intimate monogamy (hooking up with multiple people isn’t necessarily wrong, but cheating on your boyfriend is obviously out of the question)
– To mark your territory (with a pin, varsity jacket or initials on your profile)
– To legitimize sexual activity (to friends, family or religion – you can have sex 24/7 with a partner you love, but habitual one-night standers are seen as promiscuous)
– To get a ticket to the “adult world” (moving up from the kiddy table to the adult table with real silverware and grown-up conversation)
– To end other people’s curiosity about your sexual orientation (which doesn’t always work . ever hear about a 45-year-old “straight” married man with four kids coming out of the closet?)
– To fulfill social expectations of gender roles (girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, vulnerable/provider, housewife/businessman, etc.)
So I’d like to ask “Lost in Never-Never-Committing-Land,” what do these things have to do with the point of relationships? Think of all the elements of good relationships: Love. Romance. Fidelity. Safety. Security. Pleasure. Loyalty. Companionship. A feeling of completeness. Support. Sex. Intimacy. What do these things have to do with labels? You can have all of these benefits without them.
(WARNING: I’m about to do a complete 180.)
If you can have a healthy relationship without calling someone your girlfriend/boyfriend, why does it bother us so much when she or he won’t commit?! It may not have to do completely with society’s expectations.
In a recent conversation with my ex-boyfriend (the same one who wouldn’t 100 percent commit to me years ago – lets call him ‘Ass’), I asked him how things were going with his new girl, and if they were going out.
His answer was, “well, no, but it’s kinda understood.”
“What’s understood?” I asked.
Visibly annoyed, Ass explained, “That we won’t see anyone else.”
“Did you discuss it?”
“Then how is it ‘kinda understood’?” I asked, anger rising. “How do you know you have the same definition of your relationship if you don’t talk about it?”
Ass had no answer, and my mind rushed back to all the tears I wasted on him in high school. Because, for many people, labels aren’t necessarily important, but clear communication and understanding are. I remembered all the agony (OK, melodrama) I went through having no set boundaries or communication in a relationship. All that I had was confusion, insecurity, jealousy and paranoia – I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re feeling right now, Lost.
I’ll never forget the time I kissed a boy while with Ass. He flipped out on me, and what was left of our weak relationship rapidly deteriorated. I was baffled – we had never laid out any rules. I didn’t know the lines, so how did he expect me not to cross them? I guess he Ass-umed I somehow innately “knew” what he wanted. Bullcrap.
So here’s my advice to you, Lost. I’m not against formalized relationships. In fact, I have a wonderful man in my life. He calls me his girlfriend, we go out to dinner and we spoon (and yes, his initials are in my profile). We make out and celebrate anniversaries. There’s nothing wrong with doing so – but make sure you are celebrating physical and emotional intimacy, and not simply counting how many days, months or years you’ve been recognized by society as a legitimate couple.
You need to figure out if you feel pressured by society to couple up (in that case, screw it and don’t freak out about what you call each other) or if it’s something deep within you that irritates or saddens you. But if you decide you truly need that silly little word to label what you have, then you deserve to have it.
I’d say you need to evaluate your relationship with him. Often when a woman or man refuses to make that leap, his or her sad, ridiculous explanation is a cover-up for his or her terror of commitment and/or intimacy, personal insecurities or confusion on how he or she feels about you. Is that the type of guy you want to be fooling around with? You deserve better than that.
I want you to think a lot about what I told you, and then talk to him. The number one most important thing in the world is communication. Don’t just whine about it annoying you, but firmly tell him why it hurts you. If he disagrees, he’s not worth it. He’s just leading you on until he figures out how he feels, which is totally unfair to you and will only lead to chaos and drama.
Kayy says: tell him to shape up or ship out.