Overwhelmingly, one of the problems with modern dating is that it’s all so expansive. It seems that those couples with the hard lines of What We Are are growing increasingly rare, and more common are the people who have experience with one line or another:
“We’re just talking.”
“Oh, it’s an open relationship.”
“I’m not seeing anyone else, but like, we’re not exclusive.”
“We’re not putting a label on it.”
And while this works for some people, you can tell that for every happily “it’s complicated” couple, there’s another five being dragged down by that ever-eternal question: “So like, what are we?” (Don’t believe me? Go to any brunch on any given weekend. You’ll hear more people lament the inability to commit rather than the freedom granted by no strings being attached.)
At the risk of sounding old-school, all of this sets you up for failure. It’s not that you’re overtly looking to doom your relationship, either, but sometimes, going with the flow is counterproductive to actually getting anywhere.
1. You are never quite sure how much you should treat it like a relationship outside of your hangouts/hookups.
Wondering where you stand, what you should say, what’s okay to post on social media or tell friends — when it’s all a big blurry mess, you can’t take ownership of something in your life that might actually be going — gasp! — right. Yeah, like your love life can actually be doing well, that is a thing that can actually happen. But you won’t know if it’s going well if you don’t even know if you can call it a love life. In a world filled with 24-hour news cycles and constant inundation with information, not knowing what’s going is the last thing you need on your plate.
2. You end up assuming you’re always the one in the wrong, who isn’t behaving in accordance with what your relationship is or isn’t.
You’ll wonder if you said the right thing, the wrong thing, if what you did or how you acted is what is keeping them from committing. It’s a lot easier to internalize the blame because we’re only ever in charge of our own actions. Complaining about what the other person is or isn’t doing is a fun pastime, for sure (again, see the weekend brunch for examples) but you’re going to wonder if you’re doing something wrong or coming on too strong. But let’s be real here — if you want to be in a relationship with someone, wouldn’t you want to give your all? You wouldn’t want to kiss with half the passion, would you? I know you’re afraid of scaring someone away, but if they’re into you, they won’t be scared. They shouldn’t be, anyway. (And even if they are, if they like you enough, they’ll bridge that fear.)
3. It sets up lowered expectations from the get-go.
“Well, he replied to my text immediately rather than 15 minutes later, so that’s progress!” is, full disclosure, something I once actually thought about a relationship’s progression. (I’m not proud of it, but we all have our journeys.) It’s the ultimate in grasping for straws, and it’s ridiculous. Instead of taking these micro-moments as tokens of actual affection, think back to all the things we know to be actual signs of affection — how they act with you around their friends, if they remember the little things, if they surprise you and actually put thought and care into the time they spend with you. Go on these gestures. They’re the ones that actually matter in the long run.
4. More likely than not, if you don’t want to define it from the beginning, you won’t want to define it at all.
How many times have your friends thought that maybe some hook-up situation would naturally progress into a relationship? How many times has that actually worked?
If your answer is more than “zero,” please, I would like to meet these friends because those might be some pretty endearing love stories. Otherwise, the minute you get into a groove, it’s very hard to change those habits. It’s okay to want to be a relationship person, or to pursue something more with someone. Really. It is. Don’t apologize for it, and don’t settle for less if you already know you’d be looking to upgrade it later.
5. You deserve someone who is willing to commit to you. Now.
100%, no holds barred, nothing held back, all in. I’m not advocating getting engaged the day after you meet if that’s a little too fast for your liking. But you should believe you’re a special person and worthy of that singular commitment before anyone else believes that, too. Otherwise, we’re all just stringing each other along and battering hearts for the sake of what? A good time? Heartbreak deserves more compelling, higher stakes stories than that. Don’t settle for calling someone an ex when they were just a maybe. Better yet, don’t call someone a maybe at all. Take the leap and call them yours. (And if you wind up alone for right now, at least you know you’re not wasting your time on someone who could only love you at half-speed.)