1. You’re not actually doing much talking.
I mean sure, you’ll have conversations, and maybe you’ll discuss where you want to meet up for drinks or where you want to order delivery from, but actual conversation? Like, the kind of conversations that solid, functioning relationships are built off of? There’s none of that. You’ll flirt, you’ll dance around the topic, and both of you will have a pretty good idea that the other is single and reciprocally into “this,” but only ever in implieds and inferences — and if you can’t start a relationship with a strong foundation of communication early on, is there hope for down the road? It usually feels pretty bleak.
2. Do you bring them anywhere? Do you do things as a couple if you’re not officially a couple?
There’s no meeting the parents, no asking them to come along to boring work dinners to save your sanity, and definitely no plus-ones to engagement parties or weddings. They have their own life, you have yours, and if whatever you want to invite them to has even the whiff of other friends or important people in your life, that feels like an awful lot of commitment, and they are not obligated to show face. In fact, they probably won’t, and you’ll be left looking like you’ve been stood up like a ghost, or have either invented them entirely just so you don’t appear to be single.
3. There’s no obligation.
You can be talking one day, and they go radio-silent the next, and they don’t owe you anything for it. And you just have to live with that. You don’t have to reply to their texts, either, and it’s a constant game of how close you can get to the other person without tripping the fuse that makes them go onto the next shiny thing.
4. The escalation of “whatever this is” is constantly looming over your head.
Because once you get to a certain point, either you have The Talk, or you don’t. Either you remain in limbo forever, or you develop the cojones to ask them what the hell you’re doing anyway. Maybe you can throw out hints, maybe you can try to trick them into being the one to ask you first… but people are smart, and they’re going to sense that you’re trying to get them to take the bait so you’re still technically asking them first.
(But again, if you can’t have a conversation about this like rational, functioning adults, is this going to be a solid relationship? Yes, it’s scary to put your emotions and feelings and heart out on the line, but sooner or later, you have to learn to do this, so you might as well that that leap now.)
5. You’re unofficially exclusive.
You know that they’re possibly talking to other people — and by all means, you have the right to talk to other people yourself! — and maybe even sleeping with other people too, but there’s always that looming feeling that you shouldn’t be doing that. That you should be exclusive with them, even if you haven’t navigated the waters of being official. If you like them enough to talk exclusively with them, chances are good you like them enough to date them exclusively, too. Yet if you try to snoop to see if they’re talking to anyone else, you’ll look a little invasive if you’re just “talking.” Here’s the thing, though: if you’re sleeping together, this information totally your right to know – the sex life of someone you’re having sex with is your sex life, too, especially if you run the risk of contracting an STD. And if you are comfortable enough to sleep with someone, you might as well be emotionally comfortable with them, too, and being emotionally comfortable involves talking about things like this.
6. Social media is a minefield.
Do you tag them in a photo? Do you mention that you were both out at that bar on Saturday night? Together? Do you even acknowledge their existence? A guy friend of mine once texted me when he was a little miffed that the friend of a girl he was talking to at the time tagged them both in a photo on Facebook. “That makes us seem official and I don’t know if we are!” he said. “Did she make her friend do that to pressure me into something?” I really didn’t know what to tell him, but he did untag himself from the picture and I think they stopped talking shortly after that point. To hear him tell it, it felt like too much pressure too soon, which is a little crazy, but maybe there needs to be a Facebook manual that stipulates you can only tag someone in a photo after you’ve become Facebook-official, too. (Just a brainstorm, Zuckerberg.)
7. Explaining your status to friends and family members is exhausting.
We all know in theory what “we’re talking” means, but still, whenever your friend tells you they’re talking with someone, you have to find out the exact boundaries of that quasi-relationship. Are they sleeping together? Are they hanging out during the day time? How often do they see each other? Do they think it’s serious? Being on the receiving end of this game of 20 questions can be enough to make anyone just shut up about the relationship in the first place, which feels really isolated and confusing. (And don’t even think about telling your parents you’re “talking with someone.” They will patently never understand this. Ever.)
8. You’re hyperaware of the things you can and cannot talk about.
If you have mutual friends who are in relationships or breaking up or talking, it feels like pressure to discuss whatever drama you’re both privy to, because it essentially feels like you’re holding a mirror up to your own functioning dysfunction. I once went through an embarrassing phase when I was younger where, when I was talking about anything with a guy I was “talking with,” I would refuse to say the word “love.” (Even if I was talking about guacamole, which, for the record, I consider a very important food group on its own. Guacamole was the best, but I never said I loved guac.) It was messed up. I’m over it now, thank goodness. But when you’re talking with someone, you imbue that much meaning into words that are otherwise innocuous. It feels like you’re constantly going to trip yourself up somewhere, accidentally blurt out that yes, you’ve mentally imagined what your kids will look like, and scare them off. And no one wants to be a Stage-5 Clinger before you’ve even uttered the word “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”
9. It typically winds up being an on-again, off-again relationship.
This is the unique agony of “talking with” someone. You can talk for a period of months, drop off the face of the earth when one of you finds an actual relationship or work gets crazy or life just gets really busy, and then begin talking again when that relationship goes bust or work settles down or life pulls you both together again. It is extraordinarily common for people who are talking to do this over the course of years, on and off indefinitely, until one of you settles down for real, or you try to define something, give an actual relationship a chance, and then see where it goes from there.
10. But when things end — if you didn’t give an actual relationship a try — there usually isn’t any closure.
And there doesn’t have to be. Neither of you owed the other any closure, technically, because even though there may have been emotions there, neither of you ever fully acted on them. Not in a concrete way, anyway. And if there was closure, it’s usually because you successfully escalated talking with someone to actually being with someone (in which case, way to go, you! Congratulations on being a romantically adept human being!) and then that means the “talking with” chapter of your relationship is over. But if all you ever were was talking with them, then that’s it. That’s all there is, was, and will ever be. But maybe next time, you’ll be a little braver, learn to say what you’re feeling a little sooner, and get out of the talking purgatory and into something that’s honestly just as much effort, but the kind of honest reciprocation that each of you deserves.