It’s not just hooking up for you anymore. You guys talk. You hang out. You’ve met some, or all, of each other’s friends. The drunken nights of fooling around have turned into sober mornings where you kiss each other good bye. You know things about them. Here and there, little pieces of information about them slip out, and you piece them together, one by one. You pick up enough things to know that you want to keep learning about this person.
You’re talking. Or hanging out. Hooking up. Fooling around. Seeing each other. Doing everything you think you’d be doing if you were dating, except you’re not dating. You use every phrase you can think of to describe this relationship except for the word relationship.
You torture yourself with this. It feels like they’re your boyfriend or girlfriend, except that they’re not. Every time you are preparing to hang out with them and the butterflies in your stomach wake back up, you promise yourself you will bring it up this time. You will not back out. You will ask them to tell you how they’re feeling. Where they want this to go. Whether or not they feel the same as you. But then you dance around the subject with them, because you’re afraid.
For some reason you’ve been conditioned to feel guilty and clingy and desperate for the mere fact that you would like to know where your romantic relationship stands with another human being.
You refer to him as the guy I’m talking to, or to her as this girl I’ve been hanging out with because you’re not allowed to call them anything else.
You really like them and it sucks. You feel something you haven’t felt in a long time. You want to give this thing the chance to unfold so that you can enjoy it even more. Or, if they’re not interested in anything more serious, you want to end it now. Because you know it’s only going to hurt more in six months or in a week or even just tomorrow, because the longer it lasts, the stronger the feelings get.
You wait for the rules to guide you. You wait until you speak to every single person in your circle before you move any further. You need to know Am I asking to much of them? or Am I being needy? or What am I supposed to say? What do I do if they don’t feel the same way? You are asking everyone you know not just for advice, but for permission to control your own love life.
Do not think of this “What Are We” conversation as a weapon that you’re unleashing. As something you should apologize for. As a tempting evil that you were too weak to stay away from.
It’s not a weapon or a mistake or a sign that you are a crazy. It’s just a question. It’s a question that you ask another person when you feel strongly enough about them to want to know.
There are no guidelines. No rules. There’s no amount of time that’s too early or too late to ask this question. Sure, most people don’t have a Jack-and-Rose situation where they fall in love in two days. I’m not suggesting that you have the What-Are-We talk with someone when they walk you to your front door after your first date.
All I am saying is that when you really, really like someone, when you feel like they’re the only person you want to see at the end of a long day, when you’ve really gotten to know them and you feel like they’ve gotten to know you, ask them. When you’re no longer interested in pursuing other relationships and other people, or when you’re ready to focus your attention on one person, or when you feel like you can’t stop smiling because this person sparked something within you, ask.
Be the bold one. Tell them what you want. Acknowledge to yourself that you are tired of feeling confused, and let this person know that.
When you’ve picked up enough pieces of them – enough to know that they might be the right person for you – then ask. And don’t apologize. Because it’s not a bomb. It’s just a question, and you have the right to know the answer.