Label Me Confused: Friends, Dating and Relationships

Today, I would like to discuss the meaning of dating labels and how they actually just add confusion to a part of our life that is already pretty complex.

When people use the term "dating" to describe a relationship status it appears that it can mean many different things; from dating exclusively to dating several people at the same time. Sex can be part of the equation; however, by no means is it defined as a clear status.

And then, we have the good old label "friends." One would assume that there is a difference between the label "dating" and "friends," but in reality, there isn't. First of all, when people call someone a friend, it doesn't necessarily exclude sex. But it doesn't stop there; some people refer to a person as a friend, when they are in fact dating, which makes no sense at all.

Lastly, we have the "boyfriend and girlfriend" - this seems to be the only category that is a bit clearer, as people commonly seem to have the "exclusive talk" to determine that particular relationship status.

But wait, there's now a new subcategory that is steadily gaining popularity: "exclusive dating." It's apparently for all of those who want to have one steady person to date and to have sex with, yet they can't bring themselves to make it "official".

In a country like the US, where labeling seems to be such a big deal, (almost everyone introduces people to each other with a label "this is my friend..." "this is my girlfriend...." "this is my husband...." instead of just by name), I have to wonder why we don't redefine these labels and turn them into a system that makes sense.

Social media contributes to the confusion by throwing some additional ones in the mix. On Facebook, you can pick anything from "single" to "in a relationship," or "in an open relationship," "married," all the way to the slightly obscure "it's complicated." While the status "in a relationship" would technically include marriage [as it is a relationship], it seems to imply the boyfriend/girlfriend concept.

We have a society that prides itself in being so politically correct, upholding so-called moral codes, yet, they don't seem to work in the dating world.

At the very least, they seem to be highly contradictive. We have all these unwritten rules of how to behave according social norms. For instance: don't sleep with someone on the first date, girls should hold out. There are rules about how long one should wait to contact a person after a date in order to seem interested but not too interested, just to name a few and yet, these dating labels are hypocritical at best. People want the labels but they're afraid to clearly define what they mean.

Anyone who's read my book knows that I don't care much for social rules, and I certainly don't judge people no matter how they choose to live their lives, but if we must have a system of dating labels, it should be a system that actually makes sense. It should clearly reflect a situation for what it is.

People often wonder what that actually means when they "date" someone. Some will simply clarify that they don't sleep with other people, and yet, they're still very insecure when it comes to defining the status of their relationship. Need proof? Check out some of these articles, blogs and various forums, where men and women verbalize their confusion openly and discuss it with everyone except for the person they should discuss it with - the one they're dating.

For instance, I've overheard the following in conversations too many times:

"If we're exclusive (not sleeping with other people), does that mean we're boyfriend and girlfriend?"

Some say that being exclusive is the same as being boyfriend and girlfriend, while others insist on discussing this formally before making it official. In many ways, this reminds of high school, where we literally asked a girl or boy, "Are you gonna be my girlfriend [or boyfriend]".

Ultimately, all of these labels are a cultural thing and vary for different regions of the world. For instance, in Europe there is no such thing as "dating." You're either friends (no sex involved), or you just have sexual relationships with someone [which they don't have a label for], or you're boyfriend and girlfriend. The latter doesn't imply how serious a relationship is. It basically means they're together exclusively, whether for a short time or a long time. But they actually don't have a formal way of asking. It's basically understood that once you hang out together regularly, talk about personal stuff, have sex, do things together, maybe meet each other's friends, possibly family members, you're together. Since it's not an engagement, no one is worried about the seriousness of the relationship. I personally find this much more organic and it makes so much more sense than the ever-confusing dating/friends/boyfriend-girlfriend constellation.

So how can we come up with a terminology for the US that could work?

Here's something that would make sense:

Friends - no sex, just friends

Friends with benefits - friends who have sex but don't want to date

Dating - an interest in a potential relationship but never exclusive

Boyfriend/girlfriend - exclusive dating with sex - I think the term boyfriend/girlfriend shouldn't necessarily imply a serious commitment ending in engagement or marriage, but it implies that two people want to give it a shot for however long or short that might last.

Life partners - two people who are in a committed relationship but don't care about getting married.

Fiancées - two people who are engaged to be married.

Married - aiming for a lifelong commitment

I think these labels would work much better than the ones we have now. Everybody would know where they stand without any confusions.

The Cheating Factor: Is It Just Physical Cheating That Matters?

It happens to men and women. They meet someone, there is chemistry, one thing leads to another and they get involved with them.

Cheating has been an issue ever since we developed the common relationship concept of our times. Throughout history, people have cheated on each other for various reasons.

The root issue for cheating is simple - humankind is just not cut out for monogamy naturally.  The secondary reasons are a bit more complex, but one thing we do know is that when it happens, it's usually a spontaneous act, sparked by an impulse.

Does that automatically mean that the person who has cheated doesn’t love their partner anymore? Maybe, maybe not. What we do know is that we will always find ourselves being attracted to other people for various reasons. In some cases, it might not even be the physical attraction at first, but a familiarity in the personality, a kindred spirit connection.

But what makes some act on that impulse and cheat? Cheaters are often simply bored in their relationship, they don’t feel validated or they’re sexually frustrated. In some occasions the reasons are more superficial - some just need a plain ego boost.

Then there’s also that myth about cheaters: “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” But is that really true? I believe it is just that - a myth. Anyone who’s found their true match, in all the aspects that matter to them, paired with a great sexual chemistry will be much less inclined to act on an attraction impulse.  While any relationship will have ups and downs which should be addressed, I firmly believe that it's a bigger void in some form that leads to giving in to this impulse. In other words, maybe that couple isn't such a great match in the first place and therefore they have to work really hard on withstanding temptations.

Often, especially when women are cheated on by their spouse, they blame the mistress more than they blame their own partner who is - in fact - the cheater. "She must be an irresistible force, therefore he couldn't say no"....

Men who are cheated on often want to punch the guy she was cheating with in the face but they rarely blame that man for being an irresistible "seducer."

But who is really to blame when someone cheats? Is it really the person they've cheated with?

Often, the person who he/she cheated with had no bad intentions. They met someone, there was chemistry and then at some point they find out that this person is married or in a committed relationship.

When the chemistry is very strong, they might still get involved with them, albeit knowing that they have a relationship. If they're really into that person, they might have the hope that they will leave their spouse for them because they feel that it's something unique. At other times, it's really just about great sex. In some cases, they had no idea that this person is in a relationship. But even if they knew from the very beginning, I still think it's not their responsibility.

I believe it's always an issue between the two partners in the relationship. Yes, the exposure to a situation creates the dilemma in the first place, but the commitment was between the couple who has the relationship. The outsider is not part of that commitment. I think if we can agree on that, it becomes easier to deal with the reality of cheating.

Blaming the outsider implies that it's not a problem within the relationship. It's also very counterproductive because it leaves you powerless. If an outsider caused it, then the only thing you could do to prevent it would be to shield your partner from any kind of temptation. Let's be honest here, that's an impossible task, unless you live on a deserted island.

The media also reflects that distorted view of reality, latest in case, the split between Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale. While the nanny seems to have other issues [trying to transform herself into her idol, Gwen Stefani], it's still a fact that Rossdale was the one having the affair. Does that mean he's the only guilty party in the relationship? No one can say that for sure, as no one knows what was going on between him and Gwen behind closed doors, yet the media focuses on the nanny as the "perpetrator."  Of course, it's never a favorable trait if someone knowingly interjects themselves into a relationship, but still, the relationship commitment was between Rossdale and Stefani.

Ultimately, it's up to the couple to figure out if there's way to forgive and examine the reasons for the infidelity in a truthful way in order to give the relationship another go. However, in some cases, the reasons are either something one can't fix (falling out of love, lack of sexual chemistry or simply growing apart) or the betrayed can't get over the betrayal, in which case a relationship is doomed to fail.

But there is also a different kind of cheating, one that hasn't really been addressed as much; the emotional cheating. I’m not referring primarily to people who fall in love with their affair, but to those who develop a really strong emotional bond with someone other than their partner. What if your partner had met someone they share their deepest secrets with, their innermost private feelings? Thoughts they won’t share with you? How would that make you feel? How would that affect the relationship? Wouldn't that be worse than someone who physically cheated without any emotional attachment?

I think this is potentially a much bigger threat to a relationship, because a physical cheater is often not emotionally attached to the person they cheat with. In fact, most of the time physical cheaters pick someone they wouldn’t leave their partner for because it's not supposed to be a replacement for the existing relationship.

It goes without saying that the worst-case scenario would be the one where both go hand in hand - a physical cheating with someone they have this emotional connection with.

Cheating has always the potential to become an issue in a relationship, simply because of human nature and only if we come to terms with that, we can have a truthful dialogue about the reasons.

Therapy and Victimhood

With Arnold Schwarzenegger recently in the news for commenting on how therapy has ruined his chance to patch things up with his estranged wife Maria Shriver, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about therapy.

As with most things, there is an upside and a downside with therapy.

While therapy will definitely help to understand the underlying issues of a more complex matter, often it's also the cause to dwell on the feeling of being victimized. There are therapists who give action-oriented advice but some keep digging in the patients past in great detail to find more reasons as to why a person is the way she is. Therapy can definitely help to enlighten someone in terms of behavioral patterns but if it turns into an endless reasoning as to why we became the way we are and why it is so hard to change, then it's quite counterproductive.

Often, when therapists do the latter, it turns people into neurotic self-conscious individuals, and it makes them feel even more as a victim of circumstances.

When something bad of a more serious matter has happened to a person, she might definitely benefit from getting out all her emotions and fears of a particular situation (i.e. rape, violent abuse), but at some point, one has to move on. How does it serve the victim to never trust anyone again, to deny herself the beauty of physical pleasure? Not only does that make the abuser win all over again, ultimately it's a form of self-punishment for the victim.

This is just one example, where the wrong kind of therapy can keep a person in that mind-frame forever; that she is broken and incapable to move on.

There are many minor issues that lead people into that same kind of thinking. "...because when I was a child, my brother always stole my toys, therefore I have trust issues today." That's just one example to show how certain therapy methods create a form of codependency. In these kinds of cases the patient will come back for any little issue and stay in therapy for all the wrong reasons.

Some people end up believing they're so screwed up that they can never let go and move on with their lives. Then therapy become merely a crutch to hold on to, to dwell in pain, to never take responsibility for one's actions. In these cases people just find more and more reasons to blame the past for everything that goes wrong in the present. It makes them feel powerless and passive.

Most people didn't grow up in a perfect environment but that shouldn't mean that they can't create a new, much more positive life for themselves. If one just focuses on all the baggage they carry, they will never be happy, because their awareness is constantly focused on their pains and the past.

It is very important to learn from the past, but if all current and future events are always seen through the eyes of the past it becomes a vicious circle

There is definitely a place for therapy but in my point of view, it's only valuable if it leads to proactive positive changes.