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.

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.

Dating And Sex: When Politeness Hurts

There is a fine line between being polite and using politeness as an excuse to deal with people fairly when it comes to dating and sex.

Often, when people are dating, they feel a bit of a need to put on a show by presenting themselves in the best light. While it is totally fine to show off your best qualities and to be polite, the latter often turns out to be counterproductive and ultimately does more damage than good.

For instance, Apps like Tinder are supposedly for hookups only, and yet, people often misrepresent themselves by pretending to look for something more when in reality they only want to get laid. There are people on these websites/apps that do look for someone to date, but more often than not, they're just pretending to do so.

Another issue that occurs often in dating is the tendency to hold on to someone for the wrong reasons. To clarify what I mean and how exactly this often plays out, I'm going to give you two different scenarios:

The lack of chemistry:

A girl and a guy go out on a date. She doesn't really like him all that much, but she likes to be wined and dined and currently there's no better option out there to date. In the following weeks, she keeps going out with him despite the fact that she's not into him at all. Her reasoning for that is based on the hope that she might change her mind about him. He in turn believes he'll have a shot with her if he only keeps it going. However, every time he's trying to get closer to her physically, she acts coy as a way to keep him at a distance. Deep down she knows clearly that her feelings towards him will never change while it is pretty obvious that he has a thing for her. At this point she's just stringing him along, feeding him hope with every further outing.

So why is she doing this? Because she convinced herself that in time, her feelings towards him will change? Is there anything he could do to change her mind?

No! If there is no chemistry from the beginning there never will be. She thought by trying she's doing a good thing when in reality she's just leading him on, whether it's intentionally or not.

The misguided hookup:

Guy meets girl. They spontaneously hook up and it's pretty obvious that isn't really about dating at all. However, since he wants to appear as a nice guy he displays an interest in more than just a hookup after they had sex. In the following weeks he stays in touch, writes her nice texts, they meet frequently, hang out and have more sex. He even tells her that he loves her and then, all of a sudden, he starts stalling and finds ways to avoid seeing her. She doesn't understand why, tries to make an effort to see him and while he keeps responding nicely to her texts, it won't come to another meeting.

Now, what happened here? Did he initially like her and then grew tired of her? Did she do something to turn him off?

No! He wanted to come across like a nice guy,  and thought it's the way to handle a situation that was never meant to be more than casual sex.

What do these two examples have in common?

False politeness!

There are ways to deal with these kinds of situations that don't involve deliberately hurting someone. As the saying goes, it's the tone makes the music.

The girl could have just gone on that first date and once she knew that she isn't into him, she could have let him go. When he asked her on a second date, she could have responded with something like, "I had a great time with you but right now I'm not ready to date someone." That way she didn't hurt him by saying, "I'm not into you," and he can let go off his hope that someday she'll change her mind. If there's no chemistry from the beginning there never will be. That doesn't mean one has to act on chemistry, but it doesn't grow. You can grow to love someone but not to be infatuated with somebody.

As for the guy in the second example, he should have taken a different path as well. There was no need to pretend to go down a potential relationship path if it's clear from the beginning that it's just casual sex. His behavior just created a lot of confusion. He should have just said, "Thank you for the beautiful night, or "I had a great time," and never contact her again. That way she wouldn't have gotten emotional attached to him.

I'm not suggesting that the girl from example one and the guy from example two acted the way they did because they had bad intentions. While in some cases people do these things for selfish reasons, often it's simply done to appear nice.

It is exactly this kind of politeness that leads people to the wrong conclusions. It might even make them bitter in the future. The guy from example one might now think that all women just like to take advantage of guys (like getting free dinners) and in turn, he will become stingy and develop trust issues. The girl from example two might choose to not ever give a guy she had a hookup with a chance to get to know her, even if she would meet someone who genuinely likes her.

There is definitely a place for politeness, however I think in the dating scene it's often misused for the wrong purpose.