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.