Relationship ‘labels’ & their complications


‘Relationship’ is a term – a term that surrounds a couple. I want to explore the idea that the labels that come under the umbrella of this term can be pressurising, scary, or craved.

I think it’s time to dispel the notion that girls sit at home, waiting by the phone and spooning Ben and Jerry’s whilst pining after commitment-phobic men. There seem to be two main threads of thought harboured by most women’s magazines – that women are alpha business types, who ought focus on their careers rather than date, and the concept that women are the sex who long for the ‘relationship label.’ I have seen blogs try and ‘make women feel better’ about men who don’t want to say the L word, or brand themselves as ‘boyfriends.’

I want to propose a new idea, which will drop jaws amongst certain men. Sometimes, the women want the freedom to carry out a casual relationship; they shy away from the term ‘girlfriend.’ Women can crave independence just as strongly as men, and the stereotype can be flipped.

There are pressures that arise during our late teens and early twenties, which I want to address:

1. When the guy that you are seeing doesn’t want to deem it a ‘relationship’:

This is a universal truth: for some men (and women, as explored below), the word ‘relationship’ is terrifying. To me, University seems to be full of many, many happy couples, which is great. But for those who are single, some want to stay single. University is a time of going out, meeting people and having fun. The important thing to establish, if you are seeing a guy who doesn’t want to call himself your ‘boyfriend’, is why. If he doesn’t want to be exclusive, then you need to work out if you are okay with that. If he does, then maybe you need to appreciate the pressure that comes with labels (as explored under social media).

2. When a girl feels the same…

Personally, I have found that some men are horrified, confused and baffled when you break the truth that you do not want a boyfriend. Some assume that you are set to be a career-obsessed spinster, or that you are automatically interested in women, or that you are a premature crazy-cat-lady. For some reason, popular culture, including the cult Bridget Jones films, have pre-labelled our sex as more than a little desperate. It is more often than not assumed that the woman craves the comfort blanket of the ‘relationship’ title far more keenly than the man.

Do women who want to focus on their futures, date a little, and have fun intimidate men?

No matter your sex, if you do not want to be labelled, it is a good idea to consider the reasons. If you do not want to be exclusive, and you want to date around, then you need to clarify this with your partner. As long as you are not hurting anybody, then openly multiple dating is okay, and so is not branding yourself with a ‘relationship label.’

3. When social media sites pressurise and complicate the dynamics of dating, relationships and singleness…

As my mother has preached time and time again, “I had it easier in my day Soph. We didn’t receive daily strings of texts from our partners, or have to acknowledge our love life on the Internet.” It sounds like an easier time. Facebook has changed the dynamic of dating. If you add someone on Facebook, you tend to note whether or not they have a partner. For some of my male friends, if a girl who they add as a friend is single on Facebook, she is ‘fair game.’ If she is ‘In a Relationship’, then they must back off. The social media site has changed the way that you interact with others.  The relationship status check acts similarly to the filters on a dating website.

What happens if you are ‘dating’ but not official? Partners have the awkward interplay with one another as to whether their love life should be publicised online. Socially, whether two people are ‘together’ no longer seems to be deemed according to the time they publically spend together, but whether they are ‘Facebook Official.’

Break-ups and Facebook do not tie nicely hand in hand.  The trouble with publicising your romantic state is that if things do end, the ending is also publicised. This is something worth thinking about before you embark on the Facebook relationship label rollercoaster. You can rest assured that if your status changes from ‘In a Relationship’ to ‘Single’, you will receive comments, inboxes and questions. Of course, questions would happen without Facebook, but they might be over the phone or in person, not all over your Facebook wall for you 800-and-something friends to see.

The social pressures that come with networking sites may relieve those worries that some of you have had when pursuing someone who steers clear of labels – someone may be avoiding a label despite liking you purely due to these Internet pressures. Ultimately I think that labels can be avoided as long as you and your partner are agreed on the terms of your relationship. If you are together and faithful, then how does the term ‘boyfriend’ change a huge amount? And if you have agreed a non-exclusive or casual agreement, then as long as nobody is getting hurt, this is absolutely fine.

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