Dating. One of the subjects I just keep coming back to like an old scab. Just picking away, yet again… But for good reason (Hello, single friends, this one’s for you!).
Every single person’s guide to dating or romance tries to give you the hard sell about how strongly you should desire your singledom. How great and wonderful and empowering singledom is — a prize to be wrenched from your grasp only after a Game of Thrones-esque contest of wills, to figure out everyone’s true motives in the scenario.
Except, despite all of that… there’s often something missing.
A lot of us just want to be loved.
Maybe we really do want a relationship with a significant other. And what’s wrong with that?
Finding someone is hard. When you do find someone, though, the modern dating scene seems to often include this particular dance around each other and each other’s emotions (particularly in online dating scenarios). Everything is as non-committal as possible, until something insane or drastic happens and parties are ‘forced’ to show if they are ‘official’ or not.
All the moral quandaries seem centred around whether or not the persons who are ‘just sleeping together’ or ‘just casually seeing each other’ (whatever the hell that means) have any rights to actually want security or clarity from their partner.
Good grief. I’m tired just reading that sentence again.
So how did we get here? What makes us ‘official’ versus ‘unofficial’?
I wanted to unpick a few of the factors contributing to your status as a couple — or non-couple, as the case may be…
Exclusivity: ‘Are you seeing anyone else?’
The awkward question comes up as awkward often when you’re engaging with online dating, where there are rules but also no rules. It’s sometimes awkward because many people just straight out lie on their online dating profiles. They want polyamory (or they think they do), they don’t want a relationship (or they just don’t know), and then you’re left wondering what it is you signed up for. What did they want? What do you want?
If they are polyamorous, this should be clear upfront. But many people like to lob this in down the track, as though it justifies indecision between many potential dates. People who are truly polyamorous tend to make open, honest communication the founding stone of their relationships, so the sneaky approach tells you 1. they probably aren’t genuinely polyamorous, and 2. they want to justify bad behaviour. Red flags all round.
However you meet, though, there comes a point where you have to figure out whether you’re ‘exclusive’, or not, if you want that or not, and what that then means. Particularly if you did sign up for monogamy. This is something that I think was assumed in the past, but isn’t really assumed any more. You have to have the discussion, directly or indirectly.
We have to have the conversation. Are you actually pursuing one person? Or is this a trial for 6 to 7 willing Tinder participants? At some point, people have to start making decisions, and figure out if it is exclusivity we need from the person we’ve just started to think is rather great.
And needing exclusivity isn’t something to feel bad about, or ashamed over. I have watched friends put themselves through emotional hell because they were just too afraid to be the person who said, “Hey, are you dating someone else?” They wanted exclusivity, but felt afraid to make that need known.
This is a not-so-great way to start a relationship. If you’re convinced the person you’re pursuing would do a runner because, after a month of ‘hanging out’, asking them about your status would be ‘too much’… Then maybe this relationship isn’t meant to be. If you’re keen, and they are keen, and you want a monogamous relationship together (eventually), then at some point, you should feel safe to have the conversation.
If they remain indecisive, it’s up to you to call the end point of your patience, if it’s clarity you need. It might just be bad timing for them. And that’s sad, but it’s life. We don’t all find each other at the right time.
This brings us to an important sub-point:
Conflating Monogamy and Commitment
Monogamy and commitment have been seriously ‘un-woke’ for a while now, and while I am completely on board with everyone creating the relationship paradigm that suits them best, I fear something has been conflated here, and wrongly.
Monogamy is not the same thing as commitment.
You can be ‘committed’ in a lot of ways.
I’m getting pretty damn bored of modern romances being about who will break first and admit they want the safety and security of a relationship, in whatever form it takes. Who benefits from this weird standoff?
Humans want to be loved, but they also want to feel safe.
So, we’re afraid of vulnerability. But some of us are really just stringing someone along, out of confusion — or perhaps an inability to understand how we truly feel. There’s only so long you can ‘keep things as they are’ without addressing the elephant in the room…
Take ownership of your feelings. Spend the time alone that you need to figure out what it is that you want. Try not to make someone else an unknowing experiment participant.
Fear of Vulnerability: ‘I just have too much emotional baggage right now’
This really feels like bullshit excuse no.1.
If someone keeps on seeing you, but keeps on distancing you by saying something like the above, they may just be a waste of time. Straight up.
Of course, people have harder and easier moments in which to have a relationship. But I think one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen amongst friends is them deciding that they can ‘wait it out’ for the person to be ‘stable enough’ for a relationship.
I think you can wait, if it’s a reasonable amount of time and you aren’t pinning your every and last hope on their eventually coming round. You can wait, but wait at a short distance. Try your best to be at ease with the uncertainty, because if you’re going to wait for them to get over a fear of being vulnerable, you could be waiting quite a while.
So, let me save you some energy and time: this person will not be magically ‘ready’ for you at a clear, decisive moment. Chances are they are going to need either a serious kick up the bum to make a decision, or you just have to let them go and let them figure out their point of view sucks on their own.
You can’t force someone to be ready. So again, this is about quantifying where your patience ends.
Someone’s Embarrassment: ‘Am I just sleeping over, or are we going out?’
I have friends who have begun seeing people and it very quickly fell into a pattern… The old, ‘come to my place’ pattern. Which meant one thing.
And while that’s perfectly fine, if you’re wanting a full on relationship with this person who never wants to meet outside their bedroom, that’s a problem. Why aren’t you going to a cafe? Or the movies? Or for a walk? Do you talk much? What is the basis of your relationship?
This isn’t just a physical getting-out-the-house thing. It’s also an emotional thing. If they are always surface level with you or keeping chat to a minimum, this is tricky.
There are good and bad ways this could go. They could, in a positive view, just be shy. Or unsure. Perhaps they aren’t sure what you want from the potential-relationship either. Or maybe it is just time for you to suggest a different activity.
In a negative light, sometimes this covers someone’s embarrassment, or hesitancy, around dating a particular person. Don’t let yourself become that person. Some bravery is required here to go out on a limb and say, “Why don’t we go to an actual restaurant today for dinner?”
If you can never get the relationship deeper than surface, someone is holding back. Ask yourself: why is that? And if you can’t see the answer, it might be time for a direct conversation, if it’s depth and intimacy and the ability to be publicly with your potential bae that you want.
Someone’s not that interested: ‘I just don’t have time right now’
News flash: there’s almost never a ‘perfect time’ to start a relationship. Everyone’s busy. Everyone’s going through shit. There’s never going to be a perfect, quiet, stable period where all the planets have aligned in time for you to meet The One. Forget all that.
Every relationship has challenges, naturally. Separate lifestyles have to somehow come together and unify separate, independent individuals. This is hard, and does require concessions.
But the person who is never willing to compromise is potentially too immature or too afraid to actually have a relationship. They might genuinely be busy, but this also suggests that perhaps the relationship isn’t exactly a priority.
That’s perfectly fine, as long as you don’t let it get to you. You can’t control the other person’s schedule (or their willingness) after all.
It is worth checking, after a time, if the person really does like you and want to spend time with you. If they would make that time for you.
Asking for confirmation or reassurance is not the end of the world. And short of asking every day, all day, which could get annoying, it shouldn’t really be judged, in my opinion. We want to know — at some point or other — that the person we’re pursuing is actually interested. In more than friendship.
A Summary: It’s all about needs and acceptance
Angst over our relationship status seems to come from a few places. Either:
- Not really knowing what we want or need
- Ignoring what we want or need out of fear/embarrassment/etc
- Not articulating or being unable to articulate our needs.
In all these cases, the point between being interested in someone and actually getting to be in a relationship with them can be drawn out, confused or emotionally taxing.
It takes time to challenge our in-built narratives, our established hesitations or worries. But remember:
- You are worth it, and you have needs — you are allowed to have needs. Everyone does.
- If you feel a game is being played with you, challenge it. Take ownership of your worth!
- It isn’t wrong to want to feel safe. In any sort of relationship you’re in. You have the right to feel secure.
Ultimately you must ask yourself: What do you really want from the scenario? Do you really want to be with this person? And what have they done to show you they want to be with you? And if nothing, why the fuck not?
Excuse my language, but on matters of the heart… I like to be direct. I like to know where I stand.
I hope, if you are unsure, confused and hurting over it, you find the clarity you need. Own your feelings, and pay attention to the feelings of your potential partner. Be generous, but firm in your own needs.
Good luck :)