The Non-Relationship Relationship

Is it actually complicated, or are you making it complicated?
Is it actually complicated, or are you making it complicated? // Karen Tian

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In response to the recent New York Times article “The End of Courtship?”, I’ve decided to revisit the idea of the non-relationship. Over the last six years (purposefully excluding my series of middle school romances), I can honestly say that countless female friends and I have ­­— reluctantly but consistently — been on the receiving end of the “non-date,” or even worse, the “non-relationship relationship.” I define the latter as a situation that, under normal circumstances, would be considered an actual relationship, bearing all the signs of an actual relationship, but very conspicuously does not include the titles of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”

The non-relationship relationship is usually an exclusive hookup arrangement that has evolved into actually spending time together, perhaps attending functions together, and likely having met the other participant’s friends or co-workers. As an extension of the non-date, which the Times aptly describes as “hanging out” (often as an afterthought or as an accompanying invitation to established plans), the non-relationship is ideal for the commitment-phobe. Although you look like a couple and act like a couple, for whatever reason, you’ve decided not to go the extra step into officially defining the relationship. It’s pretty much the dating equivalent of the Mormon “soaking” trend, i.e., the “just the tip” relationship. Usually as a result of one party being afraid to ask where the relationship is going, the non-relationship generally goes on until the Facebook-official status of the relationship has been confirmed or one party suffers an “are we even together?!1” meltdown.

Between the accumulated experiences of many friends and even a few personal forays, I think it’s fair to say that the non-relationship ends up being a girl’s worst nightmare. While you’ve established that you’re not seeing or sleeping with other people, girls constantly end up wondering how to explain the arrangement to friends, family and random strangers at the bar. Maybe if we lived in a world where social media and appearances weren’t everything, the non-relationship would be a girl’s dream. Right above friends with benefits and below actual dating, you get to really spend some time getting to know someone and deciding if it’s actually going to work before you go public. Sadly, because of the constant pressure to declare what’s going on in your life, it gets harder and harder to accept the fuzziness of your vague relationship. Along with the need to define the situation, the Times offers other theories on the change in the dating scene. With the introduction of online dating and the changing economic landscape, they suggest that there are simply way more options for men to pick from — and they have way less money to invest in a girl that might not turn out to be the one. The argument I most agree with, however, is their suggestion that today’s men don’t want to settle down until their 30s. With guys being so noncommittal, particularly in the man-child phase that our 20s have become, it’s much harder to envision a guy wanting something serious, which means that girls often settle for pseudo-dates and pseudo-relationships when they’d really like something more serious.

I read somewhere that the average teenager today is under as much stress as the average businessman in the 19th and 20th centuries. Technology is a wonderful thing, that, in accordance with — and adding to — our ever-expanding FOMO, is changing a lot of our practices. That doesn’t mean our expectations are keeping pace. Those of us who grew up in the ’90s still remember watching shows where people went on actual dates. We idealized Cory and Topanga and couldn’t wait to find some sweet, kinda dorky guy who would love us until the end of time. But instead, now that we’re all getting to our 20-something years, “keeping your options open” amidst horror stories of “clingy ex-girlfriends” and shows like HBO’s “Girls” have us running scared. The pressure to have a one-night stand or to accept a casual arrangement has never been higher.

I still know some girls who are in non-relationship relationships. They find themselves cooking dinner or doing laundry for a guy, but not being able to tell their parents that they have a boyfriend. Worse, I know some girls who aren’t even aware of their non-relationship status and tell themselves that their “boyfriends” are really just “private people.” But whether or not he’s ready to declare it to the world, there’s absolutely something to be said for defining what you’re doing. While picking out floral arrangements for your future nuptials might land you a Carrie Bradshaw-esque Post-it breakup, it seems very fair to ask what the hell is going on. Women shouldn’t be afraid to ask for terms, and men shouldn’t be afraid to ask girls out. No matter how far technology goes, there will always be a chance of rejection. But avoiding real dating and real relationships won’t fix that. It will just delay the process when you do want to settle down and cause you to potentially miss out on the person you might want to spend your life with.

The non-relationship is common, but certainly not the standard. And maybe being forward isn’t a turn-on. But who knows? Maybe taking that step and asking where you stand could be the difference between changing your relationship status online and being FB-poked by the guy who’s currently poking you.

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