Labels, Continued: The Questions We’re Really Asking

a rainbow array of blank labels
Image by Marco Verch / CC BY

I recently wrote a piece called “What Is Romance? What Makes Hooking Up and Hanging Out Different Than a Relationship?” In that article, I reflect on a conversation I had with a potential new romantic partner about labels and what I’m looking for.

I was thrown a bit off guard by the interaction, not because I wasn’t interested in dating her seriously (I was, still am), but because I don’t tend to plan that way.

I know personally that I could have another relationship in my life that’s very deep and entangled, but I also tend to be very agnostic to experiences. Life has told me that until I start dating someone, I don’t have a great sense of whether we’ll work in a serious capacity or not.

And when it comes to relationships, I love having really serious ones, but I’m not an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I’m usually okay with intermediate states, so long as they’re conducted respectfully. I’ve been happily mutually secondary to a partner in the past (not prescriptively, but descriptively). I had a friends with benefits situation that worked very well — until it didn’t.

Caveat: I’m So Gay

I think part of this is a product of a history of dating mostly women (I’m the Kinsey 5 kind of bi) — and usually women who are uncertain about dating other women: Baby bis, bicurious women, or straight-identified femmes who find me to be a unique case of same-sex attraction.

So I’ll often find myself in a situation where I’ve developed feelings for a girl, but I’ll have to play it cool. You know: Keep the U-Haul number handy but out of sight. Because I find that being too clingy really freaks people out.

It’s like I wrote in an earlier post about being hyperromantic:

I love a lot of folks. But it’s not something I always even tell them. It isn’t helpful. They nearly always take it the wrong way. Think I want to control them. Or that I have some grand expectation of them.

But it’s never really worked that way for me:

“I love you, so you must drop everything to be with me when I command it.” No.

“I love you, so I’m going to control every aspect of your life.” No.

“I love you, so you must love me back.” No.

It doesn’t mean any of that. It just means that I love you. And there are so many kinds of love, really.

But I can’t say it. So I hold it inside. And just hope it doesn’t burst out and ruin everything.

Another possible missing piece here: I noticed that the most vocal proponents of relationship clarity surrounding labels were women primarily dating men.

In recent years, I haven’t had a male friend with benefits. I’m having to strain to find a relevant historical experience, perhaps in my free love days, back when I was a traveling musician and then a playwright in a friendly drama department. I’m so infrequently attracted to men that I can’t imagine having a casual entanglement with a guy these days.

The Questions We’re Really Asking

In any event, there was a huge response to that post. And as people replied, I saw that a lot of times when we’re asking about labels, we’re actually asking questions that are a little harder to say. Here are a few:

Are you going to treat me as disposable or interchangeable?

Are you open to having a future with me?

How high is the ceiling? Exactly how big can this grow? How much room do you really have for me?

How should I behave so that I don’t embarrass myself?

Will I have to share you? If so, will that be with preexisting partners only or will you be dating new people in addition to me?

Do we have the same needs?

How vulnerable are you really willing to become with other people?

Would dating you end up being a waste of my time?

Are you ultimately going to hurt me?

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At the end of the day, I want to know the answers to these questions, too. I think I’m just looking in different places.

And I’m not confident there’s a way to know any of it for sure before I put myself out there.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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1 Comment

  1. This is a brilliant series of questions and highlights so well how we need to clarify terms and be specific when we communicate – because one thing can mean *so many things*. I definitely wish I’d asked some of these before getting into previous relationships!!!

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