He Said/She Said: Taking Things to the Next Level

Are you actually together, or are you just really good friends who frequently have sex? Are you ‘dating’? Are you ‘in a relationship’? Maybe ‘it’s complicated’? Are you ready for engagement…or marriage? Or is it time you two just moved in together already?

Women’s magazines and Hollywood seem to be preoccupied with the notion of moving one’s relationship forward, as if a relationship were some sort of vehicle aiming for a finish line, some sort of ephemeral end goal (it’s never really defined, is it?). Indeed, film and television producers like to parcel out relationship plots as mostly linear narratives with some sort of final objective on the horizon: Girl meets Boy. Girl likes Boy. Girl and Boy date. Girl and Boy become a Couple. Couple co-habitate. Couple get engaged. Couple get married. Couple have children. Couple’s happiness is demonstrably achieved (apparently). Oh, perhaps the writers will throw in a few twists — perhaps Girl meets Girl. Maybe there’s a nearly disastrous misunderstanding involving a jilted ex-lover. Or maybe the Couple must overcome adversity in order to marry. Radical.

The thing is, relationships rarely happen like that in real life. Particularly, I would argue, for modern 20-somethings. By the time you’ve experienced a relationship (or several) yourself, you come to the realisation that relationships seldom occur as neatly as Hollywood would have you think. Relationships are messy, confusing, exhilarating and frustrating, and no two are the same. How, then, do you know when it’s time to move your relationship to the next level? How do you know when it’s the right time to have sex, to decide to be exclusive, to change your Facebook status to ‘in a relationship’, to consider engagement, marriage, children, whatever?

At the risk of sounding deeply ‘new age’ and annoyingly like your high school counselor, I can’t answer that for you. You and your lover are the only people who can decide where your relationship is going and when. I do have a few morsels of advice, though.

Firstly, don’t be beholden to whatever it is you think society wants you to do. Please! If you’re three years into your relationship and people are speculating as to when the ring is going to appear on your finger, don’t feel required to get engaged. Relationships aren’t a race to the finish line (what is waiting at the finish line, anyway?), you’re absolutely free to meander at your own pace. It might be better to let things develop organically, rather than forcing ‘progress’ upon a relationship. Pressures such as ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ can distract you from the fact that a relationship is a journey, not a destination (ew, I feel so grossly airy-fairy and existential for writing that, but it’s true). So quit your worrying and enjoy things as they are.

Similarly, don’t feel the need to define your relationship by traditional standards. There’s a guy in my life – we get along really well, and we’re good friends. We spend a lot of time together and we have a lot of sex. We cuddle and we talk and we cook together. We’re exclusive. But he’s not my boyfriend. There’s all sorts of reasons that neither of us feel like defining our relationship as ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ and we’re both perfectly comfortable with that. It’s other people who seem so keen to slap a definition on us. Are we together? Sorta. The label isn’t important. If you’re in a similar situation, don’t feel the need to move your relationship to the ‘boyfriend and girlfriend’ stage just because others think you should.

Thirdly, remember that completion of one step is not a prerequisite for completing another step. I used to live with my boyfriend. We lived together for two years. I learned a lot during that time, including the realisation that I really need my own space. I will always be hesitant to move in with a significant other. But that doesn’t mean I cannot be in a serious, meaningful (etc. etc.) relationship. Personally, I think Tim Burton and Helena Bonham-Carter have the right idea — adjoining houses. They have kids, a great relationship (it would seem), intimacy, and personal space. So, just because you’re getting engaged, it doesn’t mean you have to move in with each other. Just because you’ve decided that you’re in a relationship, doesn’t mean you have to be having sex. Just because you’re moving away, doesn’t mean you have to break up. You decide which steps to take and when to take them.

Finally, don’t be afraid to end things if the ‘next step’ is just not what you want. Perhaps your friend with benefits wants to be more than a friend, but you’re not comfortable with the idea. Don’t be afraid to end the relationship there — if your differences are irreconcilable then there’s probably not much point in carrying on. If he’s talking about marriage and babies and you’re terrified, maybe it’s time to have a think about where things might be going, and if it’s time to abandon ship.

I suppose I’ve talked around the issue a little here, but the salient points for you to remember are these: ‘moving forward’ and ‘taking things to the next level’ are not always necessary. Screw society’s expectations and do your own thing at your own pace. And, if you want out, don’t be afraid to say so.

Want to see when He Said it’s the right time to take things to the next level? Check it out at COEDMagazine.com!

Raquel is a Wellingtonian and an Art History graduate. When she’s not studying to be a teacher, she’s downing coffee and reading the autobiographies of people much more amazing than her. You can follow her on twitter @raquel_marty.

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