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On Calling It What It Is…And Finding Out What It Isn’t [Dear DBN]


Humans are a curious breed, always seeking explanations to questions that don’t have definitive answers: What’s the meaning of life? Is there life outside our universe? Are we exclusive, or what?  This week, what role do labels play in relationships?

How important are labels?

Labels exist only to allow people to assume we are discussing the same thing.  Manager, coordinator, assistant, we see these labels and have a basic understanding of this person’s day-to-day responsibilities and salaries, and we are given elaborate explanations to confirm what we assumed.  But unlike resumes, labels like “boyfriend and girlfriend” don’t allow a drop-down section of what that title means.  “Boyfriend” doesn’t mean he makes you soup when you’re sick, it doesn’t mean soft kisses on your forehead, it doesn’t mean supporting an exhaustive and time-consuming career.  We like to think that’s what “boyfriend” means, but having a label doesn’t mean having that relationship, and likewise, not having that label doesn’t mean there is no loyalty, no kindness, no love.

Titles like best friend, boyfriend, soul-mate, blood brother, their existence is an agreement, not a guarantee.  We want the title for what it implies.  Saying, “I’m your girlfriend,” is supposed to mean I won’t go home with anyone else, I will love you for your faults, I will support you when you’re down, but you know what means the same thing?  Just saying, “I won’t go home with anyone else, I will love you for your faults, I will support you when you’re down.”  The term “girlfriend” is a truncation of a mutual understanding.  It’s not the label that carries importance, it’s the rules that it implies.  The title of your contract gives an insight to others what the document entails, but it’s the terms of the contract that should hold weight with you.

Hey! I’ve been hanging out with this guy for a little over a year now. We’re really good friends, text almost daily and hook up from time to time. He hasn’t brought up wanting to become “something more”, but I think I’d really like to try dating him for real. Right now we’re stuck somewhere between a friends with benefits situation and actually dating…sorta like we’re pre-dating. How do I communicate to him that I’d like to take things to the next level? I’m not asking for him to become my boyfriend at the moment, but I want the possibility to exist without scaring him off. These types of talks intimidate the crap out of me, so any tips for scardey cats would be appreciated.  

Tell him what you want, and know there is the possibility of sacrificing the friendship.  “I think you’re really cool.  I’d be interested in giving us a try if you are.”  Be prepared to be relaxed in the face awkward. I know, respect, and empathize with how intimidating the discussion will be, but clarity requires courage.

I mean, you’ve been doing this for over a year.  You talk daily.  He has likely had his hands in your pants.  It’s time to have a frank discussion.  And if you’re not asking for him to be your boyfriend, then what are you asking?  Loyalty?  Exclusive below-the-belt rights?  The eventuality that he may want to be your boyfriend?  Then you need to ask.  Straight out ask, not hint.  No, “I like what we have,” because you don’t.  No, “do you like me,” because who would say no?  No, “do you think this might go somewhere eventually,” because vague questions ask for vague answers.

Figure out what you want and ask him how he feels.  Are you cool with just being friends?  Are you cool with only being friends-with-benefits?  Are you cool with him being with other people?  Don’t sell yourself short – if this isn’t what you want and it doesn’t look like it’s ever going to be, it’s worth figuring out now.

CollegeCandy is excited to announce that we’ve partnered up with one of our favorite Tumblrs, DateByNumbers, to bring you some of her very best advice. Each week she’ll tackle your questions. Life, love, sex, the real world…nothing will be off limits. To submit a question of your own, visit her “Ask” page and keep an eye on CollegeCandy every Thursday afternoon!

I've written for Teen Vogue, Thought Catalog, Leveled Magazine, College Candy, How About We, and have been featured on several HuffPost Live segments. Creator and leader of Bold Moves October featured on xoJane and Neil Gaiman's blog. Both Neil and Jane appreciate boldness. I specialize in pep talks, very long bike rides, and matching my lipstick to my heels.