Our Obsession With Love and Labeling

It’s already several dates in.  You’re way into this new person and you’re pretty sure he or she is into you. The kissing is great, the butterflies have yet to go away, you swapped embarrassing stories that both of you swore you’d never tell anyone, there’s been talk of future dates and trips and…neither of you are seeing anyone else. It’s time to have “the talk.”

Love and LabelingWe all know what “the talk” means. It’s time to put oneself out there and ask, “What are we?” Boyfriend and girlfriend? Just dating till something better comes along? Lovers? An open relationship? Sugar daddy/mama? FoBo’s? Friends with benefits? Or the dreaded ‘just friends?’

The question causes bipolar results. It sends some people packing in fear of being defined and tied down, others turn into a succubus waiting to attach to the nearest amorous option. But at the end of the date, we’re expected, personally and socially, to define exactly what the nature of our relationships are. Even social networking sites like Facebook.com encourages users not only to define their relationships but also their conditions, with options like, “it’s complicated,” “in an open relationship,” or “separated.” The circumstance of a relationship is private and personal, the Internet is not – why overly publicize it? It is no wonder that from the moment we discover our pubescent selves, we will spend a lifetime interpreting and characterizing them.

When it comes to relationships, we love to label. Labels imply two people’s level of commitment, status and importance to each other. We treat commitment as the utmost desirable form of relationships, so it’s no surprise that we compulsively go about labeling whatever we can – this is my man, my friend, my wife, etc. If bad boyfriends and girlfriends could come with warning labels, we’d certainly endorse it. Even by avoiding relationship conformity, a person is still inherently defining him or herself.

There are t-shirts that declare “Single and Loving It,” to his and her t-shirts that possessively state “His/Hers, ” and don’t forget about the adoringly cute t-shirts that identify, “I’m with Stupid.” Tattoos are seen as painful and permanent, so people dedicate their bodily real estate as a sign of true love.  But as history and pop culture show us nothing is ever really permanent, pre-Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie used to sport Billy Bob’s namesake and Real Housewife of Orange Country, Tamara, tattooed her husband’s name on her ring finger to try to save a failing marriage (it didn’t work). Whether we’re sporting a tat with our beloved’s name or wearing “bride” on our butts before the big day, we pride ourselves in our relationship level so much that sometimes it appears that what matters is our status, rather then who we’re with.

And if we’re with Mark or Mary, we should like them not for the label they provide, but for who they are as people. What matters in a relationship is not the moniker used, but the quality of emotional sustenance that the relationship gives. Branding a relationship is both a personal comfort and social checkpoint, but not a necessity. Too easily do we seek out ways to define and publicize what we are experiencing, but a relationship needs time to find itself before forcing an ultimatum or prematurely having “the talk.”

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