The best and worst things about undefined relationships

When I noticed the rise of casual dating and relationships without labels, it was something that put me into somewhat of a panic. During high school and college, I wanted all romantic endeavors to feel like a John Hughes film. Definitive. Understood by both parties involved (as well as all the kids at school of course). And hopefully culminate with some fabulous declaration of love at a pivotal young adult moment. (Maybe the prom?) But not everyone is like me and many people enjoy a more casual approach to dating. Plus I have to admit that there have been some important lessons I’ve personally learned when dating someone who spent all our time together treating me like his girlfriend but not wanting to label me as such. (Mainly that I hated the land of in between). But I’ve thought long and hard about it and I do think overall there are pros and cons to the label-free romance.

As a commitment-phobe for most of my dating history, one thing about not defining the relationship is being really careful about the terms “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” While in some circumstances this can feel frustrating, it’s not always. In some cases even I can admit it’s actually a positive to take your time to make sure using that label in reference to someone really means something. Here are the best and worst parts of a label-free relationship.

Less pressure to define things like, right now

If commitment makes you nervous, it’s possible that being in an undefined relationship could also give you experience without pressure. Your non-relationship is STILL a version of a relationship. You’re still learning things, you’re still venturing into the dating pool of possibility, but you’re taking it at a slower speed.

But it means that you could be failing to communicate about what you want

The two of you don’t end up on the same page and someone wants more. Maybe undefined at first works while you’re figuring out your feelings, but results in one person to want the label while the other one doesn’t. Or worse, one person tries to convince the other that their feelings aren’t valid by continually stating that a label isn’t necessary. I once dated a guy who repeatedly told me that he didn’t need to refer to me as his girlfriend for me to truly understand what I meant to him. And while that can be true, his actions proved otherwise when it turned out that lots of girls were also falling prey to his disclaimer statement. I do believe I would have been fine if his words had been genuine.

You’re giving yourself some wiggle room 

I know many people who believe that dating without a label when they’re not sure if they want a relationship can be a great thing, because they are giving themselves the freedom of trial and error without being tied down. And they have told me that they feel less stressed not having to ask what it all means, they just take each day as it comes and enjoy the company of one or more people.

But you aren’t always sure where you stand

I know that I have often asked myself, do I have the right to feel mad or jealous right now? Or is that only if I’m officially someone’s girlfriend? So to me that’s a con, because asking myself if I’m allowed to feel my feelings seems ridiculous. I asked a few friends what they thought the upside to an undefined relationship was and they mostly answered that they felt it shielded them from responsibility if someone got hurt. This initially made sense to me, but then I thought more about it. Just because you don’t brand something a certain way does not mean you also have control over the other person’s feelings for you. Whether or not you say someone is your girlfriend or boyfriend, does not mean that they won’t fall for you. So the argument that lack of definition guards against hurt feelings is not necessarily accurate. In some cases it sounds like it’s just an excuse to not feel guilty.

It can be less all-consuming as a full commitment

A pro that I can sometimes get onboard with for casual or undefined relationships is how we are all busy humans and sometimes we want to feel a little bit like we have one without actually all the work involved in a full blown one. So we go on dates and talk a lot, but in and around all of our own personal priorities relating to work and individual pursuits.

I don’t have any concrete answers for the label-free relationship, except that I know personally it’s not my ideal situation and like anything else, there are positives and negatives. Which is fine because we’re all different, and what works for one person is not necessarily going to work for someone else. But no matter what works for you, always be sure it’s what YOU want, and you’re not compromising on what makes you feel comfortable in order to satisfy someone else.

[Image via Universal Pictures]