One of the readers of this series sent me a link to an interesting op-ed piece from the New York Times concerning “sliding” relationships. The article notes how many young couples today go from casual dating to cohabitating to marriage and possible kids by way of a gradual slope, as opposed appropriate events, or even a simple conversations, marking each phase of the relationship.

For example, the move from casual dating to exclusive dating usually involves some conversation about monogamy and future intentions. But many young couples today ignore this step, either choosing to avoid the conversation, or assuming it is implied after a set period of appropriate time. As another example, consider how couples spend more and more nights together, until one day you wake up and realize that most of your stuff is at your partner’s place and that you haven’t seen your roommate in weeks.

The article adds that these sliding situations present a lot of risk because there is never a point where you stop and ask yourself, “Is this what I really want?” You’ve sunk so much time and effort in the relationship that it makes it difficult to extract yourself from the situation. Additionally, there is a distinct asymmetry. Men see sliding as a way to postpone actual commitment and test the relationship. Women see it as a progressive move toward marriage.

In the worst case, you end up in a relationship based on ambiguity and convenience, as opposed to clearly defined intent and emotional connection. As the article points out, the real danger in “sliding” into a relationship is that you will always wonder if you made a conscious choice for a partner, or if you’re just settling because you invested so much of yourself. Plus, you never really know your partner’s true intentions.

I wanted to add some insight into this topic. First, and frankly, sliding relationships are probably preferred by the Modern American Male. It gives the guy tons of freedom, little tangible commitment, every opportunity to try to upgrade, and a great exit strategy. This is especially true in the early stages of the relationship. After three or four months, you could be spending every other night at his house, but effectively you aren’t his “girlfriend” since you never made a point to have a conversation defining your status. So technically (the Modern American Male loves technicalities), he is free to roam to greener pastures. As are you, of course.

Secondly, I think women are equally culpable. I think many women enable this flighty behavior in men. Maybe they fear that having a serious conversation about intent will frighten the guy. Maybe they think that by playing it cool and casual it maintains the guy’s interest. Maybe it is something else entirely. (Any readers out there have some theories?) But, for whatever reason, I have started to notice that women largely don’t speak up for their own interest, and therefore allow “sliding” to occur, even though deep down they feel uncomfortable with the situation. The NYT article gives a wonderful example of this.

In summary, while men arguably prefer being in sliding relationships, it is the women who allow it to happen. Therefore, you need to make a stand for your interests in a relationship. It is important to vocalize your intentions and expectations from time to time as a relationship develops. If you have questions about where your relationships is headed, make sure you ask, otherwise you could find yourself in a downward spiral. And ultimately, if you aren’t satisfied with the answers, it is much better to find out sooner rather than later, after you have committed so much of your time and energy into a dead shark.


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