The question that made me totally rethink how I was dating

Recently, while in the process of evicting some undesired hairs in preparation for swimsuit and shorts season, my esthetician posed one of those small talk questions that I secretly dread. “So,” she said, heating the wax. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

I smiled with discomfort, steeling myself. “Sort of, not really. I don’t know. No. I’m single.”

As she went about her depilatory business, I reflected on my answer. I liked someone, and we seemed together when we were. But when we weren’t, our relationship was nonexistent. We rarely texted, and we’d find time for one another every few weeks. I had a handful of other contacts in my phone, some who asked me to films, others to dinner, still others to less public occasions. I assume he had his own cast of players as well. We shared no commitment, no strings, and monogamy was a notion that at least defied my sense of normality. In that moment, I felt uneasy about the flippancy of my relationship status. I didn’t want to “not know.”

*      *     *

This past year, I knew a guy who, after falling for someone, told me he was “cutting out all of his sidepieces.” I was one of them, designated as separate from the “main piece” and thus disposable. I wondered incredulously at his ability to categorize people as “sidepieces,” but I guess I understand the logic of wanting to focus on just one relationship, and give it the room to blossom. Sometimes, you find one person who stands out from the pack, and you’d like to take a plunge into the cold, dark and scary waters of commitment with them.

But in college at least, that can be kind of difficult. Especially with today’s dating culture and its muddiness, the traditional formula for getting to know someone (i.e. popcorn and a movie) has sort of lost its appeal. On campuses, hookups are one way to meet people. Mutual friends are another. Rarely does someone approach you and ask you out, old-school style, and there’s always that troublesome quandary of whether a get-together is a hangout, or a date, or something in-between.

Then, you add the constant fear of commitment and monogamy that many of us have, and it’s almost impossible to transition from being one in the cast of iPhone contacts to a full-time girlfriend on speed dial. And besides that, it’s unclear if you really want to. Being in a relationship is a risk. It’s work. And it can leave scars.

I’ve done it once or twice. For me, there was always the concern that someone better may come along and I would miss out. Best case scenario: we fall in love and spend forever with the other person (forever sounds quite long, doesn’t it?). More likely scenario: we have some fun for a bit, then break things off. Worst case: We grow to despise one another and end up so bitter that we never talk again.

But what of the alternative? What about my strange and unexpected sentiments at the spa that had nothing to do with the (really, really) uncomfortable wax treatment?

Then I realized: by letting insecurities and inhibitions control me, I was creating a lot of real-life “missed connections.” I know in the future, I won’t want to be a sidepiece, either. And I especially won’t want to lose someone I like because “I don’t know” what we are and that frightens me.

*      *     *

“So, do you have a boyfriend?”

“Sort of, not really. I don’t know. No. I’m single.”

My smile wasn’t convincing, and before pulling off another strip, my company stopped me as I tried to transition to a different conversation. “You know, if you like someone, you need to have a serious talk.”

I grimaced. “But I’m sort of a goofball, can’t you tell?”

Her brows furrowed, just for a second. “Still, you need to. Believe me.”

She was right; I just haven’t had the courage. So to my fellow young adults who are stuck in the grey area, I feel you. And to those of you who are hooking up and staying single because a relationship isn’t what you want right now, you do you. That’s awesome. Being in a relationship isn’t the end all be-all of life. But if you’re on the fence with someone you really like, maybe it’s time to give someone special a chance. Yes, you could jump and land in disaster. But at least you made the leap.

Signs you might be a hopeless romantic
My ‘failed engagement’ and what it taught me

[Image courtesy of Universal Pictures]