For many of us, relationships seem like a big commitment, which is why we can be so hesitant about making something “official.” Being in a relationship means you’re accountable to the person you’re sleeping with. It means that if you’re unhappy, you have to end it. It signifies that if you act like a jackass, your partner has the right to be upset with you.
But the truth is, these things are true whether you call your involvement with someone a relationship or not. Relationships don’t start the second you change your Facebook status or start referring to someone as your boyfriend or girlfriend. The connection you make with someone — otherwise known as the relationship you have with them — starts at first contact: the first date, the first message or the first time you hang out. You can hook up with someone for months and call it (or not call it) whatever you want. But to say that what’s going on between you two at this point is not a relationship — of some kind — is just not true.
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Perhaps not defining our relationships is our way of dodging responsibility. It’s like our disclaimer: If you get hurt on this ride you can’t sue me — after all, we weren’t technically together. But if there are still feelings involved, and there usually are, does it really matter what you call it on paper or on Facebook?
We owe it to each other to be responsible with each other’s feelings because those feelings are there, regardless of the label we affix to them. Sure, maybe you can just stop calling someone you’ve been on five dates with, whereas you actually have to dump someone you’re “officially” dating. But label or not, ending it with someone hurts that person. When you act unreliable, it causes pain. When you disappear and reappear repeatedly, it’s emotionally strenuous for the person you’re stringing along.
If you’re not ready to respect people’s feelings, don’t date and stop sleeping with people. Perhaps you’re not ready to exclusively date one person, and that’s fine. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that not having a significant other means you’re not in a relationship. When you interact with another human, that is a relationship, and you owe it to that person to be respectful.
Amber Madison is a Manhattan-based relationship expert and licensed therapist. She is the author of “Are All Guys Assholes?” for which she traveled the country, spoke to over 1,000 men and discovered that the answer to this question is no. You can follow her on Twitter @ambermadi.