Levels and Labels

No two relationships are alike; I think most people will agree with me there.

People like to know what “level” a relationship is on, and they tend to use labels to accomplish the task. This is my friend. This is my best friend. This is my boyfriend/girlfriend. This is my friend with benefits. This is my fuck buddy. This is my wife/husband. This is my brother/sister, even though we’re not actually blood related.

I take a little issue with this practice. Say we use the term “boyfriend” to describe someone we’ve dated, and then that relationship ends. Now a new guy comes along, you start dating, and even though you re-use the term “boyfriend,” the relationship is likely different from that of you and your first boyfriend.

These terms have generally accepted definitions that help other people, and perhaps yourselves, understand where the relationship is at; but have you ever considered how limited they are? Has everybody who is dating said “I love you” to each other? Has one person said it and the other hasn’t? (gasp!) Have all dating couples slept together yet? Do all “dating” couples call each other “boyfriend” and/or “girlfriend”, or can they be “just dating”? Is there a label for the person you are “just dating”? (“This is Bob, my…um…person I’m just dating.”)

What bothers me most, though, is how much these labels limit our ability to see the different levels in between and even in the overlapping of these relationships. A husband or wife can also be a best friend. A best friend can also be a friend with benefits. We can love someone who is “just a friend.” Our desire to keep things strictly away from grey areas and within bold, clear boundaries inhibits so much of each of our limitless (dare I say, infinite) love and friendship possibilities. We often force ourselves to fit the labels, rather than making the labels work for us.

Use labels, don’t let them use you.

I’m not trying to tear down the excitement of the moment that you and someone you are interested in look at one another and say, “So, shall we change our Facebook statuses?” What I’m offering you is the chance to realize something much more exciting: the status does no justice to the uniqueness of your relationship. Make sure to embrace, talk about, and celebrate the uniqueness of every relationship (friendship, romantic, familial, or otherwise) in your life.

And once you recognize just how many people you already love, you may start to understand why some people fall “in love” with more than one person at a time.

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