Lara Zegart questions the societal use of labels, and what relationships can lose or gain from them.
What is a label? What does it mean? Is it really that important?
We all ask ourselves these questions about labelling a relationship. Naturally, as a subjective concept, we come up with different answers. Depending upon what we are looking for, these answers evolve.
Whether we are looking for a ‘boyfriend,’ ‘girlfriend,’ ‘fuck buddy,’ ‘open relationship,’ ‘friends with benefits,’ or even ‘no label’– all these terms want to define one thing: who we are allowed to sleep with. We label for social conventions, to publicize exclusivity with others, to feel emotionally safer. The list goes on.
At some point or another, we all want a label. Whether it is for commitment or something informal. A label provides a certain sense of security. Let’s face it, any sort of relationship—however defined (because it can even be your best friend)—requires us to share some part of our life with that person and therefore a certain amount of trust, time, and energy.
Many of us become hooked on defining relationships. Grey areas are prominent in today’s hook-up culture, and can often cause pain. When leaving a relationship unlabelled, feeling used by the other person is common. However, when we have labelled ourselves, we can often feel that by creating boundaries, we have built our own jail cell.
Labelling will only work if society can agree on the meaning of each title. Today, that’ is nearly impossible. Even the definition of marriage is under debate, with only certain societies recognizing gay marriage. How are we expected to agree on the definition of less serious labels? These labels are not only subjective, but they also evolve with culture.
In the digital age, traditional dating culture is beginning to diminish. I am not saying we don’t date. Rather, I am saying that this dating is occasional and interspersed with texting and other forms of non face-to-face communication. Are we scared of commitment? Are we uncomfortable expressing the desire of a relationship? We don’t always know where we stand, yet many of us still fell the need to label what we’re doing.
Ultimately, labelling is just another title. It’s just a word. Just another set of guidelines on what is and isn’t appropriate in the way we conduct ourselves socially. Labelling isn’t the end-all. What is—and what will make or break a relationship—is communication.
Communicate what you want and what you expect from the other person, and what you are and are not comfortable with. If you label your relationship, make sure there is a mutual understanding regarding what the label constitutes. If you don’t label, well that’s your own business, and not anyone else’s.