Rebecca Holman: When is a relationship a relationship?
As Bridget Jones might say, sometimes it's hard to tell if he's really your boyfriend. Rebecca Holman, a possibly single 30-year-old, shares some handy tips and lays down a few ground rules
I often get asked if I have a boyfriend. And every time I can happily, emphatically answer with a "Nope, still as repulsive to the opposite sex as last time you asked, thank you very much".
However, a problem arises if you ask me if I'm seeing someone. "Well . . . sort of . . . I mean, we're not really seeing seeing each other, we're just seeing each other. Do you know what I mean?"
Invariably if the person I'm speaking to has been single at any point in the last decade, then yes, they know exactly what I mean, because if there's one scenario that's become endemic amongst myself and my peers, it's our inability to define a relationship after the first five or six dates.
It's fine at first. You go on a few dates with someone, and you're doing just that – you're dating.
But what about the 12th date? Is it too soon to refer to someone as your boyfriend? If so, then what are you doing? If you've been on 12 dates with someone, you really don't still want to be seeing other people, do you? If you're not seeing anyone else, and you're seeing a lot of each other, what on earth is it if it's not a relationship?
* Hedging your bets is the norm
One friend (who wishes to remain anonymous lest her non-boyfriend reads this) explains: "I've been seeing this guy for four months now – we're dating and see each other a couple of times a week. However, if anyone refers to me as his girlfriend in front of him, the colour drains from his face. When I asked him if we were going out properly he just said he 'wasn't there yet, and wasn't even sure if he wanted a serious relationship'.
"I don't want to push it as I have a really nice time with him. I don't want to come across as some relationship-obsessed harpy, and I'm sure once we've been seeing each other for long enough he'll come round – we're in a relationship in all but name, anyway."
I want to bang my head against the keyboard now, not least because I've said the same thing more than once in the past. I'm not judging – I can see how easy it is to get into that situation.
Earlier this year, The New York Times published an article called "The End of Courtship?" explaining how proper dating has been replaced by casual hook-ups and ill-defined relationships. Online dating and our ability to be in constant contact with everyone we know via text, email or social media make us unwilling to commit to one person, and more likely to want to hedge our bets.
* What should you say if you don't know where you stand?
Let me help you out with some suggestions next time you're asked to define your non-relationship.
"Well, Gran, it's funny you should ask. There is someone on the scene. We're: sleeping together/seeing each other/dating/friends with benefits/ friends (apparently the same as friends with benefits, but twice as infuriating)/having an affair (it's unfortunate when, after 12 dates, you discover that his reticence to define your relationship is down to his previously unmentioned wife)/ wasting each other's time until something better comes along."
* Technology killed the relationship star
I agree that technology – evil, brain-sapping technology – might play its part here. We can be in touch with our potential paramours all the time – via texts, on Facebook, on email –and this constant contact can be misleading, giving us the impression that we're embroiledi n something much more meaningful than we really are.
But the fact is – and this is something I've had to learn the hard way – if one of you isn't calling it a relationship, then It. Is. Not. A. Relationship.
* My new cut-off point
My new rule is eight weeks – if someone won't call it after eight weeks, then I'm out of there. My reasoning being that if someone doesn't feel strongly enough about me after a couple of months, then they're never going to feel strongly enough for me to spend time and energy on them.
Yes, I could hang around, try and coax them into it, or just generally refuse to go away until it becomes easier for them to give in – but who wants to do that? That's like being awarded a relationship through squatter's rights.
And if you land a boyfriend that way and then 'win' (and by 'win', I mean you get the ultimate prize – marriage), can you ever really relax, knowing they were so blasé about you when you first met that it took them six months, nine months, a year to refer to you as their girlfriend?
However, according to a male friend, it's just the way some men are. "I've never willingly called any of the women I've been out with my girlfriends –even the ones I've lived with. I always have to be really pushed into making it more serious –but that's just the way I am. It's nothing personal."
I'm not sure I buy this – how would his (lucky, lucky) girlfriend feel if she heard him saying, outright, that he hadn't been too fussed about her when they got together, and that they're only together now because of her tenacity?
The thing is, you can make any excuse you like when you really fancy or even love someone. "They're still getting over their ex," "they just need more time," or (ugh) "they're scared of commitment" – but the fact is, when someone meets the right person, they can't propose marriage, or a joint rental agreement, quick enough.
Of course, there's always the chance that I'm (shocker) wrong – maybe eight weeks is far too early to call it.
Maybe I'm going to miss out on swathes of wonderful, slightly indecisive men who need longer than a couple of months to decide if they want to be in a relationship. They'll end up with women much more nurturing and patient than I, who realised that all they needed was a bit of time and gentle guidance.
Maybe I'm being old fashioned and just plain unrealistic to think that I should wait for someone who's actually interested enough to want to chase me, who knows for certain from the out that they want a relationship with me – and who doesn't need talking into the bloody thing.
* When is the right time to say I love you?
Maybe I'm just particularly unlucky when it comes to men. A survey carried out last year by dating website 'Seeking Arrangements' found that most couples tend to say 'I love you' after 14 dates or seven weeks (the average number of dates per week was two). Similarly, most new couples introduced each other to friends for the first time after six dates or three weeks, and people are most likely to introduce their new boy or girlfriend to their parents after 12 dates or six weeks. And if things go well, dating couples move in with each other, on average, after 30 weeks or 60 dates.
So, from now on I'm sticking to my guns – if you won't call it after eight weeks, then I'm out of there. Maybe that's a bit dogmatic but everyone's got to draw a line somewhere. And if there's one thing I learnt from my 20s, it's that I'm not going to waste any of my time on men who won't even waste a noun on me.