Jodie Leith explores why loving without labels is the way forward.
With terminology like “orbiting”, “stashing”, “pocketing” and “prowling” being thrown around society today, dating sounds less like an act of romance and more like a description of Ted Bundy’s behaviour pre-kill. What is this new, slightly terrifying, terminology? Are we the first generation to discuss love as some sort of complex process, carefully marked by terms and labels? Or are these labels progressive markers of the infinite possibilities of relationships?
I’ve been single for a year now. My last, and only, relationship was fairly long term. It was exclusive and my first real taste of what I perceived to be adulthood - the misconception of simple, straightforward, good-old-fashioned monogamy. However, when I found myself newly released onto the dating scene, I was stunned by the unrecognisable format of love today. Co-workers moaned of hopeful Tinder matches turned “situationships”. Friends confided in me, weeping out of fear they’d been “benched” by dates. My own sister outlined plainly that in her school, the process of dating graduated from talking, to speaking, to seeing each other, to “going”. I was perplexed.
While it may seem like an overwhelming and negative depiction of dating to some, in a Women’s Health article, clinical psychologist Ann Rosen explains that the term “benching”, or seeing more than one person at once, is perfectly normal and in fact what we should be doing to obtain a healthy dating life. Additionally, in a Cosmopolitan article, Justine Carino, a mental health counsellor, argues that situationships (aka relationships without a label) can be a positive thing, especially if you’re in a transitional period in your life. If these terms are not only validated but encouraged by experts, why shouldn’t we adhere to them?
Our generation may appear to be the most freethinking yet, as it seems young people’s expansive view of a variety of topics like racial equality, gender and climate change appear to be more liberal when compared to older generations. Sexuality, in particular, has our generation calling for a ditching of labels, with celebrities like Kristen Stewart refusing to define their sexuality and simply just date for love. So why are we insistent on a slightly backwards labelling of this period of time?
Surprisingly, the concept of what we believe to be modern dating itself is fairly new. Previously referred to as “courting”, this time period was extremely vital in the outcome of a relationship. In the early 1800s, young people were expected to date with the aspiration of marriage and courting was the foundation of building towards this. In fact, the term “date” was actually closely associated with prostitution in 1820s America, however, by the 1920s the term dating became widespread and dating for fun became cultural normality.
Although this period of time has appeared under different names, like courting and dating, and the intentions of this time period have changed, from status-increasing marriage to generally having fun, it appears we are more similar than we’d think to our ancestors in our ever-changing and complex relationship with love and romance. Perhaps in a world full of uncertainties - financial, political, spiritual – we seek solace in labelling our pre-relationship relationships.
I propose we ditch the labels. While it may be comforting to define that painful build-up to officially dating and introducing new terminology may seem like the answer, communication is always key. Why box our expectations of a relationship in with silly, intimidating lingo that sounds less and less human and more and more like techniques to stalk?
It’s time to get over the imposed, binary, Facebook-box-ticking options of single, taken, or it’s complicated. Surely, we should love without labels but ensure to communicate clearly our expectations of that awkward time period to avoid miscommunication or disappointment. And next time you hear another slightly creepy term depicting the build-up prior to a relationship, like “prowling”, simply laugh and shrug it off. The world will be a happier place without them.