Relationships are tricky, and the past decade has proved more than ever a time where dating relationships are a far cry from what they once were. Even in different generations, there seem to be new "rules" or boundaries that are hard to navigate, and that bodes the question, are labels important in relationships?
What Does a Label Imply?
A label in itself implies a definition of what a relationship is. It means if it is a friendship or if it is indeed something more. I remember being in college when the acronym, DTR, or "define the relationship," became the call to action for having the conversation of establishing a label. What was striking was how common it actually was for two people to be going on dates, talking often, and doing life together, yet having an uncertainty of what was occurring among them. You would think at some point the guy in the relationship would ask the girl to be his girlfriend, but instead, there seemed to be a question mark ongoing for months. This was the case in so many instances that DTR's almost became an expected milestone conversation, in the same way that one would expect a conversation before an actual proposal. Labels imply a mutual understanding that comes with the need for respect surrounding a relationship.
Are Labels Indicative of Intention?
Just as labels imply a mutual understanding, they also can imply intention. Intentions are in truth honoring and respectful. Even if there is a place of the unknown where a relationship will lead, setting an intention opens the door for a healthy relationship. This would look like making it known that the person you are dating is the sole person you are dating; there will not be others that you see at one time. It also invites a place of respect towards your relationship from those that would seek to pursue your boyfriend/girlfriend. The label invokes respect that the ambiguity of "just talking" or "seeing each other" does not do. It sets an appropriate stage for seriousness and proper communication.
Not having a label on a relationship breeds ambiguity, and ambiguity breeds confusion, which is why communication is vital for a successful and honoring relationship. Communication also opens the door to set boundaries of what is to be expected in dating. Both parties can offer what they are hoping to achieve once a label is set, and it can become clear if this is for the end game of marriage, a season of just getting to know one another, or just for amusement. When these honest thoughts are expressed, it can ultimately save a lot of heartache and pain because there is no gray, foggy zone of the unknown. Life has enough mystery in itself. Knowing if the person you are seeing wants to date you seriously should not be one of them. Good communication can also reveal if the person you are entering into a relationship with is interested in something long-term or if this is just a flirty game for them.
The idea of no labels can have an alluring sense to it; it is, in theory, less messy, more modern, and takes the pressure off. In actuality, these hopes are not what transpires. If anything, it makes things messier and more anxiety-filled because nothing is discussed or defined. In a personal experience, the first relationship I had in dating did not have a label. Perhaps it was because we were young, or maybe it was because neither of us had the courage to discuss what we were, but there was no label attached to what we were. In time, these blurred lines would prove to be beyond repair. There was also an unnecessary burden of pressure placed upon us both. We saw each other as if we were boyfriend and girlfriend, when in fact, there was never a label placed to set that understanding. Without a label, it was hard to know if there ought to be allegiances or not or if there was to be a future or not. Although the idea of a lack of label seems to be a place of freedom, it's not. If anything, it is a prison in the mind of overthinking and fear of overstepping. Such weights do not exist in a place where clear, defined lines, boundaries, and agreements are made. Such weights are alleviated when vulnerability is expressed through communication.
How Can You Honor One Another?
Ultimately labels can prove to be honoring in respect towards one another. These labels do not need to be pulled out and attached on the first date, but they also can't be thrown out altogether. In dating, it is important to consider the Golden Rule and live by it in treating the other person as you would want to be treated. Even after a label is attached, this ought to be lived out. If you are dating someone and it is clear to your heart that this is not the person God has for you, being courageous enough to break up is important. It is considering the other person and caring for their heart with tenderness and kindness. Labels are honoring because they set the tone of respect.
What if You've Failed Before?
Even if in the past you have not handled yourself well, there is hope for the future. I look at myself nearly a decade ago and the role I played in not being brave enough to set a label, but that became a lesson for me. Instead of wallowing and stewing in my failure, I saw it as a place where I could be mindful not to end up in that situation going onward. It also gave me a place to recognize when and how to approach the topic and set a boundary line. It is not a failure if you learned a lesson to take with you in the future to do better ahead.
Labels may appear old school, confining, and boring, but they are a sincere and honoring gift. They allow for the fog to clear and for a clear understanding to be set so both parties involved can enjoy getting to know each other without the threat or fear that they are reading all the signs wrong. Labels invite a place of good interactions, healthy understandings, and respect towards the other person's heart and time.
Cally Logan is an author and US History teacher from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, she enjoys mentoring youth and spending time in nature. Her book, Hang on in There, Girl! Will be available everywhere on April 1, 2022. Check her out on Instagram and Twitter, @CallyLogan and TikTok Cally_Logan.