A Look At Life: It’s a date – but is it love? a guide for the confused…
“So you’re dating…”
“For two months…”
“But he isn’t your boyfriend…”
Thus runs a typical conversation with my mum whenever I start seeing someone new. As far as she’s concerned, it’s twist or stick. As far as I’m concerned, it’s take the card, consider it, and hedge your bets as much as possible. Neither approach guarantees a win, but there’s no denying mine’s the more complicated path.
At least, so my mother tells me. My peers and I meanwhile think it’s quite simple:
If good relationships demand time and unnerving levels of commitment, why enter into one unless you are quite sure?
“Because,” argues mum, “it’s not a marriage. You’re not signing anything. It’s just a label.” Yet in a post-Facebook world, it is precisely the idea of labels that gives us The Fear.
One click, and your new ‘status’ will be blasted across the young persons’ equivalent of the front pages, informing everyone from your best pal to those you no longer know but haven’t yet unfriended that you’re off the shelf. Even if you avoid this exhibition, there’s no escaping the fact that living in such an interconnected world as we now do, everyone you know will find out anyway. Either way, the dating game has become almost unrecognisable since our parents last played.
So. In view of this great divide, this potential for misunderstanding and misinterpretation, I have devised a crib sheet for the older generation: something you can quickly turn to next time your tweenager/teenager/twenty-something arrives home beaming or in pain. It’s not gospel. It is error-ridden. If I knew all the rules I’d have had more luck in the past. But it might just help you translate what us young ’uns mean.
‘Dating’ is not ‘Going Out’.
There are, as Shakespeare rightly told us, seven stages of mankind – yet that was without factoring in women. Put the two together and there’s at least 7-to-the-power-of-7 stages, which ensue roughly as follows:
One date is nothing. The ‘everyone deserves a second chance’ date is also nothing, for that very reason. The third time lucky date could also be quite trite. Only by date four are things in motion – and by that point you could well be four weeks in, leading many people (parents) to conclude that you must be boyfriend and girlfriend by now. You’re not. You’re dating. After all you still don’t even know their mother’s name.
‘Going Out’ is not a ‘Relationship’.
Only when that happens, and you’ve met several of each other’s friends, has the ‘Going Out’ phase been entered: that strange, awkward hiatus between Dating and officially being a set. As yet, no one has really ascertained your responsibilities here, beyond exclusivity. After that than that it’s anyone’s guess. Do you plan more than a week ahead? Do you text every day? Do you ring? No one knows, and the result is something closely resembling the tango. Try not to worry yourself though: survive this bit and relief is on its way.
‘Officially’ is an important word…
Ah, ‘Officially’. In the wrong context, it can be used to mean all sorts of red-tape nastiness. In relationships though, it’s gold dust. You can demand anything from an official relationship: lifts, 3am drunken phone calls, the administering of cough medicine and chicken soup, CV checking (I’ve even known of couples typing each other’s presentations). It’s as though once you’ve entered into that Official zone you simply stop being fully functional: I’ve known girls who refuse to travel home alone now, despite the fact that they did it every night pre-Ralph. I’ve known previously well-balanced boys flounder at the thought of making their own food. It’s quite pathetic – and yet while I laughed at this dependency when single, there’s no doubt that being so synced is nice.
‘Officially’ is an important word, as I said…
…but not as important as love
I know. Bizarre isn’t it. Even in this day and age of Cool, the sentence ‘I love you’ is still the ultimate end game. You oldies can try to stop it – put up the signs: Caution! Cliff Edge! Ignore the View! – but you’ll have no more luck than your parents did. Or their parents. Or their parents’ parents. And so on. Don’t even try. Best save your breath to cool our probable, but not inevitable, pain and suffering when it’s all really over.
And when it’s over…
…then it is your chance to shine. Friends, while great, tend also to have the same amount of years and bedpost notches as we do: they may have loved and lost, but they’ve yet to do so again and again. We need your shoulders, and we need your stories: the good; the bad even – in fact, especially; and the ones we once called stupid. They normalise it. They stop us feeling insane.
Because in reality, in spite of all this, I don’t think that much changes in love. The ‘send-receive’ button, the answerphone machine, the waiting for the postman, the watching at the window longingly – all of these are all one of a kind. And if you tell us often enough, and keep the stories flowing, it might just, perhaps, when we’ve reached your age, sink in…