A young man wrote me earlier this week and asked what exactly the word "relationship" means to women. I'm an expert at this dating stuff in case you didn't know. That's why people seek out my learned voice of experience. Ahem. Anyway, he wrote:
"The term I struggle with definition wise is "relationship" – what is it women mean when they say they are in a relationship? To me just about any interaction with another could be called a relationship – good or bad – but women seem to use this term to mean something much more significant than that."
He’s right, technically. Whenever two people interact, they’ve formed a "relationship" of sorts, whether it be class mates working on a school project together, coworkers that share a cubicle, salesman/customer, etc. For a finite period of time, those two people are relating in a manner that brings them both a specific, desired outcome.
When women use the term "relationship" that is just what they mean, with a little extra tacked on.
When a woman is looking for a specific, desired outcome from her interaction with a person of the opposite sex, she labels their regular interaction as "a relationship." A relationship is much more important in her life than a mere date. A relationship usually includes sex. Guys don’t get that if they have sex with a woman more than a couple of times, she is going to consider that "a relationship" whether he wants it to be one or not!
A relationship has a desired outcome for women that includes love, physical involvement, a desire to move forward as a couple towards something like living together or marriage. In other words, a commitment to coupledom. In other words, you are her boyfriend, with all the obligations, responsiblities, hopes and ties that title entails.
So guys, you can have sex, call her all the time, and "hang out" regularly. You can try to play dumb and pretend you didn't know you were in a relationship if you want to, but that won’t mean you aren’t in one!
What men should do, however, is establish the boundaries and parameters for the relationship. You want to make sure that the two of you are on the same page and both know exactly what level of "relationship" you are on. Yes, I said "level of relationship," because there are by last count, five distinct levels of involvement.
Anyway, I suggest that you clarify things and tell a woman you have recently began seeing that you two are involved in a very casual uncommitted dating relationship. Don’t you be in a rush to lock anything down until you are sure it makes sense and that you two are compatible. Don't let her pressure you into a premature commitment either. Let her know that she is free to date other people, as are you, while you get to know each other better. Be clear, be honest and be very careful that you don't send mixed messages.
That is what I call a Level 1 Relationship.
If there is interest in making your relationship a 1-on-1 romance, you’ll then talk about advancing to Relationship Level 2, which is a commitment to date and have sex only with each other. Instead of focusing on looking for and getting to know one new person after another, you'll spend your free time with each other, learning and growing and having fun together. Your friends and family know that you have a girlfriend/boyfriend now, and probably start inviting you to places as a unit. You are an official, acknowledged couple to the world.
Relationship Level 3 is a big step because it usually involves moving in together. Be careful with this though, because being around someone 24/7/365 is huge and often stressful. Some people refer to this as "a trial marriage" when in reality it is no such thing. It’s like saying you have a "trial pregnancy." Ha! Get real! You’re either pregant or not, married or not. I've found the people who choose to move in together vs. marry do so because they are looking for something to be wrong in the relationship. They set things up so they can get out of the relationship unscathed. Living together is their hedge clause and backup insurance plan against deep hurt and financial losses. They live loose and easy not putting their all into the relationship... having a great time sexually and sharing expenses, but always with a critical eye for what's wrong instead of looking for what is right.
Relationship Level 4 is reached when the two of you decide you want to be together for the rest of your lives, and take the next step. He proposes, you say yes, you are now engaged.
Parents get happy phone calls, your single friends cry, and wedding plans are begun in earnest. Sometimes expectations change due to the fact that people have fantasies about gender roles and what it means to be a husband or wife. I suggest you talk about these visions and fantasies openly and honestly. It’s important that you each know what is expected of you and the marriage. If you have some sticking points that are non-negotiable, your partner needs to know what they are long before you walk down the aisle! Love is not enough to sustain a marriage if each partner isn’t getting what they truly need from the other. Find out what your partner needs and decide if you can or cannot meet those needs before you move on to the next level.
People that are in a hurry to "get to the good part" or that want to avoid the necessary negotiations and possible conflicts often skip this step. Most end up divorced 18-24 months later.
Finally, when you take that wonderful, tear filled walk down the aisle and say "I DO" you’ve reached Relationship Level 5.
Hope this explains the whole relationship thing for you guys. I don't want you to be surprised when the woman you’ve been seeing and sleeping with for most of the year suggests you two go away for a weekend to celebrate your six month anniversary! Don’t you dare say you didn’t know that you "were in a relationship."
Living The Single Life : Surviving Dating