My longest relationship was a never clearly defined, long-distance relationship.
We had never officially had a “defining the relationship” talk, but we had been involved romantically for over six months at that point.
The ambiguous nature of the relationship really hit me when, out with my guy at a dance club, a friend introduced him to others, by saying “This is Irene’s partner.”
My guy quickly added “Woah, I don’t know if I would say partner.” “Oh, okay” my friend responded, “Irene’s boyfriend?” “Eh…” he said. “Okay, well this is Irene’s boy toy.” Everyone, including myself, laughed.
But if I was being honest, the moment wasn’t funny. It was disheartening and embarrassing. Despite the length of our relationship, significant amounts of money spent on travel to visit one another, countless texts, Skype calls, and phone calls, the only degree of commitment that he could muster to agree to was that he was my “boy toy.”
This hurt because, in truth, I wanted to be in a committed relationship with him. Our relationship was in many ways imperfect, but I still cared about him deeply and would have happily been in a committed relationship with him. I was also hoping this moment of public pressure to define the relationship would prompt him to define our relationship. Yet, that didn’t happen. Instead he let me know, publicly, that he did not feel the same way about me as I felt about him.
I came up with a whole list of reasons for why I was okay this. I knew he suffered from depression and anxiety, and that his last committed relationship was with a girlfriend who was abusive and manipulative. I did not want to cause him greater anxiety by pressuring him to commit to a defined relationship with me. My own anxiety told me that he would no longer want to see me if I expressed any desire to give a clear name to our relationship.
What made things harder was my mistaken understanding of relationships didn’t allow me to listen to my conscience, which kept bugging me for clarity. Open and free relationships are best, I kept telling myself.
Ultimately, whatever-it-was ended because communication broke down and an already vague relationship became even more unclear. The frequency of our talking with one another slipped from daily to weekly. While I wanted to be supportive and caring, it felt like an impossible task without communication. After a fizzling out period of several weeks, we eventually stopped speaking. Just as there was no clear beginning to our relationship, there was no clear ending.
I hated feeling heartache over a breakup that did not happen from a relationship that I could never clearly name. I did not date for about two years after the end of that relationship. I knew that I deserved more, but I also knew that I needed to relearn how to be in relationships for this to happen. I knew that I had to believe that I was worthy of commitment before I could seek out men who were willing to be in committed relationships with me.
I no longer wanted to have to muddle through what “hanging out” with someone might mean. I want to know what I mean to them. I also want him to know what he means to me.
In hindsight, I find it is strange that there are so many like me who are concerned about having clarity and transparency in our food, government, and business relationships, yet don’t seek the same in the most intimate part of our lives. Why do we accept this ambiguity when it comes to our romantic and sexual relationships?
After spending a few years away from dating I met a new guy and we started talking. One day, he asked me: “Will you be my girlfriend?” It was the first time anyone has ever actually said those words to me. Knowing that he respected and cared for me enough to want to commit to me, and to ask me if I wanted to commit to him, was one of the sweetest feelings I’ve experienced.
This moment not only gave me peace about our relationship but also signaled to me that this was a relationship where we could both continue to communicate clearly with one another no matter what challenges we might face.
I have learned that it is not wrong to want to define the relationship, it’s the best way to let a romance grow or let it go.
I am thankful to have arrived at a place where I believe myself to be worthy of commitment and to be in a relationship that can grow without being bounded by the insecurities of ambiguity.