The labels “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” carry so much weight in terms of societal expectations, that I find them difficult to use in conversations describing my romantic life. In many cases, we enter a relationship, receiving those labels, and are met with a list of demands that we must follow in order to be deemed worthy of that title.
- You must not talk to these specific people
- You must give yourself fully to me
- You are responsible for my happiness
- If I am unhappy, you are responsible for fixing that
- You must have sex with me an appropriate amount of times a week, or else that means you don’t love me/find me attractive
- If you give me an opinion that I don’t like, regardless of how it’s delivered, rather than looking at myself, I expect you to take back what you said and/or make me feel better about it
As the relationship progresses, the list of demands inevitably grows until it becomes a job to maintain the connection. You are no longer with them because you are happy, but instead, you feel like you need to make them happy because in turn this will make you happy. It becomes a nasty, toxic cycle of self sacrificing to pull them out of their own mental health ditch. Your “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” should be your best friend, but, would we really treat our friends like this? Or ask them to jump through hoops to create happiness for us?
MC, whom I’ve known for years, has an “intimate friendship” with my nesting partner, and with myself. One of the things I like about the dynamic is that my NP and I are not engaging romantically/sexually with MC solely as a unit. We all hang out together and watch Netflix, we go out on dates as a triad, but we are all seeing each other individually as well. When we originally discussed boundaries of the relationship, MC said she would be uncomfortable with the “girlfriend” label and would prefer, that if there were a label, it would be “intimate friendship” (Or “Nomadic Lover” as my NP lovingly phrased it).
From the outside looking in, without any prior knowledge, she may be mistakenly mislabeled as mine and/or my partner’s girlfriend. We spend time together, we are romantic, we are intimate, we don’t have a problem with PDA and we all go on dates. The “boyfriend/girlfriend” label has a certain feeling of possessiveness depending on who you talk to, so I can fully understand why she made that boundary clear in the beginning. At the same time, even without that specific label, that doesn’t mean that MC is any less important to myself or to my NP, just as I’m sure we don’t mean any less to her. We all love and care about each other just as much as if the girlfriend/boyfriend labels were in place.
That discussion and the progression of our relationship dynamic really made me think: what is the difference between my relationship with MC, MC’s relationship with my NP and my NP’s relationship with me?
Is there really a difference between “friends with benefits” and a relationship?
From my perspective, and in my personal situations, I don’t see a huge difference between the two. My NP and I spent a while as FWB because I refused to enter a relationship out of fear; a fear that I realize now was about the perceived expectations that came along with the “girlfriend” label. When we made our relationship an “official” commitment, nothing changed. We still have wildly in depth conversations, we cuddle and watch movies, I still kick his ass when we play video games together (though, he might tell you different) and we still get to live our own lives doing whatever the hell we want (within reason, of course). To this day, neither of us have set our facebook relationship status to “in a relationship” because frankly, it doesn’t matter. Much like labels, that declaration isn’t for us, it’s for other people.
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