As someone who has spent the last year and a half without definition in my intimate connections (though certainly with plenty of defining moments, and yes mom, that’s all I’ll say about that), I placed my chin in the palm of my hand like a teacup rests in a saucer as I read Jordana Narin’s New York Times article, No Labels, No Drama, Right? as if such intensity could give her answers I’m still trying to find.
Narin writes both honestly and critically of current Millennial dating culture, a generational way of going out – or staying in – that I both am part of and baffled by (for reasons well explained by Anna Garvey):
I’m told my generation will be remembered for our callous commitments and rudimentary romances. We hook up. We sext. We swipe right.
All the while, we avoid labels and try to bury our emotions. We aren’t supposed to want anything serious; not now, anyway. But a void is created when we refrain from telling it like it is, from allowing ourselves to feel how we feel. And in that unoccupied space, we’re dangerously free to create our own realities.
The question of What are we? isn’t relegated to young adults who have spent a quarter of their life dancing in and out of each other’s iMessage inbox. I know full fledged adults who have been orbiting one another for a decade, or two, or three – through Palestine and second marriages, back when letters had to be written because sending an international text was so expensive it was holy.
When we don’t define what we are, even if what we are is casual, a problem emerges. We’re not making it up as we go along, so much as just trying to see whatever it is we want to see. The dance becomes wilder, the orbit wider.
Still, we were never more than semi-affiliated, two people who spoke and loved to speak and kissed and loved to kiss and connected and were scared of connecting. I told myself it was because we went to different schools, because teenage boys don’t want relationships, because it was all in my head.
I told myself a lot of things I never told him.
Without definition, are we just nothing? And if we are nothing, then does anything matter? Does having an extra ticket to the baseball game matter? Does having a concussion? Wherein lies the line?
Are we, or aren’t we? is a simple enough question, but it’s not one we necessarily want the answer to – because as the phantom of the opera says, “In the dark it is easy to pretend that the truth is what it ought to be.” It’s nice to play pretend. But does fantasy really eclipse reality?
Instead, we spend our emotional energy on someone we’ve built up and convinced ourselves we need. We fixate on a person who may not be right for us simply because he never wronged us. Because without a label, he never really had the chance.
My brother often reminds me that at some point, we have to stop auditioning for the role of “partner.” Either you want me as your girlfriend, or you don’t.
Not that we’re casting votes or anything, but I’m voting for labels, if only because a label means two people had to sit down and have a conversation about wants, needs, and expectations. I don’t want to hover my thumbs over my phone, wondering if I’m supposed to tell you about a mild head trauma. I just want to know.