When you sign up for a dating app and get to the part where you form your profile, you might come across this question: “What are you looking for?” In one dating app, you have four options: Marriage, Relationship, Something casual, or Don’t know yet. Choosing any one of the four won’t affect your user experience, but it may affect how potential dates see you. A user looking to have a fling with someone will most likely avoid matching with a person looking for a serious relationship, while another user looking for a long-term relationship should not expect the same for a person who doesn’t really know what they want.
If this sounds confusing, then you may either be born outside of the Millennial and Generation Z age group, or you may not have been formally inducted into the world of online dating. It is the new way of dating that is slowly gaining ground over the maturing younger generations.
Back in the days of your grandparents when Tinder and Bumble were just synonyms for fire kindling and bees, dating options were limited to men and women within one’s social circles, blind dates arranged by friends and family members, or, if one were feeling brave, accepting a date from a stranger who caught their eye. Your grandmother would never have met and married John from three cities away because it was highly unlikely for them to meet and cross paths during that time. Note that during that part of time, casual hook-ups or flings were frowned upon, making it much harder to date around.
While some people still practice traditional ways of forming romantic relationships, around 40 percent of couples in the United States exist because they met online. Instead of searching for Mr. or Ms. Right the traditional way, dating apps present you with eligible bachelor and bachelorettes within your preferred area. You might see a few familiar faces on the app, but for the most part, you get to meet people outside your social circle but have similar interests as you do. And given that the goal of marriage and starting a family isn’t as important to millennials, there’s no judgement if you look for flings or casual relationships instead of long-term partners.
If you can ignore the unsolicited dick pics and potential matches with the obvious red flags, online dating and dating apps are something you might want to try. But given the shift in the way we see relationships, something important was lost in this paradigm shift: the importance of labelling your relationship. Thanks to the new way people meet, it is difficult to label what stage your relationship is at, which means people choose not to label relationships until absolutely necessary.
Here’s why it’s a bad idea.
Defining Flings, Hookups, and Other Types of Relationships
Since the rise of online dating and the acceptance of more casual and purely sexual relationships, new words are added to dictionaries to define different kinds of relationships. A fling, for example, has been used in the past for more casual relationships, but today, it is mostly used to describe a non-committal relationship where there is no emotional attachment or, as some people say, “no strings attached.” It may or may not involve sex, but both parties recognize the relationship won’t last in the long run and, when it does, there won’t be any hard feelings between the two because no one expected it to last long.
Hook-ups or hooking up in the past meant spending time with someone and was simply another term for meeting up.” But for the younger generation, it means to engage in sexual activity with another person. Both people recognize that there is no emotional attachment necessary in this relationship, though it is common for both to practice and open and casual relationship. And while the possibility of a long-term relationship is there, until someone suggests it, the relationship is purely sexual.
Booty calls are purely sexual relationships because the two people only communicate when they want to engage in sex. Because of the lack of communication between the two people, it’s highly unlikely that this form of relationship can develop into a more serious one.
Relationships, finally, are your traditional partnerships with emotional and sexual commitment that can either lead to long-term companionship or marriage. While traditional boyfriend-girlfriend relationships still exist, not all of them fit the mold of what older people see as the proper way of courting. Gender roles are starting to be set aside and more people are becoming open to non-conventional relationships such as same-sex relationships, open relationships (where both partners agree to stay together but allow their partners to have casual relationships with other people), and polyamory. These may seem unconventional, but in all cases, you have the consent of both partners to structure their relationships in this way. And consent is one of the necessary factors for a successful relationship.
Why No One Likes to Label Their Relationships
Online dating has streamlined the traditional dating process: in most cases, relationships form slowly as friends turn into lovers – dating one’s best friend, as plenty of millennials say nowadays. With dating apps, whether you’re looking for casual or serious relationships, you can skip the early awkward stages and get down to the courting phase, whether it’s hooking up or asking a stranger out on a date.
And because of the streamline, the traditional labels aren’t merely black and white. Originally, two people who were dating were simply boyfriend and girlfriend. It was implied that they were exclusive and, unless it was a rare open relationship, they were not allowed to see anyone else. Upon proposing, they were fiancées; after marriage, they were husband and wife. Because of the growing diversity and gender, sexuality, and relationships, the labels and lines between each stages have become blurred.
In terms of online dating, everything is a casual relationship until the two parties agree that it’s not. The problem, though, is that people are less interested in openly defining their relationship and continue to pursue the relationship without any labels. When two people match on a dating app for the sake of hooking up, they wouldn’t really say they were in a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship since hookups do not have the emotional commitment implied in the labels “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” traditionally have.
And in the case of people using dating apps for long-term relationships, there is this unspoken void of awkwardness where you can’t really call yourself the boyfriend or girlfriend of your online match. If you’ve ever played video games, you know that starting from level 1 and slowly transitioning your way to level 10 makes the difficulty more gradual. But if you start at level 9, you might feel the game is more difficult because you didn’t get to start at an easier level – and that’s what online dating apps are like. I wouldn’t call the man or woman I matched and have been talking to for five days my boyfriend or girlfriend even though I genuinely like them because I would want to meet them in person and get to know them more before I could call them that. And so, even if I’m looking for a serious relationship, I’m forced to label this relationship as a casual one until we both ultimately decide to see each other exclusively.
The Problem of Non-Labeling
The main problem with non-labeling is that we’re in an age of new methods of dating while still using the old terms and definitions of relationship labels. And while dating apps have its benefits, its downside is that it makes labels much more difficult to group what kind of relationship some people have.
Why does this pose a problem? Because of consent. In every relationship, consent must be the cornerstone of every solid foundation, otherwise the two partners are entering the relationship with different expectations.
Imagine a heterosexual woman entering a relationship with a man she met on an online dating app. She goes there for the sake of a casual relationship, while he signs up for the dating app simply out of curiosity and isn’t totally sure what he wants. Months into the relationship, the man realizes he wants a serious relationship, but the girl is content with their casual relationship and continues to have flings other men on the app. Neither of them bring up the subject of labels or where their relationship is going, so they assume that what either of them want is what is happening: the man assumes they are in an exclusive relationship while the woman believes she is free to be with others. The moment they find out that they do not have similar goals for the relationship, there will be feelings of confusion from the woman and betrayal from the man. All this could have been avoided had they discussed the labels of their relationship.
Why We Should Start Labelling
Contrary to old adults who want to use this article to denounce online dating and shake their head at millennials using the internet to find relationships, online dating apps are not the problem. It’s a great way to meet people, but the moment relationships form, it is important for both partners to be on the same page about where the relationship is going – and they might find that both of them have completely different ideas for relationships.
Consent is valuable in every relationship, whether it’s a mere fling with someone or a long-term relationship. Labels may be an awkward conversation, but it is necessary to avoid the confusion and hurt you might face if you go on trying not to put one on your partner and yourself. There’s nothing wrong with a casual relationship, but not everyone wants one. But if you stay quiet about the label of your relationship, you’re probably going to be stuck with one unless you say something about it.