On the surface the “What are we?” conversation makes a lot of sense. Check in with the person whose genitals you’ve been touching and make sure that those genitals aren’t touching other genitals (my dad’s sex talk was similar). Why wouldn’t you have such a conversation? I think we would all want to know if the person we are spending all those hours debating emojis about is on the same page. But if you’ve ever been a part of the, “What are we?” conversation from the receiving end, you know this is the beginning of a long breakup.
You’ll sit there and nod your head and agree to the terms that are coming at you from the other side. But on the inside, you know the party’s over. This conversation is the equivalent of your parents coming home early from vacation the moment after someone screams, “Best party ever!” The music is being shut off. You’re cleaning up tables aggressively because at the very least you can look like you’re trying. But the reality is you’re screwed. The moment this person starts speaking, you know your life that was just moments ago entirely free from responsibility, is coming to an abrupt end. You’re about to label this relationship, and there will no longer be the sweet comfort of ambiguity to lean on. The easy life of blissful naivety that keeps you having sex while acting like someone who is still available for sex with someone else has just ended. You two are now “something” which means you’ll probably be nothing somewhat soon.
I understand why, even if things feel perfectly fine, someone would want to have “the talk.” It’s truly uncomfortable to explain to your mom that you don’t have a boyfriend, but there’s this person you see every weekend and talk to every day. That’s like explaining a youth soccer coach that has no kids on the team. People just nod and try to move on. It makes so much sense to not want to be blindsided by the small print on a contract that says, “One cannot ask about texts received at 2am because this isn’t official.” It’s completely within one’s rights to feel totally weird about a guy going out to the bar with friends and being able to say “no” to girls asking if he has a girlfriend because technically he’s being honest. So why wouldn’t you talk this thing out? Having a conversation that labels things seems right, and it gets you that Instagram picture with your arms draped over his neck. A visual warning for other girls to stay away. A relationship’s version of a fence with a sign that says, “High Voltage.”
But I’d argue that a prison’s problems don’t end just because they put up an electric fence. If the label is really needed then maybe you’re looking for validation that can distract from the things the relationship isn’t giving you. The “What are we?” talk is less a conversation than an ultimatum. You may be asking for a boyfriend or girlfriend, but really it’s a choice between being on the same page as you or closing the book. But needing the conversation at all should answer that one.
Real “talks” come in small doses and affirmations: dates, hand holds, I like you’s, I love you’s, and yes, that was me that farted’s. The real way to end a relationship is to take away the nervous tension between those moments. The sexiness is in the unknown and sitting down and talking out where we all stand is like explaining the thing in bed you’re trying to do. “Hey, I’m going to lift your leg because it’s going to be hot. This is hot. Right? Right?!?!”
I always hear from friends that “the talk” pushed him or her away. But, having the “What are we?” talk isn’t the cause of your relationship ending. It’s just the first instance that you took to look under the hood and realize that this car ain’t going to run. You felt something was off. You brought that problem to the table under the guise that if you’re given a label then at least there’s someone to blame. You didn’t scare that person away or get too serious for them too fast. You just presented yourself as a real person who they could grow old with instead of that person they currently enjoy seeing naked. The bluff was called.
It’s completely normal to want to know where you stand. That’s why promotions, annual reviews, and grades exist. But bosses, tests, and promotions aren’t sexy or comforting or exciting — they’re checkmarks of assurance on the path leading to old age and death. “The talk” will likely get you that comfortable label, but it doesn’t change what’s inside the package.
I guess what I’m saying is, my girlfriend and I had a talk about my columns..