Dating and Relationship Advice

“I look at you, and I know you have a beautiful soul,” he says, scooping up my small hands in his.

The rhythmic rhyme of his prose, the curated cadence of his delivery, the poeticism of his plea all say that he has given this same spiel to another girl, another night, another bar, another set of drinks. There’s nothing wrong with that - I’ve danced the same routine before. I know when to caress the leg, kiss the cheek, call it a night.

“All I want is to be with you,” his voice declares, unwavering.

I look at his big, brown eyes and his bigger, brown biceps. I look at his tilted jaw and furrowed brow. He is begging me — with his words and winces — to be with him.

I want this. But only for one night.

Living as a serial dater, I’ve gained and given my fair share of broken hearts. I know what it’s like to be left on read, and I certainly have “totally forgotten” to text back. I meet people, greet people, and unseat people. I get rushes every week from new hearts, minds, and men. This is my love life now, and I wear it like my favorite pair of socks.

As I could tell by our second date, Iman was very different from me. Iman wanted a soulmate, someone to spoil, a second half. He wanted to find the love of his life while swiping and then delete all his dating apps forever. Iman was looking for love. I was looking to get out of the apartment for the night.

So I had this choice: I could play along and invite Iman back to my place, aiding and abetting in his heartbreak that would ensue. Or, I could tell this man with the beautiful biceps that I wanted something much more casual and much less committed than he did; That I could see he was searching for a love that I could not give. I did the latter, expecting to feel satisfied with myself and move on healthily. Here’s the thing: I was, and I did.

In a world with more relationships than celebrities named “Chris,” we can find it difficult to discern just what we want. Are we looking for love or just for someone to lay on top of us for a while? Do we want a date or someone to date —are we trying to feel validated or validate ourselves?

The problem with not knowing what we want relationship-wise is that we can face catastrophic effects, inadvertently making the wrong decision. A water lily needs to be surrounded by water to grow, but that same environment will drown a cactus; Someone looking for a relationship can wither away just the same. If you search for commitment — when you aren’t ready for it — you commit to hurt. But if you are bouncing from person to person and feeling broken after each hookup, your heart may be searching for something more substantial than your sex drive.

What do you need for you, for where you are right now in your life? Relationships can be ideal, but if you’re in the place for a fling, you’re just setting yourself up for heartbreak. But it’s not your fault! Recently, my friend commented on how he wanted a fling.

“Really?” I asked, knowing him to be the relationship type. “That’s pretty new for you.”

“Yeah,” he replied, “just a year or two. Could be fun.”

It’s impossible to register a common vernacular for all of the dating population — heck, we can’t even agree on what it means to “ghost” someone — so heartbreak is inevitable. However, you can prevent yourself from unnecessary hurt, unhelpful pain, and unfortunate experiences by internally reflecting on what you externally want. Here are six kinds of relationships (and one important clarification) that go beyond an official partner/boyfriend/girlfriend.

Flings

Defined by a deadline, a fling is a short, often steamy relationship. Think Sandy and Danny at the beach before they sang “Summer Lovin’” or how every pulp fiction romance starts out. Flings are lifeguards and fellow hostel inhibitors, the only other gay person at your cousin’s weekend-long wedding. Flings are fun and leave us with a sense of mystery —one we don’t always feel the need to trace.

A fling is the best thing for you if you’re trying to dip your toes in the water again. They are a great opportunity to cleanse your dating palate after a bad breakup or long relationship. A whirlwind weekend wherein you are physically enthralled by —and enthralling to —another person can be a big confidence booster, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Alternatively, do not pursue a fling as your first-ever relationship/sexual experience. While seemingly pure and fun, you can put yourself in danger of becoming over-attached and unnecessarily analytical.

Talking Stage

Talking stages are an underrated aspect of romance. The quasi-anonymity of the smallest screen allows us to be bold, explore ourselves, and experiment with new ways of flirting. The talking stage can be a great way to figure out if you like the person, the platform, or the participation in a relationship.

How to know if the talking stage should stay talking or move to the next level? The answer is in the texts. Do you, or your texting buddy, often comment on hobbies, interests, or curiosities? For instance, do you get messages that say, “I’ve always wanted to try that” or “I love horror movies?” That is the talking stage equivalent of an olive branch.

When the potential of a relationship lives in a conversation, it needs a push to become something more. For instance, if they ask you — for the seemingly hundredth time —“what are you up to?” you can use the opportunity of banality to offer up some congeniality:

“What are you up to?”

“Not much, just trying to convince my friend to watch Us with me - she hates scary movies!”

“No way, I love that movie!”

“Omg, maybe you should come over instead of her, lmao.”

Or:

“Not much. I’m getting ready for a run right now.”

“How do you handle the cold, lmao.”

“I just got this new app that has a seasonal soundtrack. It really helps.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of that! You got

to show me how to use it.”

Or, if you’re feeling bold:

“Not much, just working on this stupid assignment.”

“You should give up and come get food with me.”

A dime a dozen talking stages are a uniquely perfect place to hone your dating and flirting skills without enduring significant heartbreak.

FWB

We have all heard of friends with benefits - or at least seen them go awry on sitcoms. The idea is seemingly sound - someone you like platonically and love sexually is hooking up with you, no strings attached. But, because this is an intersection of other kinds of relationships, you have to be quite careful to abide by many rules. Don’t get jealous, possessive, or too controlling. But don’t blow them off, break plans too frequently, or be too insensitive either.

The moral of the story is that it is nearly impossible to sneak out of a FWB situation without harboring some hurt. Someone will get jealous, possessive, flippant, and you will be confused because a friend with benefits is still a friend. Partake in a FWB relationship if you are OK with losing the friend when you lose the sex.

Side

You need aside if you are tired of your friends, are new to an area, or need to blow off steam from work. A-side is like a FWB, but the benefits aren’t exclusively sexual, and you two aren’t sexually exclusive. A side can be someone to drag to office parties or try out a new restaurant, but you’re not going to meet each other’s parents or publicly post pics. A side knows your birthday, your work schedule, and the approximate commute to your house, but they might not know your career ambitions, insecurities, or the intricacies of your commitment issues. You see a side in between, during, or after other relationships, but never full time. Be forewarned: a side is a human person with feelings and cannot be treated like a puppet. You must be respectful of their schedule, their needs, and their desires to prevent this relationship from slipping too far in either direction: Use them only for sex, and they become FWB, dive a little too deep during pillow talk, and you’re in danger of falling in love. Covet your side and keep them at a manageable distance.

Important Clarification: Dating (as in, “we are dating”) v. dating (as in, “I am dating”)

You’ve been on a couple of dates. You’ve been on a couple of dates…with a couple of people. These are two very different sentences. Capital “D” Dating refers to the mutually agreed upon “steadiness” between two people, without a clause of exclusivity. Lowercase “d” dating instead regards that thing you do on weekends:

  • Meeting up with people at restaurants.
  • Dancing against new bodies at bars.
  • Swiping on several apps.
  • Etcetera.

They are not synonyms but homophones, and mixing them up can be awkward and fatal for a relationship.

Exclusive

Not to be confused with partner/boyfriend/girlfriend, an “exclusive” relationship is simply a sexually safer one. Exclusivity is the way for you if you like someone and only want to hook up with them but aren’t ready for the labels yet.

Why be exclusive? It can give you time — like a trial run — to figure out if you like someone enough to take it to a deeper level. Like a side but with only one person, exclusivity lets you test the waters before the high stakes of an official relationship.

Things

A thing is anything you can’t explain. She makes you giddy when she comes into the room? You made out a few times, hooked up twice, and still have to work together? You broke up a while ago and just started texting again? That’s a thing. A thing is a kernel that you want to watch grow.

No matter where you are, you are at a particularly challenging place in your life. You are transitioning, settling, changing, or craving. Instead of seeking relationships with other people to fill the cracks in your sinking ship, mend those holes with the appropriate relationship for your needs: Take care of yourself by tending to your social and romantic wellness befittingly. You can’t heal a heartbreak with a band-aid, but duct tape will smother when scotch tape is needed.

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