Grandparents and French people have a hard time understanding the concept of a relationship’s gray area. To them, you are either with someone or you are not. The need to define it is ranked about as low as one’s need to “check in” with a clock. It would be like saying, “Clock, what are we doing here? I’m having fun, but it’s 12:00 a.m. Does that mean we’re awake in the early morning, or does it mean we’re up late at night?”
If you’re about to tell me that one could sort of argue in either direction, welcome; you must be twenty-seven.
We’ve all heard the alleged problems with our generation: we have too many choices, too much porn, too much stimulation. Our focus is on building our careers rather than building our future families, and we’re so engrossed in blue screens and various mirrored pools of narcissism that hedonism is our only release. Blah, blah, blah.
Yet I have a hard time believing we’re so cold. I know people my age in relationships. Serious ones. The kinds where you do your whites together on laundry day, meet parents and talk about the future. Having a boyfriend is not a myth; the notion that having the “relationship talk” is what makes you an official girlfriend might be.
I spoke to ten different guys about defining the relationship at 27. That’s a small, statistically insignificant number in the pool of kissing fish, but what they offered was a great insight into the way some straight males think. It’s your call to decide if the guys who perplex you fall into this general bracket.
For the ones I know, it goes something like this:
During the first couple of post-grad years, life is about that new job. Free time is filled with friends. Sexual desire is satiated by sex. Just sex. And in between this, there are dates and fun and flings and even puppy love — but not girlfriends. To them, a girlfriend would be distracting.
Then, around the age of 27, though career and friendship priorities don’t shift, the idea of a girlfriend does. Rather than considering her a distraction, they think of their future girlfriend as someone who could possibly be the last girlfriend, because the next step is getting engaged.
(I know! These guys! So obsessed with marriage!)
So in short — and this can sort of suck: if a guy doesn’t want to define the relationship it could be because he does not think he’s found his wife. He has to be that serious about a girl in order to DTR.
The difference with many straight women — at least those who I know — is that for us, the term “boyfriend” does not mean “you’ll probably be my husband.”
It means: I now know exactly what we are.
Guys don’t have this same need. They are far more comfortable in the gray area.
In fact, they’re so comfortable that one of the reasons they dread “the talk” is because it typically means The End. They can really, really like a girl — but if they’re not 100% sure about the future with her, they don’t want to commit. And they don’t have to…until we say, “Besides me, are you seeing anyone?”
Which is, ultimately, an ultimatum.
For your sake and the sake of honesty, this is a good thing. If you feel weird about the situation, if you’re no longer comfy in the ambiguity, speak your mind. Clear the air. Be prepared for the “wrong answer,” but then you’re free to move on — Beyoncé, should you take this or should I? — to someone who is 100% about you. Fuck the waffling; you’re not a toaster.
Another (lesser) fear these guys have is that when the word “boyfriend” is pinned to their shirts, things change, you stop having fun, fights start and everyone has to act differently. My friend Monty said, “It’s been five years since I’ve been in a relationship. How do I even know how to be a boyfriend?”
Another friend, Casey, offered a bit of insight: “We can feel backed into a corner when you bring up ‘the talk,’ like we’re being accused of something and about to get in trouble.” He suggested trying to figure out where the guy’s mind is headed instead. “Ask him questions about where he sees himself in a few years. What does his life look like? Does it involve a move? Slowing down the partying? A family?”
Isaac Hidin-Miller says this a lot in his Ask a Guy column, but you have to believe people when they tell you exactly who they are.
See if you align and go from there.
“Defining the relationship should feel like a mutual, positive, logical next step,” my friend Bret said. “What it shouldn’t be is a reaction to a worry. If there’s a worry, then address the problem. Defining a title won’t fix anything.”
This makes sense. It’s like buying a puppy to solve a fight. Still, I cannot tell you how many times I repeated to these guys, “SO WHEN. DO YOU HAVE. THE TALK? AND HOW?”
All of them — from California to South Carolina — responded with the same, infuriating, frustrating answer: “It just happens naturally. When you know, you know.”
Men: more romantic than anyone gives them credit for, with conclusive love advice eerily similar to that of my grandma.
All names of those interviewed and quoted have been changed. Gif illustrated by Emily Zirimis.