Felicitas Sophie van Laak wonders what it really means when we categorise our relationships


For the last couple of months, I have been dating this gorgeous woman. She is a lawyer, has a great fashion-sense and is really fun to talk to. However, she is obsessed with labels. After my last affair had, all too fast, merged into a relationship that both of us had mutually agreed on terminating, I decided to take a step back.

In a cathartic discussion that I had with one of my best friends and allies, I realised that, actually, it is all about expectations. The label “relationship”, for example, brings with it a framework of expectations that you might eventually apply to the person you are dating, regardless of whether it fits you or not.

Your expectations of a person are inherently linked to the role they play in your life – the role in which you cast them. I find that certain labels pressure us into a socially acceptable version of inter-human relations, keeping us from finding out how we really feel for each other. Is it “just sex” with a shared passion for musical theatre, or are you “just friends” with a tendency to ferociously make out after the weekly meeting of your queer book club?

So, I decided to leave my labeled expectations at the door in order to individually decide what I want from each new person I meet. Instead of comparing them to my set idea of a potential partner or lover, I was going to formulate my wishes along the way, keeping my mind open. 

Now, back to the woman I am dating. Over the past weeks, we’ve had a few discussions about the way our affair is going. While she has made it clear that she wants it to remain “strictly sexual” as she is not remotely interested in falling in love, I can’t help but wish for a little more emotional investment, which led to us jokingly arguing about whether the term “fuckboy” applied to her or not.

Essentially, we have very different perceptions of what it means to be intimate. She distinguishes rigorously between sex and affection, whereas I tend to be rather loving to my sexual partners. She keeps her dating life private while I – well, I’m writing about it, aren’t I? However, the thing that irritates me the most is the fact that she seems to feel the need to narrowly define, and therefore to limit, our inter-human relation. Thus, I have done some research on labels that I do not hate. 

  1. Secret lovers: This is perfect for people who share a high level of intimacy, but do not want to make it official. It’s private and exciting, but still tender and affectionate.
  2. Amorous allies: You are fighting for the same cause and read queer-feminist manifestos to each other? This is for people who have a deep understanding of each other’s values and visions and like to exercise their politically subversive power – together.
  3. Romantic friends: To be fair, this is a slightly more evolved version of “friends with benefits”. Even so, is there anything more comforting and rewarding than finding a person who is easy to talk to and also believes that romance isn’t dead?

I still personally think that you shouldn’t let labels dictate your emotions and expectations as it is important to reflect on your own wishes when it comes to relationships. Articulating what you want from a (romantic) partner is a great way of reflecting yourself. Also, don’t be afraid to play with or modify labels when they don’t suit you anymore. Surely, I shall have another conversation about labels soon myself…

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