[Image credit: Kristin Schmit]
“Has she ever had a boyfriend?”
My brother-in-law and I had been discussing the love life of my 20-something year-old cousin.
“No.” I knew what he was going to say next.
“And you’re sure she’s not a lesbian?” he scoffed.
I sighed. “Just because she’s never had a boyfriend doesn’t mean she’s a lesbian!”
Somewhere along the way, people began to equate a life void of serious relationships with being a lesbian. You see, my cousin is not a lesbian (disclaimer: I have absolutely nothing against lesbians), but the judgment imposed on her was misguided. My guess is she’s casually gallivanting with a bunch of ambivalent guys in a mutually impartial way, no strings attached, in an area of grey.
To linger in the grey area is to be wined (happy hour-wined), dined (finger food-dined), then bedded by (but not wedded to) a guy you’re just…hanging around with, for lack of better terms. My years in New York have been filled with encounters of the like – they come into my life as swiftly as they leave – and I end up asking myself, are we dating? This doesn’t feel like dating. But it’s not just after-hours fun, either. So…what the hell is this?
The amalgamation of the modern woman’s stamina (read: independence coupled with justified apprehension to commit to men) with what I like to call “new-age chivalry” (read: the man’s general laziness, sense of entitlement and indecisiveness) is a middle-ground between hooking up and formally dating. And this middle-grey-ground, whatever the hell it is, is kinda like renting a car: you reap most of the benefits, spending lots of time with it, getting comfortable with it, taking it around places. Except it’s never signed/sealed/delivered, because it – he – is never really yours.
The stigma associated with women who “rent” men in the same way that men “rent” women is ubiquitous:
She’s a whore.
She’s a lesbian.
She doesn’t have any respect for herself.
But these statements couldn’t be any more fallacious. In fact, many of my friends who choose to linger in the grey, in lieu of labeling, have heaps of respect for themselves. One’s an engineer-in-the-making whose brains intimidate most men she meets. One’s a nurse who can’t date because she works night shifts and sleeps during the day. And one’s just me, dilly-dallying, because she hasn’t been lucky enough yet to have found the real deal.
(Interestingly enough, a recent study shows that the motivations of women aren’t a far cry from those of men: “Turns out, when you remove societal judgement and safety risks, women are just as DTF as men are.”)
So why are we still calling everyone sluts and skanks and tramps and manwhores? No strings attached has seemingly become the new norm, and it doesn’t mean my cousin harbors any less self-respect than the coupled-up chick in the corner. Sure, my cousin hasn’t met The One yet, but is anyone really in a position to judge the actions of someone whose soulmate is on the last train out of Penn?
Problems in the grey area arise only when one side of the seesaw is on the ground, and the other side is five feet in the air; an emotional imbalance is a ticking time bomb. And if an imbalance occurs, then you’re no longer on the same page with someone, signifying it’s time to abort mission. The only ones who don’t have self-respect are the ones who stick around after the imbalance has presented itself. The ones who try to change the minds of their half-assed lovers. I know, because I used to be one of them.
Unfortunately, an imbalance will sometimes, but not always, happen; one will fall into unrequited love with the other. It’s usually just a matter of time.
But until the imbalance occurs, there’s nothing wrong with using someone, as long as he’s only using you back. Maybe you enjoy being alone. Maybe your heart is afraid to love because it was shattered. Maybe you don’t want a relationship’s responsibility of having to be there for someone else. Whatever it may be, never, ever, ever apologize for lacking a label.
Rent a car. Floor it. Drive around in it. Get a real feel for it. Observe what you like, and observe what you don’t like. Show it off to your friends, then take it home and keep it overnight. And once the leather eventually wears, let it go; cheap leather isn’t meant to last to begin with. But you knew that all along, didn’t you?
Soon enough, it’ll be time to rent a new one.