Loving and labeling

When can you rightfully call him your “boyfriend”? A certain Colette Li answers in Global Times today.


Over lunch the other day, a girlfriend popped this question: “When can I call him my ‘boyfriend?'” She has been seeing a wonderful new man for a few months. We all know him by name (and even by a secret nickname), they’re dating exclusively, and, yes, they have slept together. Yet, for whatever unspoken reason, they haven’t had the “DTR” (define the relationship) talk, leaving my friend no choice but to refer to him clumsily as “the guy I’m seeing” in casual conversations.

Loving and labeling was so easy when we were 16. He made you a mix tape – he’s your “boyfriend.” You bought her roses on Valentine’s – she’s your “girlfriend.” You doodled his name all over your math notebook – he’s a “crush.” You drunkenly made out with her at your buddy’s party – she’s a “hook up.”

As adults, we find ourselves floundering for what to call someone we’re more than “in like” with, but not yet “in love” with. The labels we once assigned in cavalier fashion suddenly acquire an air of permanence. And so, we agonize in private over what name to bestow upon the men and women with whom we dine intimately, stroll in the park, and turn off the bedroom lights.

You can get by on euphemisms – like “lover,” “lady friend,” “flame,” or “beau” – for a while, but at a certain point, the “boyfriend-girlfriend” label becomes inevitable. When do you know that time has come? I profess no knowledge of the universal rules of the love game, but I can offer my personal checklist of five things that pretty much make your paramour a boyfriend, or girlfriend.

1.You’re not seeing anyone else

Exclusivity by itself doesn’t earn you the right to call someone a “bf” or “gf,” but it’s a prerequisite to getting there. If he’s canoodling with you on Thursday, but sampling other goods on Saturday, you’re still a ways off from labeling.

2.You get together about 3.5 times a week

At last, mathematical precision to love. If you’re seeing your “special friend” on average every other day of the week (round up from three), then you’re definitely an item. Working folks are busy, so if you’re making time for frequent rendezvous, then it’s a worthwhile relationship.

3.You’ve fought…and made up

When a blind date does something annoying, you politely ignore it and delete their number from your phone after getting home. But when someone you care about does something that bothers you, it’s worth raising a fuss, even if it leads to a fight. You’ll be happily on your way to “boyfriend-girlfriend” territory if it’s not the last fight you have.

4.You’re passionate, but also tender

Sex with strangers stirs the passions, but most people save the slow deliberate lovemaking for someone who matters. The same goes for small gestures, like kissing her fingertips or forehead, or rubbing his neck when he’s tired. The little tendresses signify you’re more than just “friends with benefits.”

5.You “check in”

He may not promise to call and you may not feel entitled to demand it, but somehow you find yourselves communicating at regular intervals. You email him during the workday, he texts you after a night out, maybe you even Skype when one of you is away. Making the effort to stay in touch, even if not constantly, is a sign of emotional commitment.

So, you’ve checked off the list, should you drop the “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” bomb on your special someone the next time you see them? No, no, and no. If you meet all the conditions on my list, you’re probably in a de facto committed relationship. As for why you two haven’t started labeling, the only way to know for sure is to talk it out. Have a serious “DTR,” drop some hints, or make a cute joke about it, whatever suits your style. At least you’ll enter the conversation armed with five pieces of evidence as to why you should be having the talk.


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