I received an email over the weekend from one of my twitter followers. (Follow us! Relationshipacd) She was asking about the commitment issue. At what point are you committed? Here is part of the email.
I’ve been seeing Steven for about two months. I really love being around him. I love what we have built. But he refuses to ‘put a label on it’. He says that we don’t need to be confined to a label. But I need that. When we are at parties he refers to me as his ‘girlfriend’. I’ve met a handful of his friends and they seem to like me. They call me his ‘girl’, which I think is short for girlfriend??? We have a good time when we hang out with them, and they are all very nice to me. His parents live out of the state, so I haven’t met them yet, but I do think they know about me. I’m going crazy trying to figure out if we are together, or if we are just casual. I see him almost every other day, so I want to say we are an item, I just don’t know if he sees us that way. I’m so confused!!!
In Sociology there are a group of theorists called Symbolic Interactionists. They look at meaning of symbols, of language. They try to determine how meanings we attach to things shape our society. One of the basic principles is the Thomas Theorem. It states, “It is not important whether or not the interpretation is correct– if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”
In other words, however we interpret the situation, defines the consequences. If your boss says to you, “I need to see you in 5 minutes”, what are your reactions? For most of us, we panic. What did we do wrong? Are we getting laid off? Are we getting written up? Think about your blood pressure, your body temperature, your stress level. For most of us, they rise. Imagine the relief when we find out that the boss wanted you to act as team lead on a new project. Yet the consequences of your negative thoughts were still very real. You still had elevated blood pressure and stress levels.
This Thomas Theorem is true in all aspects of social life. How we define the situation leads to real consequences. Imagine our embarrassment in high school or college when we went out with someone, thinking it was a date, only to hear the other party say, ‘We are just friends’.
Relationships are a mine field of the Theorem. Have you ever asked yourself what the color of the roses mean? Have you ever asked yourself what is meant by a specific gift?
When it comes to commitment, it is both more important and less important than we make it. In matters of the heart we want rules and guidelines. It is our way of trying to protect ourselves. We want to make sure we have taken every precaution not to get hurt. We want to make sure there are a clear set of guidelines and expectations. After all, this is how most of our lives function at work. We have a clear set of expectations we are to meet, guidelines to follow, and failure to do so can lead to a termination in employment. We spend 40+ hours a week living by these guidelines, we are in some ways comforted by them.
The problem with any sort of relationship (friendship or romantic), is that they are messy. We are often disappointed when people don’t live up to these standards that we have put upon them. There are so many unwritten rules of friendship that we are bound to miss some now and again. The key is communication. Being open and honest with each other is hard. We’ve all lied to friends to ‘spare their feelings’. We’ve ‘accidentally’ forgotten to invite people out with us or to an event. We all exist in many different social worlds. Sometimes when they collide, it is a good thing. Sometimes, it is very bad. Sometimes we spend more time trying to ‘save face’ then we do enjoying everyone’s company.
So for my twitter follower, “Kentucky”, it seems that you have one very positive thing going for you. If you can exist in two of his social worlds, romantic and with his buddies, then you have one giant thing out of the way.
Now onto the ‘label’ issue. It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind that you are in a relationship. What seems to be the central issue here is whether or not he is in that same position you are. Here’s the painful truth. It doesn’t matter. Your heart is invested enough to experience the emotions of a committed relationship.
Remember, if you define the situation as real, so are its consequences.
Whether or not he sees you as an item, you do. His actions will have consequences with your emotions. If you are happy, you have to let go, and enjoy the ride. Obsessing over a label he doesn’t want to give won’t get you anywhere. If anything it will just leave you frustrated.
As Americans we love the absolutes. We like knowing right from wrong. We want to know if we are all in or not. In life there are so many shades of gray, that we simply cannot describe all of them. The problem is a label is just that, a label. Your emotions are based on your definition of the situation, not his. Does it provide comfort knowing that he uses the same label? Absolutely. But if he isn’t ready for the label, challenging as it is, you just have to go with it. If you are to move forward, it will come eventually.
If you enjoy his company and spending time together, its consequences are real. You seem to be emotionally invested in this man. With our without a label, his actions will affect you. As hard as it is you have to give up living in the black and white for a while. Your world, for the time being, is one of a million shades of gray. Instead of looking for a label, look at what you do have, instead of what you don’t.