In dating, there’s often this intense focus, a goal, of getting the other party to say something that makes it clear that we’re in a relationship. We want to define the relationship so that we can know what to expect. Hell, we want to know that we’ve finally gone on our last first date! So they refer to us as their ‘partner’, ‘girlfriend’, ‘boyfriend’ or say that we’re a ‘couple’. Boom, we breathe a big-ass sigh of relief because of what we think it’s shorthand for–commitment and our desired future coming true.
Now, this is all well and good if we start building a mutually fulfilling relationship. What I see all too often though is confusion and anxiety quickly overtaking that relief. Despite saying that we’re a ‘couple’ or that they’re ‘not seeing anyone else’, something is ‘off’. Their subsequent actions are inconsistent with our expectations or what they’ve said.
We wonder, If they’ve said that we’re a ‘couple’, why doesn’t it feel like that?
We imagine that because they were willing to say the words, they’re emotionally and mentally committed but struggling with the actions.
Saying that you’re a couple doesn’t equal commitment. Hell, marriage doesn’t equal commitment. For instance, someone can be married and be no more committed than, say, someone who’s said that they don’t want a relationship and only want to be casual.
Defining the relationship, the legal act of marriage, sure, indicates commitment. Without the actions, though, which is the commitment, saying you’re a ‘couple’ means nothing.
Let’s imagine that Peter and Jane–remember them from those learn-to-read school books?–are dating. Peter tells Jane that they are a couple. To Jane, being in a couple means intimacy, sharing lives, and developing the relationship. It means moving forward with increasing intimacy and commitments over time. To Peter, even though he stated that they’re a couple, he doesn’t want to be committed in the fullest sense.
Peter has one foot out the proverbial door. He still has a profile on some of the dating sites and harbours negativity towards various exes. On a good day, he likes the idea of commitment, especially if voicing this leads to lots of goodwill from the girlfriend, like attention and affection. But if she so much as puts a foot out of place, then commitment is off the table. He might not say it to her, but he adds it to the mental file he’s using to build a case against intimacy and commitment.
This flip-flappy, on guard, looking-for-a-reason-to-take-a-parachute-and-jump-out-of-commitment behaviour indicates commitment resistance.
It’s Peter’s general negative associations with commitment and overestimating his desire and capacity for it, not how much Jane is or isn’t pleasing him. Commitment wasn’t actually on the table in the first place.
Jane took his declaration of their coupledom at face value. By stepping into the role of ‘girlfriend’ that their seeming status implies, he benefits from this without being emotionally available and committed.
When someone is committed, they’re not playing around behind your back, withdrawing commitment, or debating about and resisting commitment, all while claiming you’re a ‘couple’. They’re not looking for any excuse to back out and sabotaging the development of the relationship.
‘Couple’ is a title. Yes, you’re not in a relationship if you both haven’t explicitly stated and agreed that you are in one, but what relationship you’re in comes down to the quality of the actions and the commitment.
If you are not both on the same page about what a relationship means, you’re not in the same relationship.