Hookups, Dating, Relationships…The Grey Area

For the social, career-focused young professional, especially commitmentphobes approaching their late twenties and early thirties, the grey area between a late night booty call and a full relationship can seem like a win-win situation. For all intents and purposes, the grey area is a relationship without the label of a boyfriend or girlfriend (fiancée, husband or wife, is a given) or the accompanying expectations of monogamy, accountability and work. For the young urban male, this may sound pretty James Bond-esque. That’s a movie, this isn’t… In reality, however, there are few situations in which this grey area can actually sustain itself until it inevitably produces more stress, anxiety and headache than a defined relationship for both parties. Trust us.

Today’s young professionals are cautious with relationships and as selective in their choice of partners as they are with their restaurants. At a certain point, relationships suddenly take on a different meaning as peers begin to jump on the marriage bandwagon and your mom starts talking ‘grandchildren’. Most men are quick to assume that any woman over the age of 27 is looking for a ring on her finger and the simple request for basic respect and exclusivity seems to equal marriage, dog, kids and suburbia. Most YPs can safely attest that they didn’t expect to marry their high school boyfriend or girlfriend but they were still in a monogamous, mutually respectable and meaningful relationship. It seems that for the YP, this concept dwindles as we get older and the lines between black and white are blurred; yet we are still human, get lonely and crave someone there to fill the relationship void, not just the ‘I need a date for this event’ void.

The grey area feels like a relationship when it isn’t and can include one of three scenarios. The first is the ever-common situation where the two of you have been dating for a few months but have not had “the talk,” leaving labels loosely defined. In another scenario, both parties have made it clear from the beginning that neither expects anything serious to materialize yet they desire something more substantial than a blurry 2am Friday night encounter. Then there’s the dreaded post-break-up grey area.

In any case, if you go to yoga together, cook meals together, text just to say ‘hi’ throughout the workday and spend four or five nights per week together without any label or commitment, beware. To some, this arrangement, label or not, is better than nothing. After all, who wants to spend Sundays alone? Fast forward a few months; suddenly the option of staying in, curled up in blankets with the other person becomes a better option than a bar, a rendezvous with an old fling in town for the weekend, or a date with a sexy stranger. As cool as you play it and as hard as you try to convince yourself that you are okay with the situation, it is easy to become attached without even realizing it. Problems arise when the other person starts to feel like yours either for the first time, or all over again (exes anyone?) How could they not when you wake up together four mornings of the week and have a drawer of clothing at their place? Yet your side of the bed could just as easily been occupied by another the night before because, as the other never fails to remind, you are “not in a relationship.”

The second emotions get involved marks the second the grey area stops working. Uncertainty and ambiguity can result in insecurity and over-analytical behavior. The person who is attached will constantly question what it is about them that makes them less than relationship-worthy, wonder who else the other is seeing, whether they know them and why the previous night’s phone calls went ignored.  Egos come into play. The young professional pool in any city is a small one, after all, and nobody wants to be associated with someone who is running all over town with other potential lovers. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. The wonder, anxiety and heartache can be consuming – we’ve seen it happen to even the most level-headed YP. The attached gets hurt and vocal when expectations are not met, constantly questions the relationship and emotionally flip flops between whether or not they can handle the situation. They may try to get under the other’s skin and speak of other crushes or conquests in a search for some sort of reaction. For these reasons, the grey area produces more headaches than an actual relationship.

The grey area only works in a casual situation that was agreed upon from the start and stems from more of a friendship than a passionate romance. It is almost impossible to transition from serious to post-break-up casual. A clean break is better than a perpetually lingering grey area because closure is key to moving on.  We’ve seen grey areas like these last for years. It temporarily fills the void but wastes your time in the process; inevitably he or she is going to meet someone else, finally marking the end. The best way to spare stress, headache and heartbreak is to avoid behavior that is too couple-y or indicative of a relationship. Even if you go for dinner on a Friday pre-hookup, don’t let the Friday turn into a weekend-long affair. Dating should be kept as black and white as possible, either purely sexual or a committed relationship, however casual and far from marriage it may be.