It’s never as obvious as those old school love notes that the movies say everyone got in middle school. A crumpled college rule sheet of paper with the familiar pop quiz, “Do you like me? Circle YES NO MAYBE,” scrawled in tag letters.

The question, “So, are you two married? Dating?” lacks all of the mythological middle school note’s nuance. Back then there was always a way out of the most black-and-white response. Whoever came up with the “maybe” option is probably a politician now. So slick was she.

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This is me looking at Ike for an answer

Like Shayla, I don’t necessarily wear my relationship status on my sleeve. But my boyfriend (a term that, despite sounding juvenile to some people past 30, I wholeheartedly embrace) and I live together, so pretty much anyone I know well enough to invite into my home has picked up on the context clues.

Not to mention the fact that I write about Ike (not his real name) often because not doing so would feel disingenuous to me. He’s a part of my life and I write about my life so ipso facto chango presto.

Still, despite all that, people often want to figure out how our M.A.S.H. game is unfolding. It’s not enough that we showed up somewhere together, holding hands, most likely laughing at some inside joke involving the fisherman from that State Farm commercial. The present verb of our relationship isn’t too interesting; people want to know what’s happening in the future.

“So, are you two married? Dating?” asked a woman we’d never met at party not too long ago.

We looked at each other sort of surprised — as if we didn’t know this was coming — and shrugged our shoulders.

“We’re dating?” half-answered Ike, confused probably because the term “dating” doesn’t quite do it for either of us.

I remember dating. It was a damn good time when it wasn’t sucky. It was my 20s. But I wouldn’t call what I’m doing now with this man “dating,” mostly because the connotation (for me) is steeped in a lack of commitment. Dating is a buffet and we are an entree with absolutely no substitutions.

“We live together,” I blurted out to put some sort of heavy stamp on the thing. She smiled and said, “Oh,” somewhat dissatisfied.

I’m not one for labels, especially since most are so criminally misleading and subjective, but darn it if I didn’t wish there was one for the committed and chilling. The issue comes up a lot, I know. What do I call my boyfriend of 20 years? What’s the word for our relationship when relationship doesn’t do it justice? Those questions aren’t anything new.

But I also wonder why anyone cares — most importantly the two people in the thing. Is it because we want to feel validated? Probably. But again, what does a stranger’s complete understanding of my relationship do to my actual relationship besides possibly set it up like a domino?

This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more  on XOJane! 

  • Pseudonym

    First, not sure how I feel about a perfect stranger asking you the question in the first place. It’s a normal question when the answer is “Yes, we’re married,” but can get dicey and make things sticky if the answer is “No, but one of us would like to be while the other doesn’t” [see Kenya from RHOA].

    If you guys aren’t married, then I think that means you’re dating. And there’s no reason for you to be ashamed of the fact that you have a 10-year boyfriend, if marriage is not your goal or you’re willing to wait. It’s your choice. Perhaps to clarify, you can answer with “We’ve been dating for 10 years” or “He’s my boyfriend; we’ve been together 10 years” but of course it’s easy to come up with a response when you’re not completely blind-sided by the question from a complete stranger.

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