On Modern Love College Essay Winner Jordana Narin's "No Labels, No Drama, Right?" — Or, Five Types Of Relationships That Don't Have Labels
A number of studies have put to rest the prevalent myths about "hookup culture": that people in their 20s don't date, that we view sex as "casual" (whatever that means), that hookups are all about men taking advantage of women, etc. — you've heard them. Jordana Narin, a Columbia sophomore whose piece "No Labels, No Drama, Right?" won The New York Times's Modern Love column's College Essay Contest, squashed this stereotype in a more personal manner by describing someone in her life who could be classified as neither a boyfriend nor a hookup. Jeremy, the focus of Narin's story, has been "in some netherworld between friend and boyfriend" since she was 14. They met at camp (ah, summer love), ran into each other at a party several years later (the suspense!), and stayed in touch via text and the occasional in-person meeting whenever they happened to be near each other. They got closer when they began to visit each other in college, but she still struggles with the fact that their relationship was never defined:
Most people I know have a Jeremy in their lives, someone whose consequence a label can’t capture. In years past, maybe back when people went steady, he may have been the one who got away. For my generation, though, he’s often the one we never had in the first place. Yet he’s still the one for whom we would happily trade all the booty calls, hookups and swiping right. He’s still the one we hope, against all odds, might be The One.
Narin's story merely cracks open the door to a whole world in between the "going steady" relationships of yesteryear and the "hookup culture" that pundits lament. Modern Love editor Daniel Jones told Mic the essay demonstrates that "the term 'hookup culture' is too broad and simplistic to describe the behavior of a generation. Many still talk about hooking up just for sex while others are in or seek committed relationships, and some are looking for a new way of making emotional and physical connections that stops short of something more serious."Narin's story is also not unique; many of us have at some point had relationships, for better or for worse, that were neither Relationships with a capital R nor drunken one-night stands. But we don't always talk about this gray area because we don't have terms for all the relationships that exist within it. So, here are some labels that I think should exist to describe some less conventional but very common and real interactions.
1. That friend with benefits whose friendship matters at least as much as the benefits
Like Ilana and Lincoln, people in this arrangement probably get "Why aren't you just dating already?" a lot. But maybe you just don't want to. And that's totally cool if you're already getting what you need our of your unconventionally sexual friendship.
2. That friend you made out with that one time you both pretend never happened
It was one time, you guys, and we just made out. Can we please move on?
3. That person you're dating but not dating dating
Sometimes, it takes a while for a connection to develop. Some relationships take longer than others to make it out of the casual dating stage, and some intentionally never do because somebody is about to leave town, someone just doesn't want to commit, or a slew of other reasons. People are better off prolonging this stage if the alternative is to jump into something when they're not ready.
4. The location-specific booty call
They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and it can be exciting to travel knowing you won't be sleeping alone. This person is often much more than a booty call. Sometimes it's someone you would be in a relationship with if you did the whole long-distance thing. Or sometimes, they're ...
5. The hookup partner you secretly wish you were dating
The fact that serious relationships are no longer the only option doesn't mean people don't still want them. And in my humble opinion, those who settle for hookups when they want relationships are doing themselves a disservice. If you want more, sometimes all you have to do is ask. Take Hannah and Adam (I know, what a douche, but just bear with me) on Girls: She spends a whole season chasing him, he acts incredibly distant unless she's playing into some bizarre sexual fantasy of his (seriously, what does she see in his guy?), then finally (spoiler alert), he catches on and yells "Do you want me to be your boyfriend?" and the rest is history. Since Jordana Narin sounds from her essay like she's in Hannah's situation, I have to admit, I totally ship Jordana and Jeremy (their names combined are even alliterative!) But at the same time, given the dynamics of these in-between relationships, sometimes it's hard to know if you even want a relationship. On-and-off texting and opportunistic visits don't really give either person the chance to explore the possibility.
Rather than ending on the celebratory note that Mic's coverage of the essay emphasizes, I have a different takeaway. Yes, labels can confine us, but so can their absence. It's comforting to know who someone is to you and rest assured that they will play this role until you're otherwise notified. And it's difficult to navigate a relationship that has no guidelines.
Guidelines don't need to come in the form of a label, but what Narin is really getting at is the lack of communication that ensues when relationships remain undefined. The absence of a label can become an excuse for people not to talk about what they're expecting from each other. These expectations are ours to choose, and they don't have to fit within the confines of a relationship, a hookup, or any other predetermined dynamic. But we should talk about them, whether we're in a friendship, a relationship, a friends-with-benefits arrangement, a relationship on a when-in-town basis, or whatever new thing we come up with. Trust me, though — I understand that's easier said than done, and if you're stuck in that limbo stage, well, I think we've all been there. Images: Giphy (4)