Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dating in the Meantime

I recently re-watched one of my favorite movies of 2009: 500 Days of Summer. It just came out on DVD and is a must see for anyone who is a member of the modern dating world.

The movie is non-chronological telling of the number of days spent between beautiful, independent Summer and disillusioned, love-struck Tom. But more importantly, it’s a spot-on look at the makings, breakings and intimacies of what I call a “meantime relationship.”

This is a situation I understand well: I’m pretty sure I’ve spent more time in a meantime relationship than in a proper one – and on both sides. But what the movie clarified for me is something that I have known all along, but sometimes forget: when things are indefinable for an extended period of time, a long-term relationship does not follow.

A “meantime relationship,” as chronicled in 500 Days has several markers of a regular relationship – a real connection, physical attraction, a solid friendship, invested feelings, intimate relations. But what it generally lacks is one side being invested enough to make it a full-fledged, let’s give this a whirl, venture.

And it usually begins by one saying to the other, “I’m not looking for anything serious."

One may wonder why these relations are pursued when they are founded on such lackluster beginnings. I think it’s because there is a genuine affection, some seratonin kicks in, and it’s nice to have to have someone to hang out with - surely there must be the possibility of something more?! Even though the pieces don't add up to the whole, there’s still enough good in the situation to stick around and see what could happen.

But eventually – somewhere around Day 80 - frustration sets in. In the movie, an uncertain Tom asks Summer what they “are” – friends or a couple? And, she responds, “Why do you feel a need to put a label on things?”

Which is what people say when they know that their label won't correlate to your label. Because for the most part, we revolve around universally understood levels of relationships, generally fitting into one of the following categories:

  • Platonic Friends: Men who fall into this category include husbands and boyfriends of your girlfriends, co-workers, gay men and other males with whom you have absolutely no attraction, but still enjoy their company.
  • A Crush: You are interested in him, or he in you, but one of you is absolutely not interested in pursuing the relationship further, and it ends there. Unless, you move into…
  • Friends with Benefits: A ritual as old as time and a sure bet when certain needs must be met. Both parties are physically attracted to each other, but for whatever reason, neither has any intentions to take things to the next level. Note: this category ONLY works if you truly don’t have urges to be properly….
  • Dating: Both parties are physically attracted to each other and want to pursue things further, which is made clear to each other and the world by monogamous behavior, regular patterns of meals and outings, shared intimacy, plus communicated feelings that both parties may one day be interested in having a….
  • Committed Relationship: This serious, long-term venture often involves living together and the assumption that one day marriage and/or family could be possible (or has already taken place).

Meantime relationships fall somewhere between friends with benefits and dating, and have the distinct characteristic of one person understanding the relationship to be within one category, while the other sees it as another. While navigating this modern dating world, it may take a while to fully understand which category your relationship falls within - or to realize that the one you’re in isn’t where you want to be.

At the end of the movie, Tom asks Summer how she knew her new guy was the one for her. She quietly replied, “I woke up and knew… what I was never sure of with you.”

Ouch. The sold-out Arclight crowd literally gasped in pain. But for me, it verbalized in one sentence what I have intuitively known, and have occasionally tried to ignore: most of the time, you just aren’t “the one.”

And that's okay - at one time or another, most people won't be until they are. And there are lots of things to be learned in the meantime. The trick is to learn before too much is invested.


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