Some people invent relationship dramas.
They pick a fight with their significant other in the hope to get a rise or to clarify their own guilt. Some people I know love to argue, and they thrive on the heat and turmoils that comes from raised voices.
Then there are the hopeless romantics who misread flirting. They assume the cliche hair flick and wink means something more. I’ve broken a few hearts from misread signals.
And then there are the lovers like me, who completely humiliate themselves without ever having been the lover in the first place.
I invented a relationship with a man I cared about. And who I thought cared about me. But thoughts and reality are two very different beasts.
The Romance Began. Or Did It?
I was ‘dating’ Greg for the best part of six months during my first year of university. We met when I was working at the café. He came in every Friday morning for coffee and a toasted sandwich.
I would slip him an extra cookie with his drink and grin uncontrollably from the moment he arrived. And until the second he left. We did the same dance for weeks until he slipped me a note with his coins. It was his phone number printed on the back of a business card.
After he took me to dinner, he kissed me and asked to see me again. This happened again and again for two months.
In my experience, when a man keeps asking you out, this meant he liked you. This constituted as dating. Or even romance. But was I fool to think that meant we were dating?
As I begin to tell this story, I start to question the entire concept of dating. If kissing, going out for dinner, and repetition of this doesn’t classify dating, then what does?
Where The Assumption Began: ‘Normal’
We did everything ‘right’ when it came to conventional dating. We went to dinner, on movie dates, then I met his parents after one month. We would have polite and satisfying sex and enjoy uncomplicated sleepovers.
There wasn’t anything to suggest this romance wasn’t a relationship. From my experience of dating, we did everything conventional in a relationship.
Then came my undying relationship pledge to him. I promised I would do everything right for our future relationship. I turned away advances from other men and deleted the number of my regular booty call after a month.
I thought we were exclusive.
And Then Came The ‘Incident’
In the first week of the university mid-year break, Greg invited me to a mixer at his friend’s house. This party was the first social occasion of our relationship. After six months, it felt right to meet his friends.
His best friend David hosted the soiree. A tall, incredibly suave socialite, with blonde waves that curled behind his ears. He was impossible to resist. David was studying to be a doctor, played tennis on the weekends, and always dressed in Calvin Klein.
Teenage girls wanted to sleep with him, and women tried to bring him home. He actually shook my hand when we met, a rarity for nineteen-year-old men.
He offered me a drink, a glass of French champagne, and complimented me on my outfit. After a couple of glasses of the liquid gold, I found I had been talking to David for the best part of an hour. He wanted to know what I was studying, every one of my dreams and aspiration, and the issues in life that made me tick.
And then David asked me ‘the big one’.
“I was wondering if I could take you out sometime, to dinner?” A date, no less.
“I’m flattered, I am, but I’m with Greg.” David looked shocked but not offended by the rejection.
“You’re not with Greg. He isn’t with anybody.”
“Yes, he is. He’s my boyfriend. Why did you think I came to this party?”
“But why did he tell me you’re friends?”
At this moment, I looked over to my supposed boyfriend who was sitting on a two-seater sofa with a girl in a pink pleated skirt and white halter neck top. His hand danced between her leg to her shoulder and then back to her leg again.
I turned back to David and laughed. “Yeah, we’re friends. It’s this joke we have. Stupid me, I thought you were in on it. I would love to go out with you.” David kissed me on the cheek and then walked away into the depths of the party-goers.
I spent the rest of the night avoiding Greg and David, knowing I couldn’t hold my tongue in front of the guests if I were left alone with either of them. Then, when no one was looking, I left.
So how did I assume I was in a relationship when I wasn’t?
Assumptions Reign Supreme
When I look back on our relationship, I realise we never had ‘the conversation’. The uncomfortable talk where one of you asks the other what this relationship means and how you plan to label the union ongoing.
It’s also the one where you stop living in fantasy love land. You begin having an honest, authentic relationship.
How did I assume fidelity and commitment to someone who expressed no desire for it? I blame experience.
This wasn’t my first rodeo. This wasn’t like I was a naïve high school girl who had a crush and thought it was love. But in my experience, this situation didn’t need the conversation. And I thought, for a brief moment, we were going to skip the awkward conversation.
But it turns out, for my own pride, I should have lived less on assumptions.
The Confusion Between Dating and Relationships
This encounter is where I began to learn the difference between dating and relationships. That there was a clear distinction between the two. Dating is what you do, and a relationship is what we enter into. It’s the commitment.
Dating isn’t the commitment. It’s the job interview before signing the contract. It’s the small talk before a deep and meaningful conversation. It’s the warm-up completing a workout. The two are linked, but they aren’t the same. Yet, we continue to confuse them.
Why? Why do we understand dating and relationships to be the same? Why do expect we’ve got the job before receiving an offer?
The word ‘dating’ is to blame. Dating is a multi-use concept. It describes a committed relationship and the getting to know you stage. When someone asks how long a confirmed couple has been ‘dating’ for, they mean “how long have you been in a relationship?” In this situation, dating is an interchangeable concept.
The longer the two concept entwine, dupes like me will continue to experience a similar confusion.
I Broke My Heart
What was worse is that I completely humiliated myself. I pretended that a relationship with Greg was an inside joke. No doubt David would have later discovered that to be a complete lie. Humilation.
But then I thought I was in a relationship that didn’t exist. More humiliation. I thought nothing could trump the experience of getting dumped. However, this delusional situation was anti-dumping. It was the backhanded dump that you’re not allowed to get upset over.
You can’t mourn a relationship you didn’t have.
You can’t feel the same pain and mourning of losing your relationship. You can’t cry to your friends and family with the same gusto that you can of a confirmed relationship. Your loved ones will only provide so much sympathy to you. Despite needing it more than ever.
And how I could chastise Greg for dumping me when weren’t together in the first place? I broke my heart with my misguided assumptions.
My Love-Hate Relationship With Labels
I hate relationship labels. I could care less about titles and formalities. For me, relationships are defined by love and happiness.
But in this case, a label on our dating behaviour would have served me well. I would understand my place in Greg’s life, and his hope for our future. I would also have a greater understanding of my own dating life. I would be living less in misery and mystery, and more with clarity and conviction.
As much as I hate labels, as much as I want to rage against these conventions, there is a purpose. Selfishly, that purpose is to save me from my own dating humiliation.
This would be the last time I would confuse a relationship, anyway. And the last time I let assumptions take over.
I’m Ellen McRae, writer by trade and passionate storyteller by nature. I write about figuring about love and relationships through fictional-reality. The anecdotes might not always be true, but the lessons learned sure are!
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