Behind Closed Doors: Breaking down the stigma around exclusive relationships

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Y’all, it’s a new semester here at the College of William and Mary. For most of us, that means we’re in store for long nights pouring over overdue essays, furious caffeine consumption, hectic Wawa runs, and getting angsty on “Swampy Memes for Twampy Teens.” These are all valuable components of campus life, but this autumn, I’m questioning the absence of a much-needed presence at the College: people interested in casual, non-exclusive dating.

The gray area between hooking up and dating may sound a lot like friends with benefits, but there are fundamental differences. In my experiences, friends with benefits have been exactly that — just friends, with little incentive to do anything romantic or emotionally intimate outside of the bedroom. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that set up or with having a friend with benefits in general, but sometimes it’s a refreshing change of pace to do cutesy things in Colonial Williamsburg after doing less cutesy things earlier in your partner’s dorm room.

That being said, occasionally wanting cutesy things from a friend with benefits often gets misinterpreted as craving an exclusive romantic relationship. There is much more to the spectrum of commitment than initially meets the eye. Despite people often thinking otherwise, hooking up and monogamous dating are not the only options in approaching relationships with our partners.

Whenever one of my friends starts casually dating a new person, my friend group becomes enraptured with the relationship’s progress. We desire every detail and eagerly wait for updates about where things seem to be going. Discussing dating almost always turns into a conversation about the expected end result, or queries about if things are on track to develop into an exclusive relationship.

We should all work to rid ourselves of the nonsensical notion that relationships must strive towards some arbitrary end goal, because it’s that very perception that is most responsible for creating the ridiculous binary trap of either hooking up or pursuing an exclusive relationship. Both of those choices are entirely valid, but where’s the middle ground? After all, a new semester presents a unique opportunity for students to meander through the spectrum of romantic interaction and find relationships that work for their needs more effectively.

Next time you find yourself on a date with someone whom you’re interested in seeing but not pursuing exclusively, vocalize it. Be upfront in expressing your affection for your date, but don’t be ashamed to indicate your preference of avoiding explicit commitment. Conveying your interest and communicating your desire to keep things casual can be done simultaneously; you gain nothing by leading your date astray and repressing your own perspectives.

To paraphrase Lizzo — who, with any luck in this world, will become our first female president next year — partners are supposed to hold you down, not hold you back. The same logic applies to dating; it’s supposed to be a fun, uplifting way to meet new people and explore your own tastes. Fighting the pressure to pursue a certain type of relationship may be uncomfortable, but it’s well worth your time.

Ethan B. is a Behind Closed Doors columnist who wants you to throw away the binary choice between hooking up and dating this semester.