I’ve always defined my relationships in terms of Netflix. If a guy gave me his Netflix password, it was commitment, at least for the time being. As I began my sophomore year as a strong independent woman who don’t need no man’s Netflix, I finally sucked it up, bought my own account, and realized, in all seriousness, that I had been using this system to avoid navigating the ambiguities of dating terms. All of the confusion makes it difficult to discuss with our peers, let alone the people we may (or may not) be involved with, what we want out of our love lives. The upcoming holiday season is often the time when things become more serious: people meet parents, frat parties turn into formals, and everyone wants someone to snuggle with during the looming Polar Vortex. Looking for at least some of the answers, I interviewed fellow Northwestern students and was left just as confused as I was before, which leaves me with one question in mind: should we even bother trying to write the dating dictionary?
Take, for example, the elusive one-time “hook up”. One male freshman in Medill defined it as “anything but sex, so mostly making out.” This is what I always thought it was. However, when asked to define the same term, a male senior in Weinberg blatantly responded “y’all f****d. Or had some variation of sex.” A Weinberg sophomore girl’s response landed directly in the middle. “Normally, I ask them to define it,” she said, “but my assumption is past making out but usually not sex.”
The answers are no clearer for more continuous relationships. I presented my interviewees with the question “What is the difference between seeing someone, dating, and [consistently] hooking up?”. One male sophomore theatre major responded that hooking up is “a series of booty calls” while seeing each other is “planning to meet up at social events” and dating is when “a considerable amount of time is spent together on their own”. A Weinberg junior girl actually used a variation of his dating definition to define seeing each other, but elaborated on how these terms can be nuanced in casual conversation. “Dating [is if] you’re actually together and exclusive, she said, ” but I actually make a distinction between dating and being in an exclusive relationship, but if I was seeing someone I might refer to it as dating.” Huh?
So, given all the confusion, do we even care enough to try and define these terms? My personal answer is, ironically, just as ambiguous. On one hand, we need a framework for discussion. When looking at more serious issues such as heteronormativity in hookup culture, it is hard enough to come to an understanding with so many diverse spheres of gender and sexuality. We don’t need a misunderstanding of simple definitions to make this even harder. On the other hand, why do we even care about giving things names? Why can’t we just say, “yeah, we went back to his room and made out” instead of “we hooked up” or “we got Flat Top but I think I can still casually dance floor make out with other people” instead of “we’re sort of kind of dating.” It probably has something to do with awkwardness around relationships. So many of us are so scared to say what we really want in order to avoid seeming like we care too much that ambiguity acts as a buffer between our feelings and the outside world. When push comes to shove, though, this isn’t my decision, it’s all of yours. As long as your needs are being met and you’re happy, who cares if people share your definitions? Just make sure you don’t break someone’s heart who gives you their Netflix password.