Just Friends: The Era of “No Label” Relationships

“But we’re just friends.” This is a much too popular phrase used by young adults today in describing a physical and emotionally intimate relationship with someone they are attracted to but are not dating. Welcome to the confusing world we live in, full of these weird kind of half-relationships without labels.

Let me just start by saying that dating as a young adult is confusing. From looking for signals and signs to playing games and avoiding getting played, looking for a romantic relationship has become increasingly difficult. So instead you see an influx of people opting for these relationships where they are both physically and emotionally intimate with someone but just consider each other as friends. This takes the traditional friends with benefits idea to the next level, as it is not only a sexual relationship but also includes typical activities and emotional intimacy of those in a traditional romantic relationship. You learn about their families and childhoods, are there for them through their difficulties and successes and are sexually intimate with them, but you still consider them as solely a friend.

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If you’ve never been in one of these weird no-label relationships, you may find this idea hard to believe, but if you take a closer look these relationships are everywhere and perpetuated all over social media, television, film and music. The idea of being with someone that you invest a lot of your time with and effort in without labeling your relationship has become more and more appealing and the question is why? Why do we accept being treated like this, why do we treat others like this, and are these relationships such a bad thing? It’s hard to know for sure if these relationships are actually a negative thing when there are two very valid sides to the argument about the effectiveness of these relationships.

From one standpoint, these relationships can be incredibly toxic and dangerous to both people involved. With no label comes no commitment and no exclusivity as both people involved can technically consider themselves single and act accordingly. This can cause difficulty when jealousy kicks in, upon seeing or hearing about someone you are in a no-label relationship with being emotionally or physically intimate with other people. Also, if the two people involved do not discuss boundaries and expectations ahead of time and do not have open communication, one or both people involved can feel uncomfortable in asking for what they need from the other person for fear of hearing the dreaded line “well, we aren't even dating so…” Catching feelings is a real thing and if one of the parties catches feelings and wants to progress the relationship into a labeled romantic relationship and the other does not, then someone can end up getting seriously hurt.   

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On the other end of things, so many people are avoiding putting a label to avoid that complications that come with romantic relationships. To some people it's the ideal situation of getting the sexual intimacy as well as the emotional support and intimacy without having to actually commit to anything. These relationships work best when two people live their own busy lives and don’t have time to put in the amount of effort a relationship needs, so this is their best option. Even those who may have time for a relationship might favor these no-label relationships, as they kind of just develop unconsciously out of a solely sexual relationship and work just fine for both parties involved. Some people also like they freedom of not being tied down to a commitment, which is perfectly fine as long as both parties are aware of the possibilities and intentions of the other person within and outside the relationship. Aside from complications, these relationships can actually work pretty well for two people who both are happy with the boundaries set and are benefiting from the nature of relationship.  

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With both sides making valid points, it’s difficult to come to a decision as to what the right thing to do is when it comes to these relationships. They are a tricky thing to balance and absolutely don’t work without clear and open communication between both people involved. They also don’t need to be a good or bad thing and definitely are not suited for everyone, so be honest with yourself when going into a relationship of this nature. Another thing to remember is that feelings do change. Be aware of your feelings and realize that it’s okay to not be okay with the nature of this type of relationship over time, but you must communicate that with your partner. This is not a relationship to get into out of loneliness, sadness or as an alternative if you are looking for a serious relationship. You set the standard for how others treat you so set the standard you are comfortable with before accepting a relationship like this.

No-label relationships can be tricky but they can also be incredibly fun and rewarding, so if you are honest with yourself and believe they are something that is suited for you, then go for it. The friendships that you make within these relationships can teach you a lot about yourself and help you grow in the process. Regardless of your choices when maneuvering through dating today, stay safe, know your worth and prioritize yourself and your needs, as your relationship with yourself is the most important one.

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