Dunbar: Relationship labels offer degree of comfort for Northwestern students but differ little in meaning


Blair Dunbar, Columnist

Northwestern relationships tend to center on hook-ups, however you define that term. One-night stands and drunken make-outs abound, but long-term monogamous relationships do not.

Of course, there are various reasons for this trend. NU students want to have fun and experiment. They are incredibly busy people and don’t necessarily have the time to invest in a serious relationship. Then there are those with commitment phobias or those studying abroad. There are those who claim there just isn’t anyone for them at NU. As a result, NU remains a hookup-dominated campus.

But the longer I am here, the more I believe there may be more relationships than I initially thought. We NU students just give them different names.

When I started at NU, I thought you could only be single or dating. I actually didn’t realize there was a real difference between dating and being in a relationship. That was until my boyfriend asked me to be his girlfriend after asking me a few days earlier to date him.

Since my freshman year, I have heard a whole array of interesting dating phrases. I knew someone who told me she was hooking up exclusively. Another friend told me he and this girl both liked each other, didn’t want to see anybody else, liked hanging out, but she didn’t like the phrase “boyfriend and girlfriend.” Another couple I knew was, for all intents and purposes, dating but refused to use the term. They just liked to go on dates together. People don’t always like labels, and they certainly don’t always like defining the relationship. But at the same time, can you really change what a relationship is by refusing to use the terms “dating” or “boyfriend and girlfriend?”

Can two romantically interested people go to the movies or out to dinner on the weekends and just be “seeing each other exclusively”? What do you call it when a girl frequently spends the night at a guy’s house or when two people just want to spend all their free time together? They might say they are just “hooking up exclusively” or “going on dates,” but, really, what is the difference?

I think students, including those at NU, come up with complicated labels (or lack thereof) as a source of protection. If you don’t use the phrase “boyfriend and girlfriend,” maybe it won’t hurt as badly when it all ends. If you don’t use the term “dating,” maybe you don’t have to feel as guilty if you aren’t 100 percent invested. Maybe a lack of a strict label frees you from all the sticky complications and difficult obligations that go hand in hand with a relationship.

At the end of the day, once two people become romantically involved, simplicity is no longer a possibility. Emotions, particularly at this age, are never uncomplicated. Rather than insisting on wading in, maybe we should start jumping in with a cannonball. After all, if you are going to fall regardless, you might as well see how high you can climb.

Blair Dunbar is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].