Ask A Very Smart Brotha: In A Relationship, Does Your Partner “Own” You?

April 3, 2013  |  

Hi Damon,

I recently started seeing this guy. Right now, it’s not anything serious. I’m just enjoying his company. Anyways, in one of our conversations he mentioned that he doesn’t particularly like titles in a relationship because then people start feeling like they own one another. Initially, I thought he was being ridiculous– of course you can’t own another person. But the more I talked to others in committed relationships they started speaking about the expectations and even the way their lives included other restrictions once they were in a relationship. For instance, one woman said her boyfriend doesn’t like for her to wear certain types of revealing clothing when he’s not around. Do you think there’s any truth to this “owning” people thing?


As we speak, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments about same-sex marriage. And, regardless of where you stand on this issue, it’s easy to recognize that the main point of contention isn’t necessarily just about equal rights but the idea that same sex marriages should recognized as marriages. Not civil unions, not partnerships, but marriages. Basically, the label, that “insignificant” word, matters. 

I’m bringing this up because, well, while I guess I understand it when people say things like “labels and titles don’t matter”, they do. A label or a title is a sign to the world that you’re taking something seriously—It’s the reason why we sign contracts and have job titles—and with this status does come reasonable expectation. I’ve found that (most) people who do the “no title” thing basically are just attempting to get all the benefits of a relationship and all the benefits of being single without any of the drawbacks.
So, while saying that a title=ownership is taking things too far, titles and labels come with expectations, and being serious with someone usually does mean that you have to alter certain parts of your behavior. If that’s not acceptable, well, relationships aren’t for everyone. But, instead of saying “i don’t do labels” perhaps people should just be honest and say “i just want to do whatever the eff I feel whenever the eff I feel like it.”

Lastly, I know (some) people will take issue with the implication that a person in a relationship has the right to “tell their mate what to do.” But, if you look at relationships like jobs—with contracts and clear/defined job descriptions—then it makes more sense. Some people are okay with relationships where things might be a little more controlling, a little more limiting. Others aren’t. This is why it’s paramount to have clear expectations before entering a relationship—a clear understanding of what each person thinks it terms of how a mate should and shouldn’t act. Now, if a person completely changes up once titles come into the picture, that (obviously) is cause for the “contract” to be restructured or rendered obsolete. But, aside from abusive situations, if both parties are happy—and have an agreed upon set of behaviors—there really is no “right” or “wrong” way to be in a relationship.  Lemme put it this way: Being told what to wear may seem too controlling. I mean, who needs to be told what to wear?

But, what if you were blind?

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