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How important are “labels” to you?

A lot of people like to give the cliche answer: As long as two people know what they have, labels don’t matter. But if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us would probably admit that there’s nothing like having someone call you a “friend” in front of their family after months of steady dating to reinforce the importance of labels.

Just ask the exasperated woman who reached out to us via email. She’s been dating a guy for nine months, and things have been going well between them. The only problem is that despite all the good times, support and lovin’, he won’t call her his girlfriend. Why?

“He says he doesn’t like labels. I understand that. But I’m starting to feel like I’m wasting my time.” According to this woman, she started feeling some kind of way about the lack of a label when he introduced her to his father and only identified her as a “friend.” He didn’t even try to put some cute stank on it. Not a “special someone,” “my girl,” or anything endearing. Just a friend. A friend he has been sharing special moments, intimacy and engaging in sexual activities with.

And he’s been calling her “friend” for a while now. Around his real friends, co-workers, anyone she encounters while in his presence, she’s introduced as the “friend.” It was okay at first because she didn’t want to rush him or bicker with him over what seemed so simple. And she never wanted to be the “So what are we?” kind of girl. But she has become just that, and now she admits that she needs him to step it up.

So what’s going on here? Does he truly not like labels? Is he playing her? Is there an actual girlfriend somewhere with the tag our puzzled reader is seeking?

As someone who has been in a similar position, I take his behavior as that of a man who isn’t necessarily dogging her or a loather of labels. Nope. He’s just not being honest about the fact that he’s not ready for what she wants. And while he might like her a lot, he prefers to move at the slowest pace possible because he’s not necessarily a labelphobe, but rather, a commitmentphobe. He doesn’t want to commit to her, at least not right now. Because tagging someone as your girlfriend or boyfriend brings about a whole set of responsibilities and rules (i.e., exclusivity) that some people aren’t ready for or simply want no part of.

So, honestly, the ball is more in our reader’s court than she realizes. As always is the case in these situations. She can choose to stand by her man (not boyfriend–no labels, remember?) and wait for the day when he finally puts on his big boy boxers and makes things official. Or, she can figure out if she wants to go another Lord-knows-how-many months waiting for him to claim her as his lady. Until she makes a move, he’ll continue to say she’s just a friend…

But as always, that’s just my opinion. Do you think her quest for a label is petty? Or is his excuse for not giving our reader the official “girlfriend” title petty?

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