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My generation is a cluster of contradictions. In Liberal Arts college we are taught that putting a label on someone is inconsiderate, narrow-minded and hurtful. We become increasingly aware of the gray areas that exist in a world we previously interpreted as black and white, and therefore, are increasingly defensive (and pretentious) when others “put people in a box.” We go out of our way not to stereotype or “define” different groups of people at the risk of becoming one of the dangerous “-ists”: sexist, racist, classist, ageist, etc.
However, despite this careful avoidance of political incorrectness or judgment of others, we are obsessed with acquiring a label through which to define ourselves. We are constantly striving to become someone or something that is clearly recognizable and will fit under a certain title. And we are always looking for phrases or perspectives that can help to put parameters on who we are and what we do: Winner, Doctor, Boss, Over-Achiever, Teacher, Mother, etc.
There is no space that we try harder to define or label than in the context of relationships.
How many times have you been part of the early relationship discussion that asks “what are we?” and how many times have you settled upon using one of the hackneyed phrases we seem to accept as gospel: “in love”, “friends-with-benefits”, “boyfriend/girlfriend,” “just friends”. How often are you asked to describe your relationship with another using only black and white identifications: “dating”, “hooking-up”, “breaking up”, “it’s complicated” (thanks Facebook), etc.
Why are we so eager to find a certain name and way to contextualize our interactions? Doesn’t it go against everything we learned in school – that each person is his/her own individual with unique needs and desires, that labeling an individual (or multiple people) only limits his/her capabilities and narrows opportunities? Somehow, we still have some unavoidable urge to fit each of our relationships into a tidy box with perfect parameters and straightforward definitions.
Perhaps we do this because we are so terrified of the unknown.