Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships

The Need to Label a Relationship … or Not

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Dear Stacy,

I am dating a woman and we are both in our 50s. We have each had serious relationships in the past (she’s divorced, with grown kids) and have been truly reveling in how wonderful it is to just enjoy spending time with each other and taking advantage of the city. Our sex life is great and we spend most of our weekends together. Neither of us wants to move in together — that’s been very clear so far. But she does seem to want us to define our relationship (e.g., are we exclusive, am I seeing other people?).

I am really struggling with why that is important to her. We are on the same page about most things, but she has gotten worked up a few times and asked me to help her by putting a label on our relationship. I am afraid this is going to ruin a good thing. Do I have to name it with her?

— About to Ruin a Good Thing

Dear Good Thing:

It sounds like, for whatever reason, you are not feeling outwardly “pro commitment” at this point. That’s okay. Personally, and professionally, I am outwardly pro commitment. And so is Girlfriend. That’s also okay. Girlfriend’s very human need for security in her relationship is perfectly normal. Your desire not to be labeled is also perfectly normal. The issue is that you have chosen to be in a relationship with a person whose normal desire is in contrast to your own.

Girlfriend’s longing to know that you are there for her and to understand whether you might be seeing other people reflects the most essential truth about humans: secure attachment to our loved ones allows us to feel safe and to live our lives without obsessive worry that we will be abandoned. She is not asking you to give her a ring; rather, it sounds like she is just asking you to tell her if you are seeing other people.

If you are seeing other people and don’t want to tell her, that’s not her problem. Instead it is something for you to consider on your own. You can define your connection however you’d like — but do define it, because that’s what she’s asking you to do. Girlfriend needs it not because she’s “needy,” but because it will help her know how to navigate her world. (By the way, neediness is hardwired into our humanness; find me an infant who survived without having needs met.)

You spend time together and have intimacy — that makes it a relationship. If it’s not what you want, I see that you have two choices: either break up or explore why you don’t want to define it as such (meaning you should explore it within yourself). My suggestion is that you explore it. I find it incredibly interesting that you are living your life with Girlfriend in a decidedly biofriendly manner, but when she asks for the safety and reassurance afforded through a relational definition, you shut down.

Take some time to consider why this might feel so threatening to you, and then share that with her. Both partners in a relationship are responsible for the care and emotional feeding of the other. See if she can be there with you.

Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor in Georgetown. Visit her on the web at stacymurphylpc.com. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to stacy@stacymurphylpc.com.

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