Wasn’t it a simpler time before the idea of no-labels relationship popped into our vocabulary? You meet someone. If you are caught by their charm, you start dating. Eventually, you fall in love and the relationship takes its natural course. But beyond the black and white of traditional dating culture, there is a wide gray zone. And that’s where we meet our no-labels relationship partners.
Don’t expect it to be plain-sailing just because a relationship comes with a ‘no label’ label. The ‘no obligations, no attachment’ clause may make it sound like you’ve hit the relationship gold mine. However, a no-labels relationship can turn super complicated due to the lack of clarity. Expecting partner benefits without commitment might not agree with everyone’s dating style.
And it boils down to one question – do relationships without labels actually work? What is the right way to go about it? We bring you all the answers with insights from internationally certified relationship and intimacy coach Shivanya Yogmayaa (internationally certified in the therapeutic modalities of EFT, NLP, CBT, REBT), who specializes in different forms of couples counseling.
What Is A No-Label Relationship?
To grasp the concept of a no-labels relationship, you first have to understand what a label in a relationship truly means. Let me break the myth right away – labeling your situationship doesn’t necessarily mean giving it a tag of commitment. You can say that you are dating exclusively but not in a relationship. That’s serial monogamy, just another label. We have broadly categorized relationship labels into 2 types: commitment-oriented and non-committal labels. Let me explain:
- Type 1: Commitment-oriented labels refer to defining the relationship and lending it some degree of exclusivity and commitment. Take the example of Elena and Dan. Things were moving pretty smoothly for them, except for one little hitch. Dan would deliberately sidestep the “where is this relationship going” conversation
After going on like this for four months, Elena had to confront him, “I like you but being loyal when it’s not official is not working out for me. I can’t give you the boyfriend benefits without commitment. Are we ever going to be in a real relationship?”
Relationship labels under this category: Girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, fiancé, spouse
- Type 2: The non-committal labels entail defining a relationship such that there is no commitment involved. For instance, Lucy, who had just gotten out of a long-term relationship, found the idea of getting into another committed one too overwhelming. One day, she met Ryan, in the library. They got to talking and she realized they want the same thing – just sex, no attachment. And as this arrangement appealed to both of them, they decided to be each other’s hookup partners
Relationship labels under this category: Friends with benefits, NSA, consensual non-monogamy, polyamory, casual dating, or something complicated
I hope you can make out from these two anecdotes that it’s also possible to label a non-committed situationship. There are traditional relationship labels and then there come the more open-ended human connections. Now, when one or both the partners feel reluctant to box their situationship in any of these relationship labels, you call it a no-labels relationship.
While defining it, Shivanya shares a new perspective, “No-label relationships are those unconventional relationships which are not well accepted by the society due to several barriers like a big age gap, or a relationship between twin flames or soulmates, which they cannot claim because they are already married to other people.
“It doesn’t have to be always sexual. Such relationships are much more unique, more tolerant, unconditional, accepting, and spiritual also. If it is conditional love, the partners may go through a lot of pain and trauma. If love is unconditional, it will have freedom, space, and respect at the same time.”
Related Reading: 10 Examples Of Unconditional Love
Is It Necessary To Label A Relationship?
No, it’s not an absolute necessity to have a label in a relationship. But it’s a good idea to define the kind of bond you want to have with this person from the get-go. In fact, studies show that relationship labels actually affect how the partners treat each other. A relationship primed with labels like hooking-up, exclusive, or boyfriend/girlfriend does influence public displays of affection and commitment on some occasions.
That being said, if two people can navigate their situationship with no labels, good for them. However, for most, not knowing what they mean to their partner, whether they are exclusive or seeing other people, or whether the relationship has any foreseeable future can be very unsettling. So, if you are not okay with giving boyfriend/girlfriend benefits without commitment, we suggest you have the ‘talk’.
Shivanya says, “In a conventional setup, we tend to label relationships under the pressure of societal norms. But for such unconventional relationships, partners may choose not to label it. If the idea of dating exclusively but not in a relationship makes sense to a couple, then who are we to decide a label in a relationship for them? After all, it’s a matter of personal choice depending on the couples’ stance regarding their partnership and how openly they can claim it.”
How To Deal With No-Label Relationship?
Did we just stuff your head with too many concepts and ideas? Then it’s time to take a shift from the theories to some tangible advice on how to deal with a no-label relationship. Are you fairly new to this domain of dating? “I think we are dating exclusively but not in a relationship. And I am not so sure about being loyal when it’s not official. Should I keep my options open on the side?” – Is this what’s going on in your mind?
Well, send your worries off on a long vacation because we have the right solution to your situation. If you are skeptical about offering girlfriend/boyfriend benefits without commitment or need to be sure that you both are on the same page about being in a no-strings-attached connection, here are 7 actionable steps to deal with no-labels relationships:
Related Reading: 11 Lessons People Learnt From Failed Relationships
1. Are you on board to get into a no-labels relationship?
No label or not, knowing what your heart wants is a must for all relationships. Ask yourself, “Are you one hundred percent into this?” You have to heal from the insecurities you have been fostering for so long and be in an absolutely stable state of mind to get involved with a person with no relationship labels. Don’t give it a shot because it sounds cool or your partner wants it.
Even if you are convinced that you are doing the mature thing by not getting into an established relationship structure, unless it is what you really want, it may go down in flames. My friend Mila is prone to being codependent with her romantic partners. When she started dating an older man, that no-labels relationship was a disaster as she couldn’t break her pattern and it was not well-reciprocated by the man.
2. Keep your expectations and jealousy in check
Here’s how to deal with a no-labels relationship 101: there’s no place for over-the-top expectations or possessiveness about your partner. You cannot claim girlfriend/boyfriend benefits without a commitment from the person you are casually seeing once or twice a month. They will probably not come by your place with ice cream because you are sad or take all your calls no matter how busy they are.
And you are supposed to be okay with that because this is what you have signed up for. According to Shivanya, “Certain unlabeled relationships can have their own baggage and insecurities, along with unfulfillment and jealousy triggers. You have to come to terms with the fact that if you have chosen to be in such a relationship despite all odds, you have to accept the other side of it.
“You may have to share your partner at times without overreacting about it. Insecurities and jealousy may also stem from what the other person is making you feel. Is there enough assurance and healthy communication? Or, do you feel unseen, unheard, neglected? Then there will be relationship insecurities.
“To keep a check on it, accept the reality. But some of the non-label relationships happen to be so pure that there is hardly any jealousy. They sort of know that their love is so beautiful that even the karmic relationship will have no influence whatsoever. They don’t have the fear or need to possess or to label or claim it.”
3. Try to resist the all-consuming emotional attachment
Trust me, we are not here to rob you of your chances of love and happiness. We are just looking out for you. A no-labels relationship can get really messed up when one person starts developing feelings and the other doesn’t. After all, we are no Mr. Spock, cold and distant. As you get stuck in a ‘one-sided lover’ crisis and your partner parades their other romantic exploits in front of you, it can be a soul-crushing place to dwell in.
Shivanya agrees with us on this, “Of course, it will create a lot of trauma and a non-stop battle within and outside as well. While one person is okay with the nature of their relationship but the other person demands more of their presence, time, affection, and a sense of security, it might become a toxic, dysfunctional relationship.
“Then there goes on a cycle of drama until they make peace with their reality. It may lead somebody to depression as well. In that case, they might need therapy and a reality check.” If that’s what you’re currently dealing with and looking for help, skilled and experienced counselors on Bonobology’s panel of experts are here for you.
4. Boundaries are a must in a no-labels relationship
Being in a no-labels relationship, you have to learn how to compartmentalize your personal life and your partner’s space in your schedule. Remember, this relationship doesn’t represent your entire existence, but rather a small part of it. So, give just the kind of importance it deserves. And setting clear boundaries is the first step toward managing it well. Here are a few things to set straight before you step in any further:
- How much time do you want to set aside for each other
- At whose place do you want to meet
- When will you be available for calls
- How would you introduce each other to other people
- Where do you stand on physical intimacy
- What are the deal breakers for you
Related Reading: 10 Must-Follow Healthy Relationship Boundaries
According to a Reddit user, no-labels relationships are a field of landmines, “Communication is key to a healthy relationship. It means that you know you’re on the same page and where the boundaries are. Without discussing any of that, you don’t know where the landmines are. I’m poly. I’m absolutely fine with my partners having sex with other people. But I do need to know what the rules we’ve negotiated are and where I stand.”
Shivanya suggests, “You have to make peace with what this relationship is and what it’s not. Also, you have to come to terms with what and how much you can expect from each other. False hopes and promises can create havoc for you and the other person. So, it’s better to let the other person know what you can do and have with them and set the way for a healthy relationship.”
5. Don’t get your hopes up about a picture-perfect future
In conventional terms, we plan our futures with a partner who we know wants the same things as us. They fulfill all typical relationship responsibilities, they acknowledge you as their romantic partner in public and you both share some dreams for the future. But if your current situation is undefined, how can you let them play a titular role in your future?
And we are not talking about just marriage here. It could be asking them to be your date for a wedding next December or planning to move in together in a few years. You have to get a hold of your daydreams until their plan of action looks even remotely close to yours. Offering or expecting such boyfriend/girlfriend benefits without commitment isn’t a part of a no-labels relationship.
6. Hold your ground and individuality
People get into no-labels relationships in the first place because they bring the promise of an abundance of personal space and freedom. See to it that your partner has enough respect for that. Like any other relationship, this one too should be a bond between two equal partners. Voice your concerns, and speak against the norms of your relationship that make you uncomfortable.
If you are not okay being loyal when it’s not official, be explicit about your terms. I was once in a similar circumstance. I liked spending time with this guy and we went on several dates with nice food and feel-good conversations. But that time, I cringed at the thought of us having sex. As he was not okay with the platonic clause, we ended things eventually, on good terms though.
7. Know when to leave a no-labels relationship
That brings us to our last order of business, you have to catch your cue for an exit. Perhaps, when you got into this arrangement, you had a genuine aversion to standard relationship labels. After being in a no-labels relationship for six months, you have comprehended that you crave ‘more’ – more stability, more affection, more commitment, all of it.
You are standing at a fork junction with two roads in front of you going in different directions. The steering wheel is still in your hand and you get to decide which path you choose. Do you want to propose a proper romantic date to your partner and see if they are also interested in taking things to the next level? Or do you want to take a raincheck hoping for something better in your future? The choice is all yours.
- Make sure you are ready for a no-label relationship
- You have to tame your expectations and jealousy
- Heal from your own insecurities and emotional trauma before getting into a no-labels relationship
- Don’t get too emotionally attached or start planning a future with them
- Set clear boundaries from the beginning
- Leave when it’s getting too toxic
So, can we expect that this article helped you with how to navigate a no-labels relationship like a pro? You know the drills and the pros and cons of having no label in a relationship. Hopefully, from this point forward, you will do only what’s best for you. Ultimately, it’s important for you to be happy, feel loved and respected in a relationship, and not lose your sanity in the process. If a no-labels relationship offers you that, then go ahead. Break a leg!
Of course, you can date someone without a label but on some non-negotiable conditions. Make sure that this is truly what you want and that you are emotionally stable to handle this relationship. Have a clear set of boundaries. And, lastly, don’t force yourself into staying on if it’s not working out for you.
Although the rulebook would say you are not allowed to get jealous in a no-label relationship, you might just. We, humans, are filled with tender emotions, and spending time with an amazing person may lead you to develop feelings. Naturally, jealousy would make its way into your relationship even though that’s not what you wanted.