Tuesday, November 9, 2010


(cross-posted from Diary of a Sex Diva)

Over the past few days I've had a lot of conversations about labels. There are so many kinds of labels. There's the washing instructions that tell me not to dryclean my clothes. (Silly people. As if I needed to be TOLD not to waste my money). Then there's the label on my pillow that is illegal to remove. (Can you hear the RRRRIIIIPPPing sound as I take those instructions to heart?). Then there's those cruel sizing labels on my jeans. Labels that try to convince me my waist has expanded, when I KNOW that to be a lie. There are warning and instruction labels. All of which provide us with essential, valuable information. But no...none of these are the labels that my conversations have revolved around.

It all started with an acquaintance at work very earnestly asking my opinion on some relationship labels. Seeing someone vs. dating someone. Friendship with benefits vs. buddies... or even "Fuck buddies." Despite the fact that I have been out of the dating circuit for...well...actually I never really WAS in the dating circuit, she was adamant that I'm one "in the know" and I should have some ideas on the subject. Never one to NOT have ideas, I had to concur with that evaluation...and I shared my thoughts with her...such as they were.

Actually, the definitions that we came up with aren't really all that important. But what I did find fascinating was the realization that what these labels are....the function they serve...is really all about another nasty word: EXPECTATIONS. Good or not...positive or not...each of these labels conjures up a set of expectations for each of the parties involved. Everything from how many times a week do I call or text this person? To how many times a week do we fuck? To whether or not you're allowed to "see" or "date" other people. The trick, of course, is to make sure that these sets of expectations match. That one person's definition of "dating" and all it entails is essentialy the same as their partner's definition. Because if those two definitions differ, hence the expectations differ, you're in for a shit load of trouble.

So, in this way, labels can be a very dangerous thing. I mean who among us wants to get tagged with labels like "nerd" or "blonde" or "slut." Labels tend to lead to assumptions about people and we like to attach all the characteristics that go along with a particular label to the person or, of course, relationship, in question. and assumptions are almost always a bad idea. In relationships, more so than any other facet of life, communication and clarity of expectations is paramount for any relationship to continue successfully.

Now I had a friend at one time who was very big on keeping our friendship casual. He wanted a friendship with, and I quote, "No expectations." I basically told him that this notion was BULLSHIT. There is no such thing as a friendship or any relationship for that matter, with NO expectations. Even the idea of having no expectations...is an expectation! Whether it's the expectation that you call that person all the time or that you never call them... Whether it's the expectation that you get together for coffee once a month, or the simple expectation that you pick up the phone when the other person calls.... Insignificant or not, each of these are expectations. And when expectations are not met it always, always leads to conflict, often heartache. And possibly the use of automatic weapons. Essentially, a relationship without expectations...is not a relationship.

So, having said that I would put it to you that labels, while generally unavoidable and somewhat dangerous, are also a necessary evil, and perhaps we should see them as a good starting point. Personally, I'm in favour of taking on my labels and, rather than denying the images that they illicit...working towards changing them.

Think of the word "gay" for example. Thirty years ago that word brought up very different images and reactions than it does today. At least for a significant portion of the population. It took a lot of work on the part of the gay community to change that, and I'm really not sure that simply avoiding the use of the term i.e. the label, would have gotten them there any sooner. What abour words like Muslim, atheist, bisexual, submissive, masochistic. How about fuck vs. sex vs. making love? Sodomy vs. anal sex? The list of labels, and the list of characteristics and perceptions that we attach to these labels is endless.

I guess my ultimate point is to use labels cautiously, always be clear on what that label means, be open to new ideas and new definitions, and always, always be clear on the expectations that go along with them.
Relevant or not, I just have to end with this line that I heard in a movie this week:

Why do women fake orgasms?

Because men fake foreplay.
Maybe they should've defined foreplay a little more clearly!!

1 comment:

Lynn LaFleur said...

Great post, Nikki! And a lot to think about.