Ryan Chartrand

When I’m around other twenty-somethings chatting indiscriminately about relationships, I have no qualms referring to my significant other as my boyfriend.

But at certain times, usually around the older and wiser, the word “boyfriend” sounds awkward coming out of my mouth.

It’s the prefix. My boyfriend isn’t a boy, he’s a guy; but say “guy friend” and no one gets the romantic connotation.

With girls it’s different. At whatever age, whether we really are still “girls” or full-fledged women, guys will still always see us as girls, and will use the term even when we’re little old ladies.

I don’t know if it’s just me (and hopefully I don’t offend him), but I hear a trace of impermanence, and maybe even immaturity, in the term “boyfriend.” After a certain length of time, do we graduate from girl- or boyfriend to something else?

Saying “significant other” works, but it’s too long-winded for everyday conversation. An immediate jump to “fianc‚e” can freak out some people (especially when it’s just one party doing the jumping).

Besides encountering trouble with what to call each other, what is it that my “boyfriend” and I are doing? What do we call the activity itself?

Dating?

Gasp! She said the D word!

The term “dating” seems to have dropped out of linguistic favor. But it isn’t going extinct; it’s simply operating covertly under aliases. We’ll call it “seeing each other” or “being involved” or “going out,” but when it comes to “dating,” we wrinkle our noses. Today, dating seems just as archaic as courting or “going steady”; it’s something our ancestors did eons ago. As verb and/or noun, the word “date” sounds so. well, dated.

But the terminology isn’t the hang-up at all. It’s the subject.

It seems counterintuitive. Arguably, relationships fill every aspect of conversation. It’s the everyday exchanges laced with romantic tension that excite us most, and entice our less scrupulous tendencies for gossip.

But when it comes to doing the deed – that is, attempting to secure a date ourselves – our voices flutter out of our throats. We can talk all we want about others’ love lives, but when it comes to our own, we either go on the defensive (perhaps to the point of being offensive) or nervously shrug our shoulders at family gatherings when Aunt Velma asks the age-old question, “So, how’s your love life?”

From whence does the awkwardness with dating stem? Perhaps it starts in preschool, when you realize that little girls and little boys aren’t the same after all, and that every member of the opposite sex is infected with cooties (which have yet to be classified in biological binomial nomenclature).

As we grow older, cooties aren’t the bad guys they used to be; in fact, they seem to draw us toward a special someone whose cooties get along with our own. However, it seems we were so traumatized by that startling childhood realization that all that remains is a feeling of unease when it comes to approaching the opposite sex.

And so, people avoid dating (at least under that heading) because it’s risky, and there aren’t a lot of people who enjoy employing a trial-and-error method with their hearts on the line.

Last week a friend of mine was asked, “How can you ask a girl out without making it awkward for her to say no if she wants to?”

Okay, here’s the cold, hard fact. Of course it’s awkward! That’s the defining emotion of the whole business. The concept of dating as we’ve been socialized to understand wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t unnerving. But despite the inevitability that the physiological response to the idea of asking someone out ranges anywhere from winged insects in one’s gut to heaving said insects, people go to lengths to avoid it, knowing there’s no way around it.

I think the problem at the core of human interaction is that everyone just tries too hard. It’s clich‚ advice to say “Just be yourself,” but maybe if people followed it, we’d meet people who get along with the real version of ourselves.

Although I don’t have my psych degree (yet), I’m sure it’s safe to say that being real in a relationship with someone who can be real with you is actually functional.

Just rip off the Band-aid – the quicker, the better. If awkwardness can’t be avoided, ruminating over it can. Playing the “what-if” game won’t get you closer to working up the nerve, and the most you could lose is your dignity for maybe a minute or two, if you let it last that long.

The least you could gain is more experience with this age-old and newfangled predicament, and when it comes to understanding relationships, we could all use more of that.

Of course, everything’s easier said than done. But for those of us searching for “The One” (or hoping we’ve found him/her), saying anything easily isn’t worth half as much as succeeding at something we’ve done the hard way.

Sarah Carbonel is an English and psychology junior.

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