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"What are we?" Gay dating checkpoints

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If you're in the dating game, you've probably heard and/or uttered the phrase, “What are we? Where do you feel like this is going?” Statements like these come from doubt and anxiety about a date's intentions or expectations. While one person may be eager to establish a commitment, the other may be waiting for more certainty before taking the plunge and making it “Facebook official.” But statements like “What are we?” get couples talking about how both men want to share their emotions, their bodies, their social circles, and their time.

Language and understanding are crucial to determine and accept where you and your man-friend fall on the dating spectrum. Consider these terms in your relationship status:

“We’re seeing each other”

The most open-ended of labels, this phrase generally implies that you are chatting online, texting, or hanging out without the structure of formalized dates. At this point, you may or may not be sexually involved. The option to date and sleep with each other, and other people, is open. You likely have not yet introduced each other to your friends. Also, you’re waiting to see if he’s crazy.

What to learn from this phase: your preferences, insecurities, and deal-breakers; is he crazy?

“We’re friends with benefits”

You are friends first-and-foremost. You enjoy each other’s company, even if only for the sex. The intimacy you share is more physical than emotional, and you likely don’t spend long amounts of time together. Your social circles may be familiar with your arrangement but are not likely invested in its outcome. The option to date and sleep with other people is still open. You now know he’s not crazy, but for whatever reason you both know and accept that your bond won't develop into a committed relationship. You remain casual and have no expectations of each other.

What to learn from this phase: how to be a sex maverick; how to avoid getting clingy.

“We’re lovers”

*See “friends with benefits,” but add the addendum, “If it wasn't for [xyz], we would totally be in a relationship.” XYZ may equal “He’s only here for a month,” “He’s in an open relationship,” “He doesn't want his kids to know about us,” etc. If you’re lovers, your intimate connection is satisfyingly sexual and potentially emotional. You likely feel excited about this person and want to spend time with him frequently, but you both know and accept there is an expiration date to this whirlwind romance.

What to learn from this phase: how to go out of your way to make someone happy; how to avoid becoming distant.

“We’re dating”

If you are dating, you must be going on actual dates. Dates don’t have to be at a bar or the movies per se, but the intent to share more time must be mutual. Your bond has likely developed some physical intimacy. The likelihood of dating and sleeping with other people may still be open at this point, but is lower. The likelihood that your social circles know about your dating status is much higher (and soon, you will likely look for your best friend's stamp of approval on this guy). Dating's true distinction from all other categories thus far is that you are open to the idea that this could become something more. There is no expiration date. This is the last zone before true commitment comes into play, so ending or changing your bond in this phase is simpler and less painful. Adult relationships can’t remain in this phase for long periods of time but it’s important to get to know this guy before you commit to something bigger. Straight folks have gender roles and expectations tied up in deciding how long this phase should be. For gay men, consider a 2-6 month dating span before determining if you’re ready to take things to the next level.

What to learn from this phase: romance 101; how to consistently make time for another human; what type of chemistry clicks with you right now; how to have fun together; what mistakes to avoid.

“We’re boyfriends”

At this phase, you have had an actual conversation about being committed to a romantic relationship with one another. You have heard or said the words, “Would you like to be boyfriends?” and the other party has responded, “Yes!” Once you are in a committed romantic relationship, it is most likely with the understanding that it will be an emotional, sexual, and socially integrated bond. You prioritize him into your life. Your social circles know and acknowledge your boyfriend. Remember, this category does not automatically mean you are monogamous. Be sure to have this overt conversation together, e.g. “How do you feel about sleeping with other people?” Whatever the answer, be sure that both of you are comfortable with the impact and have discussed boundaries.

What to learn from this phase: how to love a man; how to argue and resolve conflict; how to impress your boyfriends’ family and friends.

“We’re partners”

This term has become more popular with straight couples, and marriage is a more viable option for gay couples, so understanding the context of “partners” is important. Partnership typically means that you started as boyfriends and your commitment level has evolved. The honeymoon phase is over but you still love one another. The sex has probably become less dazzling, but your emotional bond has likely become very strong. At this phase, couples are usually living together and potentially sharing a bank account. You are considered family members. Again, you may or may not be monogamous, but are on the same page about it.

What to learn from this phase: how to love a man unconditionally; what you wish to accomplish with your lives together.

“We’re engaged”

He liked it, so he put a ring on it. It goes without saying that at this point you have determined that you wish to build a future together. The difference between this phase and “partners” is of course the intent to get married. You should both be sure you want to spend the rest of your lives making the other one happy, knowing that you both will change over time, and you are prepared to accept those changes. You look forward to growing old together.

What to learn from this phase: what this man is like in all seasons; what type of husband you will be; if you want to be fathers together; how to forgive.

“We’re married”

You’re married.

What to learn from this phase: I’ll let you know once I'm married.

A few last words of advice: take this article with a grain of salt. Don’t let expectations pressure you into something you’re not comfortable doing. Don’t have sex before you’re ready. Don’t become monogamous or “open” before you’re ready. Don’t propose before you’re ready. Don’t compare yourself to someone else’s relationship. Open, honest communication is the most important key to expressing your intentions and goals with your man-friend, and active listening is the most important skill to understanding his perspective and wishes. As gay men, we have the perk of hitting “snooze” on our biological clocks. Don’t compromise your most important goals in life, but be open to a flexible timeline and new possibilities.

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