Hi! I’m Kale. Today I’m going to talk about the labels we use in our relationships. Labels like boyfriend, husband, wife, or best friend.
Why do we use labels?
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on why I use labels in my life. For some people, that might not be a thing they have ever thought about. Their wife is their wife, so that’s what they call her. Which makes sense. If we dig deeper though, what are some of the reasons we use labels?
Convey That Someone is Important
It’s natural that we want to express that there are people in our lives with whom we have deep bonds and strong connections, who occupy an important space in our lives. Labels let us communicate who a person is in relation to us really easily.
Know Where We Stand
Having labels gives us and others a guide how to act. You act a certain way with friends, a different way with lovers. Labels can feel comfortable and orderly.
Desire to Be Understood
At times we all feel a longing to share information about ourselves and who we are, for others to get us. This can be especially true when we are living outside of societal norms. Since we may already feel misunderstood, it can create a stronger need to be acknowledged. This is valid.
Now that we’ve gone over some reasons to use labels, let’s cover some reasons why we might not want to.
No More Hierarchies
If we want to remove hierarchies from within our social circles one way to start doing that is by removing labels. No labels means a linguistically level playing field. A boyfriend doesn’t have to feel secondary to a husband, a friend doesn’t have to feel less important than a best friend.
Labels can offer comfort. If you categorize a person in your life as your partner, people will make assumptions about what that means. In some ways, we like this. It’s saying Yes, this person is really important in my life!
However, on the flip side, labels place expectations on how people should act. For example, a boyfriend is supposed to call you every day and meet your parents and buy you anniversary presents.
Without the label of boyfriend, a person isn’t necessarily obligated to act a certain way because of outside expectations. They have the freedom to act from the heart, it makes their expressions of love more meaningful.
Being Okay with Ambiguity
What if, instead of fearing being misunderstood, we embraced that uncertainty? The good thing about throwing out labels is that it will force you to use new language. The hard part is that it will get you thinking in new ways, and it can be hard to convey those ideas.
Sit with that feeling of not being immediately understood. I’m learning to relish the gray areas. I like that the way I talk might raise more questions than answers.
Less Worry About Other People’s Comfort
Labels do a lot of the explaining for us. They help other people feel comfortable because they can immediately categorize and make assumptions. Be comfortable with the discomfort. Perhaps worry less about random people understanding us, and spend more energy creating equality in our lives for the people that we love.
Alternatives to Labels
Okay, now that we’ve gone over why we might not want to use labels, how do we do that, exactly? I don’t have the perfect answer, it’s a work in progress for me too. But I’ll go over a few options, and you can see if any of them feel right for you.
One option is to just name the person you’re talking about and then carry on without explaining anything. Let’s say you meet someone new and you’re talking about waterslides, so you say ‘Oh, Leonard and I went to the waterpark once.’ Does it matter that Leonard is your deepest confidant, your emotional rock? You know he is, that’s what matters.
Another idea is just to use the word friend for everyone. The word friend is kind of overused in our society, just as you can love your Grandma or love tacos, your friend can be one of the most important people in your life or someone you had coffee with once or twice.
What if we started using the word ‘friend’ more intentionally? We can get descriptive with our words, and say things like peer, acquaintance, or co-worker for people we don’t know that well, and then say the word ‘friend’ more deliberately.
We could use the term relationship. For example, ‘I am in a relationship with Olivia’. I like this for two reasons. One, because you don’t have to use the word my, as in my boyfriend, my partner. It lets them be their own person.
And two because it strips away assumptions that other words have. A person might wonder – What does she mean by that, have a relationship with? Let them! Embrace the vagueness, the gray area. I like to leave people a little unsure, then I have the chance to explain further if I want or need to.
Person I Love
If we are talking to someone and they ask ‘Oh, who is that?’ we could say ‘That’s a person I love’. This conveys that they’re important, but it doesn’t give away details about the shape or structure the relationship takes.
Those are a few ideas, I’m trying them all out right now until I decided what comes naturally. Sometimes I still stumble when someone asks ‘Who is that?’. And sometimes I really like just saying ‘That’s my babe!’.
In the end, I think the struggle is worth it! We can use language to challenge norms. Love without labels that is allowed to be undefined and fluid gives us freedom.
I hope this helped a little, or at least gave you some food for thought. I would love to hear how you handle labels in your life, either in the comments or in our Facebook group. And please subscribe to my channel to get future videos! Bye!