Dater X: I’m In Relationship Limbo

Yesterday evening, I met The Young One outside my office with no idea of where we were going or what we were doing to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I’d pressed him for clues all week and the most he would give me was, “You’ll really like it,” and “If you wear heels, nothing too high.” We began walking, zigging and zagging down the unseasonably warm New York City streets. Every time I thought I had an idea of where we were headed, he’d laugh at my guess, shake his head ‘no,’ and make an abrupt turn. Finally he said, “This is it,” motioning toward an awning with the words “Ballroom Dancing” printed on it.

The Young One and I have been dating for about a month now. Though neither of us has a crystal ball handy, it’s pretty clear that this will be something long-term. Which leaves us in a place I can only call Relationship Limbo—that period of time with a new person where it’s obvious you’re a couple, but where neither of you is ready to label things because, at least by some common knowledge yardstick, it’s “too soon.”

As we pushed through the door and were greeted by a svelte middle-aged woman with an accent, I felt excited by the old-school cheesiness of the place. I also felt a touch of dread—I’d gotten a C in high school gym the semester we did ballroom dancing thanks to my extreme lack of coordination.

Inside, the mirror-lined studio was festooned with pink and red streamers. While we were one of three young couples there for a lesson, most of the pairs in the room no doubt had AARP cards tucked in their wallets. “You once told me how much you like old couples,” The Young One said, as we attempted to learn the Foxtrot.

After dancing, we walked a few blocks to the hole-in-the-wall pizzeria I love. As The Young One and I both doused our slices in hot pepper, I couldn’t help but marvel at how well-matched we are—on the big things (that we’re both very social beings, that we both want marriage and children, though not for a while, that we both highly value being creative outside of our work) and the little things (our mutual love of spicy food, our nearly identical iTunes playlists, the fact that we both fall asleep rubbing our feet together).

The Young One and I have been dating for about a month now. Though neither of us has a crystal ball handy, it’s pretty clear that this will be something long-term. Which leaves us in a place I can only call Relationship Limbo—that period of time with a new person where it’s obvious you’re a couple, but where neither of you is ready to label things because, at least by some common knowledge yardstick, it’s “too soon.”

Relationship limbo is a fantastic place to be. Eons worth of love songs and poems have been written about this moment, when it’s exciting—even electric—to feel so taken with someone and have those feelings returned. But relationship limbo does come with its own set of anxieties. Mainly because you haven’t actually discussed the bounds of what’s okay and what isn’t in your relationship—after all, you’re hesitant to call what you have an actual relationship—and thus you aren’t exactly sure what the rules are.

Some things I’ve been thinking about while in relationship limbo:

  • Is it time for me to take down my online dating profile? I haven’t logged on in weeks and I wouldn’t feel right responding to anyone through it, let alone meet them for an actual date. So part of me feels like it I should take it down—both out of respect for the Young One and for any potential suitors, since I’m not actually emotionally available. But then again, I don’t want to jump the gun and jinx myself. It feels like having the profile up is an important signal to myself that I’m still technically single, right?
  • Is it still kosher to write my hot foreign pen pal? Since the tenor of me and Petr’s emails has been fairly flirty, it feels strange to keep up this email relationship when I’m falling for someone else. But then again, do I want to cut off a relatively benign email relationship that’s been a decade in the making for someone I’ve known for a month?
  • Since I’m sleeping over at the Young One’s place often, is it okay to leave a toothbrush and a bottle of saline solution there? Or—as sitcoms have been telling me for years—should I avoid this, since the sight of a second toothbrush in the toothbrush holder sends the average red-blooded male into heart palpitations and makes him feel like he’s already shackled?
  • Should I introduce him to my friends and continue to meet his? On the one hand, I feel like us meeting the people who are important to the other helps us get to know each other better. So far, it’s only confirmed how well we fit into each others lives. But, if things change and this doesn’t work, does either of us want to explain to multiple people what happened?
  • If a text message pops up on his phone from an “Emily” or a “Jen,” is it okay to ask who that is? We’ve established that we aren’t dating or hooking up with anyone else, so I don’t think these are texts of the shady variety—after all, I have plenty of platonic guy friends who he might question even though he has nothing to worry about. But as not-quite-boyfriend/girlfriend, do we owe each other explanations on this?
  • Speaking of, what do I call him? I feel like the monikers “boyfriend”/”girlfriend” can’t be used without having had a conversation to establish them. But then again “the guy I’m dating” doesn’t really lend the situation enough weight, does it?

Last night, at the pizza parlor, The Young One and I had a classic relationship limbo moment. As we talked about the traveling each of us plans to do this year, he casually tossed out, “You should come with me to Dublin this summer.” We both locked eyes, realizing that something important had been said, but we were not quite ready to completely parse it out. I smiled and nodded. “Sounds fun.”

Normally, being in relationship limbo drives me crazy and leads me to dice and dissect every gesture and utterance, imbuing it with meaning that may or may not be there. But here, I feel so … comfortable. I’m happy to define things, and I’m also happy to let them ride as they are. Either way, I feel confident that I’ve found something pretty special.

Check out my Twitter account, @iamdaterx. Follow me to read new columns, and to get my random dating and sex thoughts on a daily basis. And if you ever want to email me, hit me up at imdaterx@gmail.com. Dating is hard, so let’s help each other through it, mkay?

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