I’ve been dating since I was 16, and in all honesty, I’ve hated every single second of it. I’ve gone through all of the trials and tribulations of modern dating: being lied to, ghosted, and cheated on.
Living in Amsterdam for the past two years has felt like I’m living in the physical embodiment of hookup culture. In a city of one million people, there are more options available than an all-you-can-eat buffet. The oversaturated options lead to people never being satisfied with what’s in front of them—and so they hold out in hopes of some immaculate, perfect partner. With people always longing for more, what’s on their plate grows cold.
Even though I’d like to believe that I’m a romantic at heart, dating in Amsterdam has changed me. I’ve developed a desire and disdain for DTR—defining the relationship, best defined with the three uncomfortable words “what are we?”
When I was in high school, it was safe to assume boys weren’t testing the waters with two girls at the same time. Monogamous relationships, after all, were the default in high school. We spent so much time getting to know each other before going on a date that by the time we actually started dating someone, it was already synonymous with exclusivity.
Now I’m in college, and I don’t want to guess if a boy is seeing other people; I don’t want to feel like I’m competing for someone’s attention and affection. During my freshman year, I shut my feelings out because I didn’t want to get hurt. I felt like the second I opened up, I’d be put on the back-burner. I’m now approaching my last year of college, and I know I have to play by the rules of hookup culture whether I like it or not. Do I know what the rules are? No, but that won’t grant me exclusion from the game. If I continue to insist on playing by my own rules, I’ll be knocked out in the first round.
If I were to be direct and straightforward and ask to DTR right off the bat, boys would call me crazy. Being the first to ask means you’re the first to be vulnerable and trust that someone wants you in the same way you want them. But when is it ever the right time to ask? A quick Google search told me to abstain from popping the question until a month into the relationship—but if we’re not in it for the same reason, is it even worth wasting a month?
Really, I’ll never be the laid-back cool girl who doesn’t need to put a label on things. I find comfort in knowing that I’m seen and craved, and I’m terrified of not being accepted for who I am and what I want. So even without formal labels, I don’t dare to play the field, and I’ve subsequently found myself being loyal to the wrong people.
I spent two years with someone who wanted to define the relationship and asked for my commitment right off the bat. He assured me of his own loyalty from the start and promised me he wasn’t seeing anyone else. I took his word for it, but little did I know that while I remained loyal throughout, he played the field, feeding other girls the same lies and different drinks. Soon after our inevitable breakup, he moved on as I struggled to find a footing.
To be clear, I’m only 20—I’m not dating for a white-picket-fence fantasy. But I do want to take my time to get to know someone without feeling like I have to fight for them.
Amidst today’s hookup culture it’s difficult to pluck up the courage to discuss feelings, let alone express your desire for a committed relationship. In a pump-and-dump environment, after all, people hope to hit and quit it. People have an easier time opening a condom than opening up.
Physical intimacy is deemed effortless, all as we struggle to establish any sense of emotional intimacy. The automatic assumption becomes that no one wants anything further than temporary companionship, that wanting anything more will make you look stupid—or worse, “crazy”. More often than not, in the face of hookup culture, I’m left feeling like I have no control in my relationships. I fumble to muster up the courage to express my feelings, anticipating the worst case scenario that lies deep within my premonition. For so long I could never say a word, left to watch my personal relationships crash and burn, fueled by the lack of communications. While “what are we?” doesn’t make the best pillow talk, silence makes a worse contender.
No matter what type of relationship you want, whether you hold a desire or disdain for DTR, one thing’s for certain: your relationship will stay stagnant if you never ask for clarification.
By Wen Hsiao
Cover Image by Chloë Nour for Vice