When are you dating? The unfortunate situation of breaking up with someone you were never with

This week I was reminded of a truly uncomfortable situation I found myself in in late 2019, which I thought I would share with you all.

Anyone who has ever had a situation-ship has found themselves asking ‘are we dating?’. A question, that in this day and age, is significantly more complicated than it used to be. The myriad of shapes and forms of the modern relationship greatly changes the ways in which we end up in them. Polyamorous relationships, open relationships and casual relationships are all significantly more common and accepted than they were previously, which makes knowing when you’re actually in a relationship all the more difficult. This leads me to the situation in 2019, otherwise known as ‘the unfortunate situation of breaking up with someone you were never dating in the first place.’ 

At the end of 2019 I had freshly graduated high school and had a ‘situation-ship’ with a guy that I was fairly uninvested in. Let’s call him Chad. I was eighteen and I’d only ever been kissed twice and was pretty desperate to have any kind of experience before I started university, which led to Chad and I starting up ‘something’. If I’m honest, the entire experience boiled down to some late night phone calls, a less than stellar hookup, and a coffee date (I don’t even drink coffee). A big reason I wasn’t hugely invested was because I’d heard through a friend that Chad wasn’t interested in a long-term relationship and additionally that he thought I was “too high-maintenance” for him (“crazy” might have been the actual word used, but for my own dignity I’m choosing to go with a more professional term). If someone said that about me now I’d tell them to take a long walk off a short pier, but I ask the reader to remember that I was freshly eighteen and a little stupid. It’s also important to note that Chad and I lived about an hour apart, which was a pretty heavy factor in why we didn’t see each other that often, and one that in hindsight, I’m pretty thankful for. Either way, after a couple weeks of this, I was pretty convinced that we were just friends who had hooked up that one time. 

While all of this was going on, I met the guy who would become my first boyfriend. Within a few weeks of meeting, we started dating. When I told Chad this information, I received the most unexpected and surprising reaction. Chad informed me that he believed himself to be my boyfriend. It is safe to say that I was pretty surprised by this revelation as at no point in our brief interactions had we had any sort of discussion about this, and in my limited experience, I had assumed that this sort of thing was something that both parties had to agree upon first.

What followed was the most bizarre breakup I’ve ever had. In fact, it's in the running for most bizarre conversation I’ve ever had.

While Chad assured me he wasn’t hurt, just demoralised about the entire thing, I was deeply deeply confused about how I’d ended up in my first relationship without my knowledge. This was a fairly traumatising experience for me, one that my new boyfriend at the time found absolutely hilarious. But it is definitely something that still haunts me to this day.

I think the most important thing that this experience taught me was the importance of communication in all relationships, but particularly within romantic ones. There is nothing to fear from the ‘relationship talk’ because if you do have different expectations from a relationship, the earlier you find out, the better! That way, if you really are looking for a commitment, you know you aren’t wasting your time with someone who isn’t, because there are plenty of people who do want that. I know many people are frightened of that sort of conversation, it’s a very valid fear. Emotional intimacy is difficult, but absolutely worthwhile. 

As far as I’m concerned, anything that prevents you from dumping someone you didn’t know was your boyfriend over the phone on a Tuesday is an absolutely brilliant thing that we should all take advantage of. If you do find yourself needing to have this kind of conversation, be calm and clear about what you want: there’s no point in agreeing to some kind of compromise that you know will upset you later on. It’s also okay to take things slow, you don’t have to jump into a serious relationship overnight, it’s okay to ease into it.

Most important, though, is being honest about what you want from the beginning. If you don’t want something serious that’s okay! More power to you, but don’t lead people on. Leading people on is at best manipulative, and at worst downright cruel. However, it goes both ways; attempting to pursue a relationship with someone who’s not looking for one will almost never work, and it will absolutely cause you an immense amount of pain.

Despite the cautionary tale I’ve just told you, many years later my current girlfriend and I were  sitting on some beanbags in her apartment and she turned to me and asked, ‘oh shit, are we dating?!’ even though we were practically living together at the time. Clearly, I haven’t learnt anything from my own past experiences. Either that, or my girlfriend is really that dense, another entirely plausible possibility.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.