A noun is the name of person, animal, place or thing. That’s probably one of the first definitions I learnt at school. Today, it has become the foundation of my English language progression. More than two decades later and the exact wording of the definition is still etched in my memory, framing the phrasing of various sentences and my use of capitals in day to day life.
But definitions are not only useful in language. We use them in our lives to differentiate between our various relationships. Defining what someone means to us helps us draw invisible lines of interaction. Family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, such relationship definitions set boundaries which in turn define the types of interactions that occur in such relationships. For us women in particular, defining our relationships with the opposite sex is important. We are “talking” but he hasn’t ‘said’ anything ‘concrete’ yet; He is my ‘boyfriend’; We are ‘engaged’, He is my ‘husband’. Most women, tend to ‘box’ guys into certain categories. We usually know within the first 5 minutes of meeting a guy whether we will banish him forever into the abyss of friendship, if he has potential to be more than a friend or if we can marry him within the next few months!
I recently had a long dinner with one of my oldest friends Bisi. As we filled each other in on work, family and other jist, conversation naturally moved to relationships. She told me about a guy who she had had a brief dalliance with last year. Although the relationship had started out as something purely physical, it had now matured into something deeper. With a cheeky smile on her lips, she recounted how she was tired of seeking to define her relationships and decided to just let things progress in what ever direction. She wasn’t eager to make this ‘concrete’, all she wanted was to have fun and be happy. Today they are a full fledge couple and practically inseparable. At first, I was a bit alarmed by this free for all physical nature of her relationship. I mean, what if the guy had taken advantage of her? What if he just wanted to keep things physical and then went elsewhere for something more meaningful. Her reply was quite candid, “Glory, what if I too was just using him? After all he wasn’t the only one having fun, we were both having a good time and today it’s progressed into something special. If it didn’t, someone else would have come into my life”. As forthright as her answer was, I wasn’t convinced.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when I had a discussion with one of my aunties that I began to see the possible merits in Bisi’s approach. There I was hopelessly trying to avoid my aunt’s rather leering questions about my relationship when she started to complain about my failure to secure a husband. “Glory, you are going about this wrong” she said as she squeezed the second half of the orange we both shared into her mouth. In my days, we had many suitors and we would choose from them. Girls of today just sit down and date one man for 50years and call him their boyfriend. That’s why when he leaves you to marry someone else you start from the beginning. But if you have many suitors, you just move your attention to the next. You have to open your eyes”. As if sensing my thoughts, she glanced at me from the corner of eye and added, “I am not saying you should start sleeping around oh, in my day you could date someone without being so generous, but today you people are different”. Embarrassed as I was to be having this conversation with my aunt, whose kids were years older than myself, I couldn’t help but see reason in her advice.
Unlike most of my articles, where I have come to a conclusion on what my course of action should be, I find my legs straddling both sides of this argument. Are we 21st century women selling ourselves short by tying ourselves down to one man and giving him the all important definition of “boyfriend”, when many of our male counterparts are reluctant to do the same? Should we instead, be in less of a hurry to place definitions on our relationships? Maybe even adopt a version of Bisi’s attitude and let things develop as they will, while pitching mini tents in other places? After all, we all know how dangerous it is to keep all our eggs in one basket. Or is there something to be said for setting relationships within their proper order by defining them? Is it better to keep one guy at a time, regardless? Clearly there are arguments for and against both approaches but I wonder if one argument has more positives than then other.
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