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Are We Dates? Mates? A Couple? Partners?

A Personal Perspective: How we label our liaisons can be confusing. And private.

Key points

  • Holiday gatherings are tempting for getting personal.
  • Questions about dating and romance are complex.
  • You don't need to ask. The single people in your life will decide to tell you about their liaisons if and when they’re ready.
Source: KrakenImages/Unsplash

Tis the season when we single people are grilled about the status of our relationships. Are we dating? Have we found a mate yet? Are we a couple? Are we committed partners?

These questions can be as confounding for people trying to answer as they are for those asking. There are lots of reasons why that’s so.


There’s an assumption that you must be looking for someone if you're single. Maybe not. Robust and fulfilling lives prevail without the presence of a human love interest.

If you’re signed up on a dating site (or several), does that mean you’re “dating”? Combing through photos and profiles is daunting and endlessly time-consuming. Yet that’s what many of us do. Even when there’s someone who catches our fancy, there’s no guarantee they will reciprocate our interest.

At times you just need a break. The dark days of winter can be an ideal time to regroup, consider alternatives, and focus on yourself without distraction. Does that count as dating?


What the heck does that mean? Do you have to sleep with someone before referring to them as your “mate”? Or is that presumptuous? Maybe you like the person’s company and consider them a mate using the more friendship-oriented English definition of the term.

The mate question implies a commitment deeper than dating but could just as easily refer to a friend with benefits.

Dương Hữu/Unsplash
Source: Dương Hữu/Unsplash


If you use the “we” pronoun to refer to your person, does that mean you’re a couple? And who’s supposed to drop that first “we”? You might be ready, but they might not feel the same. Not yet, or maybe never.

In middle school, holding hands signified you as a couple. As grownups, COVID protocols escalated some romantic agendas. Others avoided exposure altogether.


Call me old school, but I consider partnership the result of some sort of clear and affirmative action, like filing for domestic partnership, moving in together, or deciding to marry.

Being peppered with questions about intentions probably doesn't move anyone's agenda forward. These are big decisions that are highly unlikely to be made in public.

Bottom line, if you feel compelled to ask a question about someone’s romantic life, take a deep breath and consider the wisdom of trespassing into this fraught topic. It’s probably best to jettison the love life questions.

Why? Just like with queries about politics and pregnancy, the single people in your life will decide to tell you about their liaisons if and when they’re ready.