What Constitutes An Ex In The Casual Dating Culture Of Gen-Y?

by Jessica Barraco

What is an ex? In 2013's current hookup and casual dating culture, what really constitutes a significant other?

From the time I was 14, then 18, then 22, I had boyfriends -- real boyfriends. In other words, we met each other's families, we spent as much time as possible together, and we were definitely, definitely exclusive.

In the past four years, I have been single and dating, but not always just hooking up or casually dating. Or at least the dating wasn't so casual to me.

What do we call these people that we so casually date? Have I been single for four years, or are these past relationships a new kind of ex? Have I been seeing a bunch of in-betweeners? The fact that I wasn't exclusive with any of these guys doesn't make them any less significant in my life, yet society dictates that they were never my significant others.

Ever since I graduated college nearly five years ago, people seem to be way more defensive about labeling and titles than they used to be. I don't know if it has to do with most Gen-Yers dedicating their time to climbing up the corporate ladder, or if people are becoming more and more afraid of commitment.

So, when I talk about someone I'm seeing, whom I am not exclusive with yet, but this someone seems to only be seeing me, I'm unsure what to refer to him as. Obviously not to his face -- that would be relationship suicide. But what can I call him behind his back?

What can anyone in this sort of 'relationship' refer to his or her partner as? As a person who has always liked to be “figured out,” I don't see the big issue with labels. You can get out of anything (besides being a parent): jobs, friendships, relationships, and even marriages. So what gives? When did knowing where you stand with someone become so complicated?

The sad reality is that knowing whether or not you were exclusive may be holding you hostage at the Heartbreak Hotel. How do you get over something that never “was”? When you break-up with a boyfriend or a girlfriend, you can say things like, “At least he/she loved me. At least we gave it a try. At least we got to know each other for X amount of time.”

When you have these ex in-betweeners, what can you say? “Well, we tried.” That annoying friend of a friend at brunch retorts, “But did you? Were you exclusive? It sounds like you were with somebody who was not interested in actually giving it a shot.” Is that really true?

You wonder, since I haven't been officially “exclusive” with someone in a few years, does this mean I have been screwing around? I felt like I had a boyfriend for X amount of weeks or months. How do these experiences not officially “matter” anymore in my life?

The importance of this is not in the label of your relationship, how long you've been officially single for, or any of that petty nonsense.

The idea is that in order to reflect and heal any heartbreak wounds, you need to know that what you had with someone was real to you.

Realistically speaking, healing from heartbreak should really be about how you felt about said person. The title doesn't matter, nor how long you knew this person, or any other details. If this past partner mattered to you, he or she is a special person in your life.

You should heal the end of that relationship by referring to it as you wish, based on how you felt about the relationship. You often can't put a name on the most important things or feelings, but it doesn't make them any less significant in your world.

For more on Jessica Barraco visit her website or Facebook page. 

Top Photo Courtesy: We Heart It