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There's a Better Way to Ask Someone if They're "in a Relationship"

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My grandparents have been married for 60 years, and started dating because my grandpa wrote my grandma a letter while he was away at military basic training. When he got home, he took her on a date. Then, they were together; the understanding was, We are not seeing other people.

How simple and pure!! This sounds like a fairytale, compared to the way things work now. We are WAY past the idea that anyone could assume anyone else is only dating us, by virtue of us going on a date. More to the point, it's no longer even useful to simply ask someone you're interested in, "Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?" because it's on-trend to be eminently commitment-phobic. The modern way to find out whether someone is truly available is something more along the lines of: "Would anyone be hurt to find that you're out with me right now?"

Variations of this question have been echoed around Twitter over the past week, mostly in response to a query about what the best first- date questions are. It's an unexpected, maybe even bizarre way to ask a relatively simple question, in that it provokes actual thought. It's, essentially, a more polite, discreet way of asking, "Are you currently stringing anyone along?" Which carries the subtext, "...And will you do the same thing to me?" When I first read the question, I, an incredibly single person, had to actually pause to think if there were anyone who'd be pissed to find out if I was going on dates.

The rephrased question addresses the extremely broad spectrum of what it means to be "in a relationship" now; a concept that could apply to anything from hooking up once a week, to having keys to another person's apartment. As marriage is pushed further down the life timeline, and the bar for being in a serious relationship is raised, the gray area between totally single and monogamous relationship is being stretched to oblivion. The gray area stays gray because none of the stops along it have any reasonable definition; there's no shared language for what we are doing to each other, romantically, this not-relationship-having, commitment-free-ish existence. Dating now is both fun and twisted, like riding a roller coaster before it opens to the public.

And so the "are you in a relationship?" question must be asked in this new way: Is there anyone who would be reasonably upset to find you here, right now, going out on a date with me? It's an industrial-strength vacuum of a query; it sucks up, with equal force, the partner who's being cheated on, and the casual hook-up that's actually not so "casual." It's easier to say, "No, I'm not in a relationship," (however true or untrue it may be) than it is to have to think about the potential person one might be hurting, and then deny it.

But then again... People do wacky things! And by "wacky," I mean, people can be real assholes! So the answer is only as reliable as the person being asked, but it's certainly worth a try. And it's certainly worth more than the now-antiquated, "Do you have a monogamous partner?" That question is basically useless, in the face of our current dating structure. Put it to pasture, and try asking in this way, instead.

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