Logic would tell you that being in a relationship doesn’t completely dictate the trajectory of your social life. However, I am going to make an argument that it does. This is because being in a relationship can starkly change people’s perception of you, which inherently changes social interaction.
I first thought to write this article after a bar encounter I had this past weekend. I had an old friend in town, and with him came a rowdy group of 26-year-old guys trying to relive their college years. My group of girlfriends teamed up with them, resulting in a traveling pack of very loud (and in the guys’ case, very drunk) group of people. Most of us were just meeting for the first time, so naturally the topic of significant others came up. To highlight, one of my conversations went something like this:
Me: So do you have a girlfriend?
Guy: No! I’ve just lived with this girl for a while.
Me: Wait you are 26 and live with a girl, but she’s not your girlfriend?
Guy: Well I’ve known her a really long time, and she was my girlfriend, but I don’t know. I don’t really have a girlfriend.
Me: So… you do have a girlfriend…. who you live with. Meaning she is a serious girlfriend.
Guy: See, I just don’t know if I would call it that! We’re in a weird patch right now. I just live with her.
I proceeded to go over to my old friend and ask whether the man in question had a girlfriend. We laughed off his feeble attempt to ‘seem single’ after it was affirmed that he had indeed been dating a girl for years. To me, the fact that he had a girlfriend really made no difference, but his denials did launch the thought process that led to this post.
So now let me juxtapose this conversation with this: there was absolutely no sexual tension between the lying boyfriend and I. There was a big group of us, and no one was pairing off. We were all having a great time getting to know one another. So why lie?
My response to this is that there seems to be an immediate dismissal of those who forwardly admit that they are in a relationship. Which sounds weird, but let’s give this some context. If someone points out they are in a relationship, is there not a small part of you that assumes this person is only going to be so much fun? It also can feel like the person is shielding him/herself from you by making you aware they are dating someone. It’s like a “stand 5 feet back sign” dangling around his/her neck. Also, being in a relationship is like putting a time stamp on a person’s night out. Typically by 1, the mission of being out turns into seeing the person you are with/hooking up with. Everyone else starts to filter out.
Lets also dissect why we go to bars in the first place. We want to go out and have a good time with friends, namely. But many people are looking to meet someone. If you are single and meet someone with a significant other, do you really want to ‘get to know’ him/her at 1 in the morning when he/she is in no way a potential attraction? Conversely, if a taken person is at the bar, getting to know someone of the opposite sex at 1 in the morning, they are suddenly pinned as incredibly questionable by the outside world. If you see your friend’s boyfriend talking to another girl for more than 15 minutes, doesn’t that start to feel uncomfortable?
If you take a look at all of these different factors, being in a relationship suddenly seems to change the whole dynamic of going out. It’s like being in a relationship is some kind of sobriety pact or an agreement to only talk to certain people when out. I don’t think these stigmas would hold up in a bigger city, but in Chapel Hill, they are very real. The town is small, so if you are in a relationship, people are watching. People are also crossing you off of the list of people to talk to post 1 AM.
Chapel Hill is definitely a college town, and I think this has a lot to do with the Chapel Hill relationship stigma. In college, being in a relationship can feel synonymous with ‘being in control,’ which is something many college students lack. You shouldn’t be a disaster at the bar; you shouldn’t be flirting with other people all that much; and you should make your significant other a priority when out.
While being in a relationship is great, it arguably doesn’t come without social implications. So while I am not an advocate of lying, I can understand the desire to ‘seem single’ if you are looking to have a rowdy (within the lines) night.