Let’s Not Complicate Things With Labels

A friend and I were chatting the other day, and he was amazed at the differences between dating in the US and in Ghana. ‘Dating in Ghana is simple’, he said. I beg to differ on that statement (particularly as more Ghanaians who have lived a Western-style of life move back), but where he was coming from was understandable. Our conversation had begun with us talking about a mutual friend, and me telling him that me and our mutual friend had dated in the past. ‘Oh, really? We’re not the closest of friends, but I think I would have known if he had a girlfriend.’ Clearly, I had to revise my statement: ‘I never said I was his girlfriend, I said we dated.’

He turned over to me with confusion, ‘I don’t understand.’ From that, I knew that our definitions were way off so I went on to explain what I refer to as dating. ‘Mr. x and I hung out a decent amount, but we weren’t exclusive.’ ‘So the difference between dating and going out is exclusivity?’ <- errmmm yes, and no. You can be dating exclusively (ie. neither party is seeing anyone else in that capacity), however if you haven’t had a discussion about being exclusive, then you’re not in a relationship. It’s not something that just happens, you both have to know what kind of relationship you are in. My friend turned over to me still in disbelief. Honestly was this something he’d never heard before?! ‘Is this like an American thing?’ …I don’t think so. In fact, I know it’s not an ‘American’ thing because I dated this guy IN Ghana. But this got me thinking, have we complicated the simplicity of ‘boy meets girl (or girl meets boy), they like each other’s company and get along really well, and they enter into an exclusive relationship’? I didn’t go into more detail with my friend, because I don’t think he could have handled me defining other dating terms like ‘talking’, ‘seeing each other’, ‘friends with benefits’ (see HERE for a more comprehensive dating terms list).  I wanted to explore this issue with another friend of mine, a female living in South Africa. Although she wasn’t as dumbfounded at the idea of dating, she did say that in her experience things are much simpler in Africa, “to me, after we’ve gone on about 3 dates, I’m considering you my boyfriend.” I laughed at that, ‘That’s presumptuous much. I’ve dated guys for over a year without ever considering them my boyfriend.’ ‘Ya, but why would you continue to see someone for a long period of time without being exclusive.’ …I had to think about it, I’ve really never had to explain this concept to someone before:

“Dating can be less messy/stressful/time-consuming/ and just less work than being in a real relationship, and perhaps you’re not ready for such a commitment, or the timing is off, or you live in different cities, but you both still like spending time with each other. I had to add a cautionary statement with my explanation: dating can also be MORE messy/stressful/time-consuming/ and generally more work than being in a committed relationship. It’s the best of both worlds (no commitment, but still companionship) when both parties are fully aware of what is going on. And it gives you a chance to get to know other people in the same way (yes, people do date multiple people at the same time).”

Of course at some point casual dating stops- it’s not cute to be dating multiple people after a certain age (you fill in the blank when that is). But how do you know when you need to stop? How do you know when you’re being too picky? Well according to Peter Todd, a Professor of Informatics and Cognitive Science*:

“In the face of this conundrum, the best strategy for picking a mate is to date enough people to establish some baseline standards, then settle down with the next person you meet who exceeds the bar.”

In Todd’s research, he found 12 to be that magic number when it comes to finding out what you want in a relationship. 12. Is that high? Low? And what if you generally don’t date much? Todd says that, “After dating 12 people, most people have enough information to determine what qualities they’re looking for in a long-term partner. Statistically speaking, that’s the point when people who want to settle down should basically end their search and settle with the next person they date who meets (or surpasses!) these expectations.” Sometimes too much choice can be a negative thing, so:

  • If you’ve dated fewer than 12 people, feel free to keep looking (AND dating)
  • If you’ve dated, say, 30 people, you’re probably being too picky

I don’t know about this science to figure out the right number of relationships situationships you need to be in before knowing when it’s time to bow out of the game (the author himself states, “some people find [love] on their first try, while others find it on their fourth marriage”); however, at least this provides some type of ‘numerical baseline’, eh?

So what’s your dating/relationship number? And what are your thoughts about my take on ‘dating’ on African vs. Western terms?



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