Campus Life

A tale of French bravery and American cowardice

All you American guys can learn something from how the French do it

I’ve always been perplexed by all the rules and conventions of dating the American way. I don’t understand how “it’s complicated” ever came to be a relationship status, and I don’t understand why people would pay to read books or see movies based around making women realize that guys are not that into them.

But more than all of those things, what confuses me most is all the to-do over being “official.”

The few guys I’ve dated during my time at MIT have been a mixed bag, but the one thing they have in common is that they all exploited the unofficialness of our relationship. (Yes, I made up that word.)

We did all sorts of things people in relationships do, but ask them and I’m sure they’ll say that we were nothing more than good friends. I’m sorry, dude, but I don’t sleep with my good friends.

I found myself in such a situation not long ago with a guy I dated for a few months. To the outside world, I’m sure we seemed like a real couple with all the hand-holding and the kissing and the Friday night dates. Color me surprised when he then used the fact that we were not official against me. I got cheated out of a relationship based solely on a technicality.

Since we never had “the talk,” we were never “together.” The logic of that completely eludes me.

So of course, when I started seeing someone while interning in Paris this summer — let’s call him Pierre — I expected things to go in a similar fashion. Pierre and I would do all the hand-holding and the goodbye kisses I’d done with other guys, and just like these guys convinced me we were never in a relationship, I convinced myself this time too. Until we had “the talk,” we wouldn’t be “together.”

One night over dinner, Pierre told me he ran into his ex on the train and she asked about his copine.

Thinking I was missing something in translation — copine can mean “female friend” or “girlfriend,” depending on the context — I asked him to clarify.

Ta copine as in, your girlfriend?” I asked. “

Oui,” he said.

I almost choked on my crêpe. Not only had this guy referred to me as his girlfriend, but other people acknowledged the “officialness” of our relationship. Weren’t we going to talk about this? Shouldn’t we sit down and do the whole, “you don’t sleep with anybody else and I won’t sleep with anybody else and we’re going to put this up on Facebook” thing?

As it turns out, “the talk” doesn’t really exist in France, only in the States.

Thinking this was an isolated case, I brought it up to my fellow American friend dating a Frenchman, and her situation was similar. The guy never brought up being an “official” couple; rather, they just sort of fell into it the same way Pierre and I did. She, too, thought that the “officialness” was an American thing.

Our relationships with our respective French boyfriends going well, we had to wonder: What is exactly the point of making a relationship “official”? It can’t be a marker of commitment, since there are plenty of people in official relationships who cheat. It occurred to us that it might just be a loophole, an excuse that guys could use if they needed an easy out.

If you’re not “officially” a couple, you get a free pass to hook up with someone else, to date many girls at the same time, to disappear without a trace. But if you’re official, your partner can give you shit for cheating, you owe them exclusivity, and you have to dump them with dignity.

But shouldn’t everyone deserve this respect regardless of how official the relationship is? I understand casual relationships and I encourage them if both parties are on the same page, but if you’ve been seeing someone for a while, it’s safe to assume they believe it to be serious in some way.

Relationships should be “serious until determined casual,” not the other way around. That’s how STDs spread and hearts get broken.

So serious–until–determined–casual it was with Pierre. We never changed our Facebook status, but there was the understanding that we were taking our relationship seriously despite its short expiration date without feeling the need to label it. And, I must admit, I very much prefer the French approach.