In other words - everyone wants the upper hand in the relationship - to be able to say, "she likes me more, so I can bail at any moment and maintain pride." Having a relationship end is unfortunate. Getting flat out dumped is embarrassing, and New Yorkers - despite what our post 4am behavior and fashion decisions suggest - do not like to be embarrassed.
What's wrong with openness, honestly, a little admission that you do really like a person and do really want to make it official? Nothing, in theory. But that joke about the "stage five clinger" from Wedding Crashers is the most quoted line of that movie for a reason - everyone fears the clingy, high-maintenance, too-much too-fast fling.
For New Yorkers - and really many 20-somethings these days - it's less about avoiding that person who wants you to meet the parents after three weeks and far more about avoiding admitting that you want something serious. "I really like this guy, and I want to spend more time with him" - fine, acceptable, good luck to you. "I really like this guy, which is good because I'm looking for the next person I'm with to be the person I marry" - WHOA. The difference is in that admission that you are ready and eager to commit. You don't want a friend with benefits, you don't want to hook up without definition. You want a committed, long-term relationship.
Now here's where I think most people evaluating the way "we" behave has it slightly wrong.
It's not that we all want casual relationships with no strings attached because we're in our 20s and fuck serious relationships. I think it's that we're afraid to say we want more of a relationships and less of a non-binding sexual contract because it's a flat market for commitment seekers. We don't want to be strung along and confused and part of some romantic cold war, but we're afraid that if we fire the "where is this going, because I'd like it to be somewhere real" missal, it'll be all over for us. And - and here's what's really at the core of this all - we'd rather freeze it out in a confusing dance of who-likes-who-more than have nothing at all. We'd rather have someone to text and sleep with than no one.
We all want the upper hand, but I think we're confused about what having the upper hand means.
To many 20-something dating - by any definition - in New York - it means holding the control of the relationship - deciding when it goes from hooking up to more and being clear about who likes who more - holding the cards. But shouldn't the upper hand really be about holding control of yourself? If you go in wanting a relationship, say you want a relationship, confess you won't keep hooking up if this isn't going to turn into a relationship and then hear, "oh, well in that case, this is over" - don't you walk away with the upper hand? Isn't it not about the stand off of who leaves who first and more about the root of why the person is leaving?
I know - no one wants to have any kind of relationship end because the other person didn't like them enough, but in the dance of dating isn't that something you want to find out week six versus month six?
I admit there is an anxiety of appearing overly enthusiastic going on, but I think at equal play is an anxiety around admitting what we want - especially if it's commitment - because what we want isn't currently selling very well. Dating is a supply and demand economy, and right now - in New York - it's a buyer's market.
How and when does that change?