By Nikhita Mahtani

Dating is hard. Actually, that might be the understatement of the year — dating can be brutal. When you finally find someone you connect with — a person makes you laugh, respects your opinion, and is generally pretty much always there for you, it feels like such a relief. But what if that person doesn’t want to label it? What if you’re both doing coupley things, but never actually clarify that you’re a couple?

You might just be in an almost relationship.

“I often find with my clients that there are several women and men who claim to be in relationships, but they don’t refer to them as such,” says relationship expert Susan Winter, who coaches both couples and singles on how to create and find lasting relationships and partnerships. “It is a relationship in every way except the fact that they don’t actually call it one, and don’t refer to the other person as their partner. There might even be a promise of being monogamous, but for some reason, the people aren’t considered boyfriends, girlfriends, or partners.”

After all, if you’re basically in a relationship, who cares about silly titles, right? But while the concept may be fine in theory, Winter insists that with time, that kind of relationship can take its toll on the person who wants more. This is rarely a two-sided affair.

“I find a common reaction to being in something that isn’t being labeled is it invalidates our participation in it,” elaborates Winter. “One person always wants the label because if it’s a relationship in every way except calling the person their partner, it leads to feeling ‘less than’ and not good enough for the label.” As a result, other emotions like anger, hurt, jealousy, and even depression can pop up, which can really hurt one’s self-esteem.

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