At my workplace, we have what’s called a “leveling tool.” It’s basically a document that describes the responsibilities associated with each job level. The tool is used to help determine if a promotion is in order. As I re-entered the confusing world of dating after the breakup of my 20-year marriage, I wished I had such a tool that would help navigate me through the uncharted territory upon which I was embarking. How would I know when I was ready to move to the next level, and would my progression match that of my new boyfriend?
I use the term “boyfriend” loosely. First of all, there’s the age factor. Surely there must be a more sophisticated word that can be used once you reach middle-age. “Gentleman caller” and “beau”, though romantic, sound too Victorian. “Lover” is too personal for my taste. And none of these titles is entirely appropriate until you and the object of your affection have established exactly where you are in the relationship. I’ve dated the same man for a year and a half. We have a monogamous relationship. Yet, use of the word “boyfriend” is practically as taboo as bringing up the dreaded L-word. Perhaps it implies more commitment than my male friend is ready to accept.
The early infatuation days of our relationship were blissfully happy for me as I was rescued from the emotional rejection I’d felt from my divorce. I was as excited as a love struck schoolgirl. A few months later, however, I noticed the reluctance of my boyfriend (yes, I’ll go ahead and call him that…he’ll probably never read this, anyway) to progress up the commitment ladder. Being a typical male, “relationship talk” was something he conveniently avoided. I decided to make it easy for him by creating a relationship leveling tool. With such a tool in hand he would simply have to inform me of his current level and whether he’d be trying for any “promotions” in the foreseeable future.
Let me explain something about the leveling tool I’m about to disclose. Every person is different and what might seem like a major step for one person might not be such a big deal for someone else. Sex is probably the biggest example of this. For some people, sex is in no way a statement of commitment. Others feel sex should be saved for marriage. Most of us are somewhere in between depending on a myriad of circumstances. So although I originally created the Commitment Leveling Tool with the best of intentions, I’ve come to realize that my interpretation of what constitutes commitment and how it should progress is very personal and unique. When I originally authored this tool I had about 20 levels including such trivialities as “Not embarrassed to fart in front of one another.” However, I’ve narrowed it down to what I think of as the 10 primary levels.
Commitment Leveling Tool
- Flirt and hope for a positive reaction
- First date
- Kissing and progressively more
- Decide you want to date exclusively
- Introduce your friends, families, and kids
- Say ‘I Love You’
- Go on vacation together
- Talk about a future together
- Get married.
I was quite pleased with our progression up to Level 5. However, once there, we seemed to be in a holding pattern. I was certainly more than ready for Level 6. In fact, I had talked to my friends, families, and kids about my infatuation way back at Level 1. Why was this so difficult for my so-called boyfriend? When I showed him the leveling tool, he suggested that he was so committed that he was ready to vacation with me, skipping right over Levels 6 and 7 and going straight to Level 8!
Here we are, over a year later, still somewhat stuck at Level 5. Yes, we have done a couple of long-weekend trips, and I have met a few of his friends. I wonder if the plateau we reached has anything to do with sex. Perhaps if we were back in Victorian days when sex didn’t come until AFTER marriage, there would have been further progression up that commitment ladder. Could it be that once The Big Level 5 (Sex!!!) was achieved, there was no longer any incentive for my boyfriend to advance further?
I rationalize that certain levels are more about personality than commitment. My boyfriend is very private and seems to have his life compartmentalized. He does not want to mix his work life with his personal life or his love life with his family life. I have often felt hurt that he has not included me in his family events. I’ve sometimes wondered if he were to die suddenly, if his family would even know to invite me to his funeral. I believe they know he’s dating someone, but they’ve never met me.
Although remaining hidden from my boyfriend’s family causes me much distress, I’ve concluded that an invite to a family function is tantamount to a marriage proposal in his mind. Once I understood this, I stopped pushing. I’m ready for Level 6, but if family introductions are his version of a Level 9 relationship, then I don’t want to go there quite yet.
When I’m not worrying about “going to the next level” I’m totally happy with our relationship. We have fun and enjoy each others’ company. He is my friend, my confidant, and my lover. However, we both still stutter when using the word “boyfriend.” Whether that is because of our ages or our commitment level is not entirely clear.
If I revert back to my unabridged 20-level tool, there are things we’ve done which have implied increased intimacy. We have become more comfortable with each other and yes, he has farted in front of me, although it was met with a great deal of embarrassment. I still am not ready for that level. I now teasingly refer to him as FB (Fart-Boy) rather than BF (Boy Friend). It seems to be the more appropriate moniker.
As the months have passed, met with my periodic frustrations at our lack of forward movement, I’ve come to the realization that it’s unlikely that we will ever reach the higher levels of this scale. I’ve asked myself if I can be happy staying at Level 5. Often times I think Level 5 is perfect. I have more time to pursue my own interests and I do not have to deal with the compromises that more established couples are faced with. We still go out at least once a week and that date is met with excitement and anticipation. Whenever I see little signs of intimacy…times when I see my boyfriend stepping out of his comfort zone for me…I get the warmth of feeling loved, whether or not he is saying the difficult L-word. He always respects me and has been there for me whenever I’ve needed him.
The advice columnists, Dr. Phil, and authors of “He’s Just Not That Into You” would all tell me not to settle for anything less than love. Unfortunately, I have trouble even finding a potential for a Level 1 relationship, let alone someone I think is going to make it to Level 10. The notion of finding my soul mate is very romantic, but realistically, I don’t see many prospects out there. Admittedly, I’m picky, but if the purpose of moving on is to avoid settling, then why start out settling in the early stages of dating?
At some point I will decide I want more and will risk venturing out to find it. When I give up all hope of any forward movement with my current relationship, the stagnation won’t be enough to sustain it. I doubt many men would stay in a relationship if they felt there was no chance of reaching the “Sex Level.” I cannot stay in a relationship if there is no chance of reaching the “Love Level.” But for now, I can enjoy a Level 5 relationship with a sprinkle of higher level activity. A serious boyfriend so soon after a divorce is probably not on Dr. Phil’s prescription list either. A Fart-Boy will do just fine.