If habits were easy to break, the servers at my local Tex-Mex joint wouldn't immediately chariot over a deep dish of queso before I got the chance to order. There also wouldn't be so many ways to trick your brain detailed on the internet, aimed to disrupt old patterns and free you to live the super healthy, vice-free lives we are all secretly hoping we're capable of living. I suppose, in keeping with this thinking, that when it comes to dating, some people plot in private about the day when they can successfully pull a boo out of a booty call. But that's not always the case. Sometimes you really are just on the hunt to keep things casual, or maybe even keep a little rotation churning. There is zero harm in that, by the way (assuming to keep in mind a few human decency rules). Sometimes, though, without pursuit or prior discussion, hookups transform and bloom into — gasp — A Relationship.
When something chill and ~whatever~ becomes something more, there aren't exactly dramatic trumpets sounded by the Official Relationship Announcement Marching Band. This is typically a slow and subtle process, sometimes so much so that you could miss the specific shift. Are you someone's partner at the moment? PSYCH. YOU MIGHT BE. In college, I drunkenly blew up a ~whatever~ dude's phone re: where he was. Upon my apology, he laughed, "It's normal to worry where your boyfriend is." Boyfriend?? News to me. It could happen to you, bb — so let me help you nip that kind of bizarre madness in the bud. Squint your eyes and pay attention. Here's the tell-tale phases of someone effectively boo'ing you up.
They text mundane details about their day
"Good morning" counts, as does anything about work or what they ate. When things are casual, no one needs real-time alerts about hilarious copy machine fiascos or photos of string cheese snacks. To keep casual is to keep a little mystery. Mundane details comes along with relationships, a thing you are trying not to be in.
Small tokens of affection
This, like the mundane details, shows they are thinking of you ... often and in a possibly clothed way. I will argue drugs, alcohol, and cab fare do not qualify. Small figurines, candy you mentioned in passing weeks ago, and if there's a mix CD or playlist (IDK how you romantic kids roll these days) — sorry, it's over. "It" being your carefully constructed fling.
Introducing you to friends
They are quietly blending your existence into their more public life, presenting you to friends. It may start with a chill-seeming bar run-in, but if you don't watch it, soon group getaway plans to a freaking cabin will materialize and you'll have no choice because Jeremiah's girlfriend Norah is already relying on you to split the cost of vegan butter LOL.
They ask your opinion
This ranges from trivial — whether or not you think their coworkers would get a Garfield tie worn on a Tuesday — to rather serious, like how they should frame a raise request at work. Your opinion is obviously valuable and it's cool they recognize that, but in this specific set-up, those opinions should be confined to only those considering favorite sexual positions or which dive you wanna meet at.
Some folks don't mind PDA when coupled up, but nothing screams MIIINE quite like a little public hand-holding, especially in your or their neighborhoods. It's a kinda weird, unspoken ownership thing that communicates to others you two come as a package. It also shows this person isn't concerned about other potential sex friends seeing this, therefore consenting to be with only you. Surely this person is referring to you as their girlfriend or partner in conversation by now.
They respond quickly
Texts, emails, GChats (although, we have discussed why those are a bad idea) you send are all met with a timely reply. They are making their interest and devotion clear. Abandoning the charming chase of casual dating blazes the path to safe suffocation in a relationship — and this sucker is playing the dating DeSoto on it.
Emotional intimacy could start with vulnerable conversation or fears shared in confidence — but we all know real intimacy develops when someone sees your TMJ mouth guard or comes to develop a friendship with your cat. When someone stays over too much (or you at their apartment), feelings and other icky things are sure to tangle and mess up your previously perfect arrangement.
If this happens even once and is not the direct result of someone getting too wasted (which, TBH, isn't super sexy anyway), you might as well hang up your lace underbits and go full HAM on the more comfy cottons. You, my friend, are now in a relationship. Or start plotting a swift escape. Either way, just wear underwear you actually feel good in, OK?
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