In the conversation taking place about 10 feet away from me right now, two 20-somethings are assessing the state of a five-date-old relationship.
The problem, it seems, is that after a few outings together, including one that lasted an entire Sunday and another that ended with a hookup, the young woman didn't know her feelings about the guy. "I mean, he's nice," I overhear her say. "That means 'meh,'" replies her friend assuredly. "That means you don't like him."
"But I don't not like him," she offers tentatively. The conversation meanders on this circular path for 45 more minutes.
This conversation is one among a million just like it. The subject may be a guy who isn't sure he wants to actually date the one-night-stand who texted him the next day, the girl who wonders about the guy who "ghosted" her after three weeks of regular dating or even just a pair of friends who have drifted further apart.
Connecting with another human being can be shockingly easy in the digital age. Whether it's through texting, "liking," tweeting, Vine-ing, Snapchatting, reblogging or, you know, making actual human eye contact (yes, it still happens), we are forming links between one another all the time, deeply embedded in each other's lives and headspaces.
But defining and understanding those relationships? That is an eternal human struggle, one we face now more than ever. Unmasking and confronting this challenge is the mission of Mic's newest section: Connections.
"He has to fulfill three things," I told my friend as we made our way down an East Village street one day. I was in the midst of an on-again, off-again relationship that was proving to have nine lives, the tales from which had been keeping my friends entertained (or so they generously pretended, on my behalf) for over a year.
This guy and I hadn't ever formally defined what we were to each other; we were dating, I suppose, but he wasn't my boyfriend, and even the status "exclusive" seemed elusive. In my own struggle to articulate the nature of our complicated connection, I had concocted my own three-category rubric to express what he — and in retrospect, so many other men — meant to me.
"There's the first category: friendship," I said. That simply meant a guy and I had to like each other as human beings and find each other pleasant to be around. "Second," I said, "is a sexual connection, physical attraction." That, I said as my friend rolled her eyes, this guy and I had in spades. The third and most elusive category, I said, drawing it out for dramatic effect, was romance. A crush, some butterflies, the "more than just friends" feeling. In short, the hardest one to find.
My guy, I said with unflinching uncertainty as we crossed Second Avenue, had the first two categories. The third just wasn't there, as it often isn't. And that was totally fine.
Of course, after a while, it wasn't fine. After feeling lonely sitting right next to him on the couch and feeling cold when he hugged me goodbye after a date, I had to end the relationship. But as with so many "failed" relationships, the experience wasn't actually a failure in the slightest. It gave me a way of understanding my connections — not necessarily with a formula anyone else would find useful, of course. But that's exactly the point: We all need our words.
It's comforting to use terms like "platonic," "sexual" and "romantic," or even clearly contrived three-part rubrics, to categorize our relationships. But in practice, defining what we mean to each other is far more complex than we can put into categories (no, even Facebook's "It's Complicated" status doesn't cut it).
Articulating what we mean to one another isn't just an exercise in social networking or gossip. It is a lens through which we understand ourselves and our place in the world. And how we connect with others — whether it's through screens or body language — dictates how we treat, forgive and support one another.
Moreover, our connections are mediated by our identities. Our sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, upbringing and even Meyers Briggs personality type are inextricably tied to how we conceptualize the role of other people in our personal lives. It's a worthy pursuit to try and understand how those identities influence how we treat one another and what it all means.
Exploring how we connect is not an exercise in millennial navel-gazing. Nor is it limited to questions of Tinder, ghosting and sexting — or even romance and friendship. But we all could use more ways to understand one another and express our conclusions.
Those are the stories Connections will tell.