I was in a meeting a few months ago, and one of the guys started talking about his girlfriend. Complaining, more specifically. She was unhappy that he hadn’t told her he was leaving town, or something like that. When we asked him why he hadn’t, he said, “She’s not a keeper. Just a keeper-arounder.”
Of course, the next question was obvious. Was she aware of her status? Had he “programmed” her to lower her expectations? “Well, not in so many words. Why should I have to?”
To which I replied “Because that’s not the default setting!”
Men aren’t the only members of the dating public who are guilty of harboring a “keeper-arounder.” I have known plenty of women who have stayed with men with whom they knew they had no future, but didn’t bother to share that information with those men. They said things like, “We’re just having fun.” Or “he’s someone to hang out with.”
Which is all fine and good as long as the relationship is chaste and, especially, that both parties are on the same page. But this, I repeat, is not the default setting.
I have been saying for years that dating is interviewing for the job of spouse. Its purpose is supposed to be to figure out a) if we want to get married, and b) if so, to whom. Granted, it’s a relatively recent invention, and for most of its history it has taken place in the context of a society where people were expected to marry at a relatively young age. So it was understood that dating was a prelude to marriage, and no one in their right mind would date someone after they realized they weren’t interested in a future with that person. The clock was ticking! There were babies to be had and careers to be built, and it all rested on the foundation of a good marriage. Or even an average marriage. Or a “challenging-but-socially-acceptable” marriage.
Today, life is different. There is no social urgency to marriage. Nobody’s in a big hurry. Some people aren’t sure if they want to get married. Others have been married before and have no interest in going down that road (aisle) again.
But they still want to date. They want companionship. They want someone to hang out with, someone to attend weddings and funerals with them.
Which would all be well and good, except for that pesky assumption that dating is still supposed to lead to marriage. Particularly when that assumption is held by the person with whom you’re hanging out at weddings and funerals.
The blame here doesn’t necessarily reside solely with the “keeper.” Sometimes the keep-ee contributes to the problem as well. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Guy bluntly tells girl “I’m not looking for a commitment here. Just some no-strings-attached fun.” Girl says “Of course! Me too! I love no-strings-attached-fun! Commitment—bleeech!” Meanwhile, deep down, she’s thinking “If I just spend enough time with him, and cook him enough dinners, and give him enough sex, he’s bound to fall in love with me and propose in a romantic way and pledge his undying love to me and me alone.”
That usually works out really well.
The key here is simple communication. If you see no future with someone you’re dating but want to keep hanging out, let them know—honestly and as bluntly as possible—that is the case. And if the someone you’re dating with tells you that there is no future with you, and you know you want a future with someone, then for Pete’s sake believe what they say and move on!
Friendship between men and women can be a beautiful thing. I have many guy friends, and they’re very important to me. But keeping a hopeful boyfriend or girlfriend as a “keeper-arounder” is a very different situation. That isn’t being a friend. It’s being dishonest. It’s using.
Do you have a question for Mary Beth Bonacci? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.