One of the topics that will be discussed at great length in my “Relationships 301” video courses is the problems with labels.
It seems, more than ever, that we as a society, are obsessed with self labeling as well as labeling others. Our brains make sense out of our complex world by categorizing things. The problem is, as humans, we think that this is always a good thing. It isn’t.
Why isn’t it always a good thing? Because as a society, we have taken this idea to a place that it should never have gone. We ignore the very real truth that things do not stay static, that there are almost no true black and white ideas, solutions, and problems.
So let’s look at this more closely be giving examples of what I mean. I’ll use something, I hope that will be, as least controversial as possible here. When I was young, like many young men, I wanted badly to label myself so that I felt I belonged to a group. I didn’t see the dangers involved and, had you told me, I would have ignored them anyway.
One of the first labels I latched onto was polyamorous. To me, I knew that I could love more than one person at a time without conflict, just like I knew I could love more than one friend, parent, or child. Once I found the term “poly”, I latched onto it and proudly told anyone that knew me that I was certainly “poly”!
Oh, I wish I would talk to me younger self. I went out in search of other people like me and found them. Back then this was a chore because the internet didn’t exist. Over the course of the next eight or so years my life changed forever and helped me understand why labels are so silly and hold no real meaning.
Once I found those other people that embraced the same label, I quickly found out that along with that label came the rules and nomenclature of the group. They had their own little language, and to be seen as part of the group, I had to adopt their terminology, I had to adopt their value system, and I had to adopt their group think.
There is the heart of the issue. Each time we label ourselves we toss ourselves into a box that already has definite boundaries, definitions, and in each case that I have seen, their members suffer from group think.
In my case, I slowly came to figure out that what these people believed about how a relationship needed to work did not match my own. In fact, how most all of them defined themselves, lived their lives, and whet about relationships was detrimental to their goals of living a happy and healthy life and being in happy and healthy relationships.
Even worse was that these poly people were defining what poly meant to the world. That meant each person I met that knew of the term had preexisting ideas of who I was if I told them I was poly. All of their ideas of whom I was were incorrect.
After I figured out that this was a real and large problem for myself, I went out to research if this was just an issue with the poly group, or this was an issue with any self identifying label.
In short here is what I found. Yes, in each case when you identify yourself as a known label, be it a sexual identity, BDSM group or other sexual ideology groups, religious groups, political groups, membership in clubs, athletic groups, or any other group, you are putting yourself in a box of preconceived ideas and notions. Each group will have already decided what that label means and how it is defined within that group. Each group will have it’s own terminology, or language you will have to use and each group will have it’s own expectations of how you are to think and behave if you are to be considered a “real” ______ (fill in the blank).
Along with these expectations from within the group, you will have to deal with the fact the group has defined what the label is to mean outside the group, to the rest of the public. This means that everyone you meet that knows how you identify will have a notion of what that identity means.
Lastly, each of these groups will suffer from the echo-chamber group think problem (I’ll let you look that up if you are not familiar with the issue). People in groups almost always tend to lose their individualism and become close minded to ideas that challenge their labels or group think. You cannot call yourself open minded if you are unwilling to honestly hear and evaluate ideas that challenge what you think you know and believe.
Why would you want to do this to yourself? For me, each time I wanted to attach a label to my ideology or self I found that what I really thought didn’t match any of these group’s definitions. Also, I found that over time who I am changed.
These days I do away with labels completely and belong to no group. Politically I am an independent, I am neither left nor right nor do I define ideas in those terms. Spiritually my ideas are my own. Sexually I am whatever I decide to be today. I refuse to let any one thing about me define my whole self. I am not just a father. I am not just a writer. I am not just a photographer. I am not just a partner. I am instead a complex mixture of a lot of things. What that mixture consists of depends on the time you ask me.
I would suggest that any of the people reading this that have taken on a label – reevaluate that decision. Get out of the boxes you have put yourself in. Challenge everything you know. Never stay static. Never allow yourself to be defined by a group. Instead define yourself at the moment. Describe yourself and your ideas instead of labeling them.