You’ve been sleeping together for months. You think (or more likely, you hope) that you’re both not sleeping with other people, but you wouldn’t exactly bet your life on it, either. You know their likes and dislikes, you know each other’s friends, you might know about their family. The topic of past relationships has likely worked it’s way into your frequent pillow talk, and you probably message each other when you’ve had a sh*t day at work.
Emotions have accumulated – sure – but they aren’t really talked about. Every time you’re faced with the prodding question of “Oh, is this your boyfriend/girlfriend?” Your answer comes in the form of a strict “Don’t ask that” look, paired with a nervous reply of “Um… No” before promptly changing the subject. When you notice a little too much social media flirtation, spot a Tinder or Bumble notification pop up on their phone, or catch them spending a little too much time with someone else, you might feel that pang of unwelcome jealousy start to claw it’s way into your consciousness. But you can’t say anything about it because technically speaking, you’re both still single. Right?
Are you together? No. You’re not in a relationship, you’re in a ‘situationship’. You’re mentally and physically entertaining the idea of an intimate connection with someone while also accepting the confusing reality that you are not officially together, despite having official emotions for each other.
Here is the thing — dating today, it’s many things, but it’s far from black and white. Instead, it’s fifty shades of grey (and not necessarily in a fun way).
We constantly find ourselves existing in this grey area, the undefined and unregulated middle ground between being single and being committed, a place where ground rules are rarely clarified and emotions are almost always tested. A place where we can so easily lose sight of the very, defining principles that make up what we want in a relationship, because it’s often easier to keep pressing bandaids over an almost-relationship than accept the reality that it might never become a real one.
“I’m not looking for a relationship, just something casual”, we love to say. We tell ourselves this, repeatedly, even as we fall in deeper with someone; someone we are (whether we admit it or not) more than just sleeping with. We can’t catch feelings if we don’t readily acknowledge them, right? And as we begin to feel vulnerable or, at times, slighted, we maintain a brave face. We don’t pick a fight because we feel like it isn’t our place, as a non-boyfriend or girlfriend — or if we do pick a fight, we risk coming across as too invested or maybe even ‘crazy’. Or, if we’re on the more emotionally removed side of the romantic equation, we might just keep things going, because it feeds our inherently selfish desire to have our romantic needs met, without any real commitment. We can’t be held responsible for our non-partners heartbreak if we were never official, right?
So, we keep things going. And for awhile, it might work. We conveniently forget that a lack of a label doesn’t always translate to a lack of emotional investment, serving ourselves a generous helping of blissful ignorance mixed with frequent sex, maybe a few dates, Netflix and chill, nights out and the comfortable assurance of almost being with someone. It’s as if you’re nearing the end of your free month subscription but when the trial is officially up, are either of you ready to actually invest in the service? Or do you find another free trial to sign up for instead?
The problem is, a relationship without any working definition, open lines of communication or ground rules, creates an emotional environment that is, at it’s core, lacking in trust and clarity. And a relationship without trust is like having a phone with no service. And what do you do with a phone with no service?
You play games.
You start measuring the time between texts, strategically stalling your replies to get your point across without openly communicating it. You start thriving on the creation of jealousy to confirm emotional investment, or entertaining flirtation with others simply to take your mind off the person you’re actually hung up on. You say everything is fine, even if it’s not. And before long, you start to feel resentment, the frequent plummet of an emotional roller coaster that you could get off of — but if you did, you’d have to start over, right? So, more often than not, in some internally misguided attempt at self-preservation, we stay on the ride far longer than we should. And sure, it may feel easier to put off the inevitable, carefully avoiding the ‘what are we’ talk and shoving romantic reality further down our perceived timeline, but it doesn’t stop it from coming (and it doesn’t make it hurt any less when it does).
It’s not a matter of so many millennials being decidedly commitment-phobic, necessarily. When you look at the standard of so many relationships today and the cultural trends that have guided those realizations — ghosting, fading-out, the rampant use of dating apps — it’s no wonder that we’ve become a generation of people who are either afraid to be honest about what we want, or who constantly want to have our cake and eat it too. We want the fun parts of a relationship; we don’t want to be lonely, we crave that comfortable intimacy, the easy conversations, but we don’t want the responsibility of that relationship. So we ride out the in-between, spending more time hiding our hand of cards, than being open about the connections we do (or don’t) feel. But, ask yourself — what is the end game there? What do you have to gain, making (or encouraging) emotional investments that you know won’t garner any real return down the road?
The problem is, when we spend so much time trying to ignore the emotions we are experiencing or evoking, for sake of maintaining the ‘upper hand’ or never getting in too deep with someone who we were supposed to just be sleeping with, we also deny ourselves the opportunity to learn how to navigate those feelings. We are illegitimizing ourselves, without even consciously realizing it. And whether we want to admit it or not, that can make for some serious emotional baggage or shortcomings to deal with down the road, as we try to put the non-relationships behind us, and start a real one.
Of course, in some cases, the middle ground might not be such an emotionally risky place. But for that to be true, communication has to be open and ground rules have to be established and genuinely agreed upon. This requires total honesty and transparency from both parties, which can’t be achieved if you’re too busy playing games with each other or executing a selfish agenda. And let’s be clear, there should be no shame in realizing a connection with someone whom you’ve established an intimate relationship with, even if you had every intention of keeping it casual initially. These things happen, we are human, and we have every right to our desire(s) for love and connection. But at the end of the day, it’s our responsibility to be honest about our intentions, advocate for ourselves and continuously reflect on/reassess our relationships to determine the point at which we are putting our emotional wellbeing at risk. As attraction principles contest, emotionally strong people don’t have to explain (or seek justification for) why they want respect or expect a certain standard of treatment, they simply choose to walk away from anyone that doesn’t give it to them (even if it feels sh*tty at the time). They open themselves up to the opportunity for something better, by allowing themselves to move on from something that was barely meeting them halfway.
It’s not always an easy realization to come to; but ask yourself, is your relationship (or situationship, I should say) truly moving you forward, or just holding you back in the long run?