Let's talk about situationships

I'm never in relationships. It's always situationships.

I want to be a relationship person. I love the idea of being with a specific someone, of having a person to ask me how my day went, to help me put together my new Ikea desk, to simply just be with me. I love the idea of having a deep, enduring, and monogamous commitment to a single person with whom I share everything in life.

But in reality, I'm a situationship person.

What is a situationship, you may ask? It's the gray area between "hooking up" and being "in a relationship," where the two people involved receive both physical and emotional benefits. There is no clearly defined line between friend and significant other; and the dreaded "what are we?" talk is artfully sidestepped because feelings get hurt when you move into a space of clarity. You know you're in a situationship when you can't quite verbalize or make sense of your relationship with someone; when you default to "it's complicated" or "we're talking" or just dumbfounded silence. You go on dates and act like a couple, but you're not really like a couple. You introduce each other to friends but not as anything specific. You clearly mean something to each other, but neither of you can pinpoint what that something is.

These are the situationships I find myself in. I often feel suffocated when someone shows me too much affection. Instead, I subconsciously look for someone who only wants me when it's convenient for him. I willingly give up the power to set the limits of our relationship and follow accordingly.

Or maybe I just have a habit of falling for guys who don't want me in the ways I want them to.

Some of this is specific to my upbringing. Growing up as a young black woman in a small white town is not easy. I never really felt completely comfortable with myself. Often, people only said nice things about the way I looked when the kink was straightened out of my hair and I didn't get "too dark" under the sun. As a result, I didn't really learn to value myself the way I should. And so when it comes to relationships, perhaps sometimes I subconsciously think that I only deserve part of someone's affection, and not all of it. But it's more complicated than that.

As a kid, I spent a lot of my time reading clichéd young adult novels where the quiet, bookish girl ends up with the right guy. These books set my expectations for love high — embarrassingly high! I was convinced my "time" would come — most likely in college — and I would meet the perfect guy, fall perfectly in love, and live happily (and perfectly) ever after.

When I showed up at college, guys paid attention to me. I flirted, entertained looks, and felt validated. I liked the feeling of being seen, particularly by guys who I thought were too good for me. They were usually the ones who were aware of their good looks but pretended to be oblivious to the effect they had on people. The ones with a roster of interchangeable girls who were all but too eager to take their turn. And while I wanted my turn, I was selective enough to only give my time to guys I thought were just as interested in my brains as all the other stuff.

I would always fall for a certain kind of guy — the kind who didn't put everything out there, whose feelings required extraction. It was a game, and being competitive, I wanted to win the prize of their full devotion. It was satisfying, trying to get all of someone when they'd only intended to give part of themselves. It made me feel special.

But what happens when you desperately want to get all of someone and realize certain parts of them actually aren't up for auction? When you can have some of them but not all of them?

Then you find yourself in the dreaded situationship.

These situationships are hard to describe. It's not as if there isn't a commitment at all. There is, at least in the short term. And it's not as if there isn't respect, feelings, and even love. Often, there are. But they're still not real relationships. You're both free to do whatever you want, you have no "claim" over each other, and therefore you can't even really claim your emotions when someone else slips into the equation or things end.

In a situationship, you never talk about the future in a way that assumes it will be shared. There is a distinct but unspoken and almost parenthetical "for now" that hovers over the entire thing. This is wonderful (for now). I care about you (for now). I love being with you (for now). If anything, a situationship is just a relationship of convenience. You're both there and you both look to the other person for something, whether it's a faux sense of intimacy or a means of validation. It's good, until it's not, or until something better comes along. There is almost always an expiration date, and choosing to ignore that fact is just prolonging the inevitable.

Situationships can feel shiny and exciting, and still feel new even when they're old, because the chase never really ends. It can be thrilling! But it can also be emotionally draining and unhealthy. The lack of promise and permanence is destabilizing and anxiety-inducing. You really want it to work. You want it to be special. But eventually, you realize you can't have enough of this person. Some parts of themselves, they are just unwilling to give. But you stay because you have unresolved relational feelings, and (possibly) because you're afraid of what will happen when you let go.

So what do you do?

I, for one, am trying this new thing where I believe I am worthy of someone's complete admiration and seek out people who I don't have to work so hard for. For so long, I allowed myself to believe that partial affection was logical, that it was what I deserved. But if I trained myself to believe that was true, then I can untrain myself, too — and start accepting something real.


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