In the baseball game of hookup culture, first base is a kiss on the lips and fourth base is having sex (we don’t need to go over the technicalities of bases 2 and 3; we’re all adults here). Most of what follows – if anything does – involves repeating bases 1-4 in steadily declining levels of intoxication. Eventually, several home runs later, thus begins a “situationship.”
Frankly, I don’t know what comes after that. Many moons ago, I declared to my friends that I needed “a situationship!”. However, situationships are rarely something you need, want, or plan. They are usually something you fall into, like the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland, lying somewhere in no-mans-land between a one-night stand and a long-term relationship. You follow your white rabbit all the way to Wonderland where, as Taylor Swift says, “it’s all fun and games until somebody loses their mind.”
Very few of my friends have ever been in a serious relationship.. but most have been in a situationship. When my grandmother was my age, she was already married. My mother had been involved in two long-term relationships. Nowadays, a woman my age could go on a dozen dates with the same person and would be lucky to be asked to be called a girlfriend.
The surge in situationships reflects a few well-founded stereotypes about our generation. We are lonelier than previous generations were and, consequently, crave the comfort and intimacy of having a significant other. We are also ambitious, progressive and pragmatic (especially when it comes to sex). This is where the situationship, with its freedom and flexibility, comes in clutch.
With far more choices for partners than in the times of arranged marriage or conscription, young people nowadays are often reluctant to commit because they believe that there is someone better out there. Advancements in technology and transportation (not to mention, the invention of dating apps) have provided us with the opportunity to meet people in ways that never existed before.
As always, the media is partly to blame: pummelling us with images of impossibly attractive couples and fuelling our fantasies of fairy-tale endings (spoiler alert: not all situationships end as well as Monica and Chandler’s did). In an episode of Emma Chamberlain’s podcast anything goes, psychologist Lori Gottlieb likened the experience of modern dating to that of shopping for a jumper: the more jumpers you see and try on, the less likely you are to buy one.
While earlier generations avoided “exclusive but unofficial” relationships, we are either tolerating or embracing them. It might be a good thing. Without a clear trajectory or any labels and strings attached, a situationship – for some people – is more enjoyable and relaxing than a relationship. Ultimately, it is also perfectly acceptable to dip your toes into the murky waters between cuffed and a casual hookup, decide it’s too cold and jump right out.
There are plenty more fish in the sea, some of whom might even be ready to put a label on it.