In Defense of Situationships

“So what are we?” reads the text they sent you last night. You haven’t opened it yet as your read receipts are on, but you feel reluctant to answer them. Within a month of knowing them, you have done everything that would constitute a monogamous relationship: going on dates, sleeping with them on multiple occasions, cuddling them for hours as you watch a movie, rejecting sexual or romantic advances from anyone else, so on and so on. Yet, you are reluctant to put a label on what you guys are. Why?

Across the gender spectrum and regardless of sexual orientation, it feels like the majority of students at Colgate are more interested in having an unlabeled monogamous situationship than an official relationship. The proliferation of the “situationship” amongst college students has become a topic of contention: many want to have relationships but are apprehensive about actually being in one. Older generations might attribute this to Generation Z being more promiscuous, thus making them less likely to commit to a monogamous relationship. However, studies have shown that, on average, Generation Z is four to twelve percent less sexually active than previous generations

If Generation Z’s promiscuity (or lack thereof) is not the reason for the rise of unlabeled situationships, there must be other factors that shape how we define (or don’t define) our romantic commitments. At Colgate, like any other higher education institution in America, there’s an overwhelming pressure to immerse yourself in the college experience: drinking, doing recreational drugs, going out every weekend and hooking up with anyone who’s willing to sleep with you. As students navigate the dating scene here while simultaneously trying to live the quintessential college experience, it’s only natural that they would experience fear of missing out (FOMO), when it comes to getting into relationships. However, if people were truly experiencing FOMO, they would just resort to having casual sex. 

In order to maintain a balance between the pursuit of the college experience and the stability of a monogamous relationship, many students have put themselves into situationships. While monogamy is maintained in situationships, the lack of labeling provides people the opportunity to indulge in the pursuit of love without worrying about what they could lose. A common misconception is that situationships lack boundary setting and thus constitute a legitimate romance. On the contrary, most functional monogamous situationships require boundaries that are set implicitly or explicitly. For instance, when you are getting closer to your partner, you can state that you are no longer speaking to the other people you were pursuing. Monogamy can also be stated by telling your partner that you want to be exclusive. 

If monogamy can still be practiced in situationships, some people may be wondering what the benefit is to not officializing your relationship with your partner. If you practice everything that a normal monogamous couple would do, then what’s the point? Without a label, the stakes of typical relationships are lowered as there is more to gain than there is to lose. By rejecting the rigidity that comes with most monogamous relationships, both people are able to explore their love for one another in ways that are less perilous. This allows people to develop an intimate relationship with someone they are attracted to that traverses the limits of their love without being restricted by the standard practices of monogamy. As you are dating someone, if you don’t formalize your relationship with them, there’s a higher probability that you’ll get to know who they really are. As opposed to more traditional forms of dating, being in a situationship reduces the performance anxiety that’s often associated with sex and romance. 

Despite the lack of restriction that situationships provide, it’s important to note that its amorphous structure can generate issues for couples that aren’t willing to clearly communicate their expectations. If you and your partner are hesitant to label yourself, despite doing the aforementioned activities that would establish a monogamous relationship, you guys may be apprehensive about holding each other responsible. After all, if you were never really dating each other, then there is a gray space in which cheating, lying and ghosting are all possible. In order for situationships to function, both people must be willing to be just as responsible, communicative and honest as they would be if they were in a conventional monogamous relationship.