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It’s complicated getting into the modern dating jungle

If you are planning on getting into the modern dating jungle anytime soon, tread carefully. Word on the street is that situationships have become the new normal, writes BETTY MUINDI

You may be familiar with the latest dating lingo, ‘situationship’. For those that are not, well, it is basically a relationship that’s not really a relationship. Do you follow? No? That is fine. It’s complicated. Let us break it down.

This relationship is far from black and white. Instead, it is 50 shades of grey, the unregulated and undefined middle ground between being single and being committed. The Urban Dictionary defines a situationship as a relationship that has no label on it.

 Like a friendship, but more than a friendship, but not quite a relationship. Explained differently, it is like an ‘it’s complicated’ or ‘friends with benefits’ relationship, except, there are strings attached for both the guy and the woman. This couple does what normal boyfriends and girlfriends do such as going out together, hang out with friends together and sleep over at each other’s houses.

What couples in situationships do not do, however, is ask the terrifying question: ‘What are we?’. In lieu, both of them continue to teeter and totter on the seesaw that is their unclarified relationship for months and even years.

And the conversation never arises because one or both wants to avoid the obligations and pressures that come with the label of boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes one of them may want the relationship defined, but she or he is afraid of asking the ‘what are we’ question, as it may scare away their partner.

JEALOUSY

Nancy Rehema, 23, a fourth-year student at the University of Nairobi and her 28-year-old lover, a banker, have been together for two years. She describes their relationship as sort of exclusive.

They don’t sleep with other people, or, she would like to believe, but she wouldn’t exactly put her money on it either. “I know what his likes and dislikes, we know each other’s friends and some family members,” she says.

Even though feelings have piled up over time, they do not really talk about it. She says like any other relationship, she feels uninvited feelings of jealousy whenever her male friend flirts with someone else, and so does he. But, they cannot say anything to each other about it because they are both single-ish.

PROLONGED FLING

Situationships can be consensual, where both parties, for one reason or another, know the relationship has a shelf life, and are mature enough to be prepared for the end when it happens.

For instance, when one is in a foreign country for a certain period of time and knows after their stay the relationship is not likely to survive, or when one is with a divorcee who is no longer interested in marriage and children, yet it’s something they are looking forward to someday.

To the two, it’s like a prolonged fling. They both know why they can’t commit but are glad to enjoy the bird in the hand as they await the one in the bush if they are.

In some instances though, it is one party leading the other on. A 32-year-old marketing executive in Nairobi, George Nyamiche, had been in a relationship with his college sweetheart for four years until six months ago when he realised that theirs was actually a situationship.

From the beginning, his girlfriend did not want a serious relationship, and often, she would say she is not looking for a serious relationship, just something casual. On the other hand, George was head over heels in love with her.

He always thought she would change her mind until seven months ago when he gathered the courage to ask her the dreaded question, “Can we start having something tangible, like do a formal introduction to our parents?”

“She reacted as if my question was unexpected. Like she had never known me before. She laughed it off and said she does not believe in marriage,” George says. He felt like his world had been broken into pieces. “I had wasted four precious years of my life with someone who did not see a future with me,” he regrets.

On the other hand, Linet Barasa, 26, isn’t so mad after all. Her situationship started out innocently, like most new courtships. “We went on several dates and the chemistry between us was undeniable. It appeared reasonable that we could possibly find ourselves on that romantic little road to relationship-ville,” she laughs. But then, something strange happened.

Actually, it is what did not happen that led to their situationship. “We have seen each other for nine months. I have met his friends. He has met mine. Sleepovers are the norm, so, definitely, we have more than a platonic friendship. But, I would never introduce him as my boyfriend.

Basically, we do the kind of things normal couples do, but we would never describe ourselves as a couple,” she says. The words exclusive and future have never been mentioned their entire relationship. Instead, they have settled into this beautiful little situation, somewhere between ‘more than casual dating’ and ‘not quite serious relationship’.

Although Linet was not for the idea of a situationship, over time, she has gotten comfortable in the relationship because it has more substance than a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement, because the benefits are more than just physical.

NO DRAMA

“There are real feelings involved and a deep level of trust. We talk about all aspects of our lives, even the most personal, intimate details of our work, friends and family. It feels like there’s an emotional bond between us,” she explains.

To her, being in a situationship is a refreshing change. Unlike real relationships, there are no expectations and no drama. “I don’t feel the pressure, anxiety or frustration that often creeps into serious relationships. I don’t go berserk if I don’t get a call from him for a few days and I don’t race to the phone every time I hear it beep, hoping it is him.

I get friendship and companionship, but I am also living my life, separately from his,” Linet adds. She, however, is quick to note that situationships are not for everyone, but for her, what she currently has suited her just fine.

AMBIGUITY

Counselling psychologist Joyce Wanjala draws a picture of how situationships begin and end. They will be heard saying something like ‘I am not looking for a relationship, just something casual’. They will convince themselves about it, even as they fall in deeper with someone.

And as they begin to feel vulnerable they maintain a bold face, to not appear as so invested. However, a lack of a label doesn’t always mean a lack of emotional investment.

Joyce explains the difference with casual hook-ups, where it is spelt out from the beginning that it is going to be strictly business, then both parties can go their respective ways. In situationships, however, both parties have agreed they like each other and agree to added benefits such as sex and dates, but no one steps up and takes it further than that.

She says the ambiguity that accompanies situations can be draining on both individuals since at one point, one or both may wish to move forward while the other is perfectly fine with not establishing anything serious, but neither one speaks on the issue. Anxiety builds, and each day feels like you are tiptoeing around broken glass.

IN RELIGION

Pastor Selina Nzioka, a relationship counsellor, advises people to get into relationships only when they are ready to commit to marriage and stay married, to avoid unnecessary heartache.

She explains that as much as they want to be liberal, slowly, they begin to get into the emotional trap. For example, entertaining flirtation with others to take their mind off the person they are actually into. “People want to be liberal, but when they begin to hurt, they won’t remember that they made the choice,” she points out.

From a biblical point of view, Nzioka says the bible does not encourage ‘friendship’ between people of the opposite sex if it is not leading to marriage. “Like in the case of Mary, the mother of Jesus, she was betrothed to Joseph for marriage and they were not staying together before marriage,” she explains.

The woman of the cloth also cautions against living under the mercy of another person or staying in a relationship where they are not ready to commit.

This leads to unnecessary temptation. “Remember sex is only legal within the confines of marriage. Sex before marriage is called fornication and outside marriage for a married person it’s adultery, of which both are a sin,” she asserts.

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