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Situationships: When no rules apply

What you need to know:

  • Situationships are “a hookup with emotional benefits, as opposed to the equally amorphous friends with benefits.

  • Interestingly, young people are now identifying situationships as a valid relationship status and it is fast becoming a trend.

The dating scene is highly dynamic, with different love arrangements to suit people’s diverse interests. In this increasingly liberal world, a number of new relationship constructs have cropped up, including casual hookups, friends with benefits, sneaky links and, now wriggling its way into a norm – situationships.

According to Carina Hsieh, a relationships editor for Cosmopolitan who coined the term back in 2017, Situationships are “a hookup with emotional benefits, as opposed to the equally amorphous friends with benefits, which starts platonically but develop a sexual component.” What the two have in common, though, is a lack of commitment and clearly defined roles.

Interestingly, young people, especially the Generation Z, are now identifying situationships as a valid relationship status and it is fast becoming a trend.

MyNetwork had a chat with five youngsters who shared their views about this growing fad.

Photo credit: Pool

Pauline Lukela, 21
Architect and Model

Situationships are supposed to be fun-filled with no bit of seriousness. I have been in two such setups. One of them started as a candle lit dinner with a guy and we ended up spending the night together. That happenstance sparked a bond between us and soon, the storyline kept recurring – meeting up for meals and drinks, then an exciting experience would follow. I realised we were sharing moments yet we were not in a relationship.

Much as it is boundless, there is a thin line between being attached and unattached in a relationship. Whenever the guy begins getting attached to me or I do, then the ship of sorts capsizes. 

I have been in an awkward position where the guy I was in a situationship with fell head over heels for me and I had to make it very clear that I was only okay with having him as friend, and wouldn’t like for things to escalate to a level where emotional bonds are formed. So, it was up to him to decide if the setup would remain intact or he would leave and search for someone who was emotionally available”.

The idea of having intimate moments without commitment is very exciting. I am not ready for a relationship which comes bearing a lot of expectations such as constant communication.

If you’re not meeting people with who you share mutual interests, it is hard for you to commit, but if there is a window for you to engage in something that excites both of you, it’s hard to resist. That’s how you find yourself in a situationship,” she offers.

Most of my mates are not getting what they want from dating. Many have been in toxic relationships and been disappointed before so they want to protect their fragile hearts from being shattered again. Therefore, they prefer situationships – where no emotions are involved. Apart from fun moments, they end up getting money, free food and drinks, depending on the people they meet. 

I prefer when someone approaches me with complete honesty, without pulling the love card, because most people who say they love someone are lying. I cannot accept all proposals in the name of situationships but when I need a companion to help me relieve stress, I am open to adventure.

Photo credit: Pool

Stephine Nyatuga, 22
Choreographer and IT student

Situationships are purely transactional. I have been in over 30 arrangements of this kind. It is a common dating style here in university.

Prior to exploring this setup, I had a girlfriend who I had been seeing for nine years. I ended the relationship after joining campus.

“In campus, things are very weird. There is a heightened clamour for sex among both genders. The environment here enables that style of dating, since students have more time and freedom to go partying, which is where most people who end up in situationships meet.

Apart from parties, there are association meetings and different fun events which are ideal for socialising among students. These events form another breeding ground for flings,” he says.

One of the situationships I had was quite interesting. A female friend’s house got locked by the caretaker as she had delayed to pay rent. The girl called me asking if she could move into my place for a while as she figured things out. I consented and for the first three days, nothing happened. But on the fourth, she started making advances, and that is how we ended up being intimate and continued until she moved out. Even after she got another house, our bond remained strong as we were both having fun.

This may come as shocker but most of this situationships I am in have been sparked by circumstances. I could be relaxing in my house and a girl calls asking what I have cooked, then they ask if they can come over so that we can eat and then engage in other activities later. Financial challenges are the biggest enablers of this setup.

I think my experience with my first girlfriend, who I had dated for nine years, might have pushed me to be this way because I really loved her. Since that relationship, I have never been interested in developing deep connections to any girl. With situationships, there are no feelings involved at all. It’s a just about satisfying the sexual urges.

The challenge is that once you start having pleasurably sexual experiences with different partners, one situationship is never enough. 

Companionship would have been a good reason for me to settle in a stable relationship, but I normally don’t talk to people about my problems so I don’t need someone like a girlfriend in my circle. If I need company, I will make a three or four calls and some girl will accept my invitation.

It is common for my partners to develop strong feelings for me, and when this happens, I usually don’t exit the relationship or tell them off, I let them do what they want. In the end I excuse myself by saying I am busy and this helps them calm down. I don’t think I am playing with the girls’ feelings because they are aware of what we are doing, only that they develop higher expectations.

The fact that there are a lot of options in terms of girls that one can choose from, fuels these non-committal relationships. There is a replacement for every girl that rejects me, so why would I stick with one person?” he offers.

Most young people are opposed to dating because it is expensive, and also, I think young people, male and female, contend with an insatiable lust, although the society loves to pin this behavior on the boy child. 

Additionally, social media serves as a catalyst to situationships because through dating apps, you can get a partner and even flirt your way into a fling.

Currently, I am not that comfortable in this space. I know situationships are not to be encouraged, but it’s not like I am required to give a lot. I can say I’m single, but the moment you pronounce yourself single, the understanding is that you belong to everyone. 

Photo credit: Pool

Onyango, 19
Radio Presenter, Pageant Model and Student

This form of casual dating presents a win-win situation since there is something in the bag for either party.

For a record 15 months, I was stuck in a situationship with a girl who I thought I was dating, only to realise she was taking advantage of me. She was working on a project and therefore saw me as an easy link to hook her up with brands to sponsor her events and partners to make them successful since I was establishing myself in media and had garnered some connections.

We parted ways but recently when I posted a project I was doing with a Senator, she convinced me to bring her on-board but I am now wiser. I fear getting hurt again. I choose to focus more on what I love. When the time comes I might risk my heart again to date, but I am skeptical since most young people want undefined relations.

I think my mates are finding it hard to commit in monogamous relationships because everyone wants to be more superior than the other. They want to show each other they have achieved more. 

While having friends with benefits is the new normal, I don’t consider it that much of an option, because everything you do has a consequence. One party might develop feelings and end up ruining a good friendship.

The situationship was a proper character development process that made me learn tough lessons the hard way.

When it ended I developed depression and anxiety issues since I was deeply attached and had invested a lot of time and energy while she considered it a casual relationship.

Social media has a great impact on the dating trends of young people. Many of them want to be like celebrities while overlooking the fact that nothing good comes so easy. 

Michelle Wanjiru, 20
Student, Cooperative University

I would liken situationships to a meandering maze as neither partner wants to commit or specify the basis of the relationship. Your partner can have whomever they want and that is not supposed to be a problem. It is almost like an open relationship.

After being single for a long time, I found myself in a situationship, but it only lasted a month. In campus, most students prefer situationships to real relationships because at the end of the day, many believe that they will end up being cheated on, so they would rather opt for this arrangement where no body owes the other an explanation.

My mates want to explore. They desire to be with different people over a short period of time which is why situationships are so popular,” she says.

Most come right after you’ve left a relationship, and they start as rebounds and end up being undefined relationships.

You date the person not because you love or want them, but because they serve a purpose in the situation you are in.

While in previous generations couples would often meet in college, times have changed. Now, relationships are ego-driven and a slight misunderstanding can lead to a fallout because we all want to prove that it is not a must for us to be together. I don’t believe in relationships because of the things people my age are doing. I also cannot date because I am not financially stable.

Most young people are broken. They were either brought up in broken families where the parents fought a lot, and now they are left with this mentality about relationships being nothing but chaos and there is nothing beautiful that comes out of it. This prompts them to seek the thrill that comes from casual dating.

It is common for girls my age who grew up without a fatherly figure to develop daddy issues. It becomes hard for them to trust any man. They believe they won’t get hurt emotionally by being in different situation-ships,” she observes.

Jane Ndanu, 23

I have been in three situationships, including with partners who lived outside the country.

Currently, I am in a situation with a guy I have never met, but we are in a thriving talking stage. We are dating online.

It really hurts to be in a situationship because a guy might end up getting attached to you and you might be unable to reciprocate, so you just have to ghost them. This is true especially in online dating. 

I am not wholly vested in this arrangement since I like being in a stable relationship, but most times, you’re not sure if you’re with the right person, so you just let things take their own course. This arrangement can be beneficial since the other person can end up becoming your confidant and genuinely care for you despite the fact that your relationship is undefined.

I think social media has created a bad image about love, as it is portrayed as something that brings out the toxic side of a person. This tends to discourage young people from committing to relationships especially because many of them are from complicated families.

Before I turned 23, I would just look at the guys hitting up on me, pick out one who looks okay and then try to see if we could vibe but now I feel like I no longer want to be in situationships. If we are not dating, we are just wasting our time. 

Photo credit: Pool

From the Expert 
Ernest Wamboye is the founder of Relationship Centre Limited and a Marriage Counselor. 

Why do you think  young people have jumped onto this new trend of non-committal relationship constructs such as situationships, entanglements or friends with benefits? 
Such relationships are unhealthy in the long term. They are often characterised by using other and being used. Relationships that satisfy and fulfill the human soul are based on mutual service. Situationships, entanglements and friends-with-benefits  come along with moral decadence. These relationships thrive at the expense of good moral standing. 

What makes young people become afraid of defining the basis of  their relationships? 
Lack of good role models ranks top in this issue. There are few examples of good relationships in the public space. I believe role models exist, but the pop culture of our time denies them the airtime because a working marriage doesn’t sell as much as a scandalous one. Secondly, there are too many bad role models. The world is inebriated with stories of scandalous behaviour in relationships. These stories make the headlines and they serve to sway the young generation.

The contemporary dating scene has heightening levels of hate for meaningful relationships but love for transactional engagements, why is that so?  
 Young people are easily impressionable. The popular culture of celebrities and entertainment buttresses the idea that commitment is rudimentary and outdated. When you get older, you realise that commitment is gold. If younger people were humble enough to yoke themselves with older and experienced people with healthy marriages, they would see the truth.

Do you think most young people don’t know how to give or receive love because they were not shown the way by their parents? 
I agree.

Is it advisable for a young person to be in a situationship that is based solely on sexual benefits? 
It is immature and therefore not advisable to pursue such a relationship. The easy path is taken by the majority. The path less travelled is far more rewarding. We also forget that life is not linear but holistic. A careless life of relationships with the opposite sex soon pours out into other unsuspecting areas of our lives such as our finances, our mental health, our children, our dreams and so much more. Don’t trade jewels for toys.