It’s the last month of cuffing season, and love, or something close to it, is in the air! Some enjoy it as nothing short of a sexapalooza, and others find it a dry, barren wasteland. Let’s suppose you’re keen on the former and you find a human you don’t mind being around — one you begin to become physically intimate with. Weeks go by and the intimacy continues, but something new appears. Feelings. God, you wished this wouldn’t happen, but it did, and now you’re stuck with the dreaded question, the one we hate to hear and hate to ask: “What are we?” The answer can prove just as awful as the question, too, but what if the answer didn’t matter? The crisis of a relationship’s identity, the gray zone between platonic and romantic, can be just as comfortable as commitment if both parties are honest with their feelings.
The world of dating is flipping faster than the polar ice caps are melting, demanding new ways of finding pleasure in the company of others. Despite the rising dominance of dating apps, research from Michigan State University suggests that couples are 28 percent more likely to break up in the first year if they met online. Especially considering the now commonplace act of ‘ghosting,’ ending a potential relationship by cutting communication, new dating norms invite much more murkiness into the notion of a serious relationship. Even companies like Tinder and OkCupid have shifted their perspectives on relationships with ads suggesting it’s fine to avoid committing to another person. A 2018 Match.com survey even found that 55 percent of its users had been in a “friends with benefits” scenario at one time. With this in mind, one might wonder if it’s possible to navigate the minefield between hormones and heart without getting hurt.
The ins and outs of avoiding emotional ruin are simpler than finding a bean in a haystack. Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert, offers a straightforward solution by suggesting that, “If you’re able to respect each other and really hear what the other person is saying, then you’re on the right path.” Expressing your thoughts and feelings is then absolutely and unequivocally essential to creating a healthy bond with another person: friend, lover or that neat combination of the two. When that communication falters, and if you make the grand mistake of being dishonest, you set yourself up for a disastrous end. Being out of touch with the nature of your relationship allows for assumptions (and I should say, wrong ones) to fill that hole.
No example is a better fit than that of two of my acquaintances who stood in that very gray area. They had long enjoyed each other’s company, able to spend some nights working side by side and others being ravenous animals beneath the covers. Neither were engaged in the idea of forming a commitment, and both were open to the idea of seeing other people — at first. They continued their normal debauchery for months, content with their status without a title until one of them developed the ever-baneful feelings. Worse yet, the dreaded question of what they were was never asked, and instead, assumptions about the direction of the relationship answered the question for them. It didn’t take long for the situation to implode, and the fallout was tremendous.
But not every more-than-friends bond is bound to fail. Although expectations might be shifting, I’ve begun seeing more cases of positive noncommittal relationships than negative ones. For example, that same Match.com survey found that nearly half of the reported ‘friends with benefits’ relationships evolved into romance, so the outlook isn’t dismal. While it may have long been taboo to be intimate with someone not-quite-yours, it doesn’t have to be so dichromic. College is the perfect time to gauge who you are and what you want, and an intimate friendship could be an avenue for this kind of learning. If you happen to find yourself in a situation like the one I’ve described, strive to carve out a comfortable space for you and your partner by establishing boundaries and communicating your emotions honestly. With the right mindset, there’s a world of possibilities (and pleasures) for you to explore.
Evan Moravansky is a junior majoring in English.