Read through Buzzfeed and Thought Catalog, Cosmopolitan and GQ—whatever is currently considered the gospel for all things ‘millennial,’—and you’ll find countless articles abhorring our generation’s attitude towards traditional dating and monogamous relationships. We’re told—often by our more outspoken peers—that dating sites and apps have ruined our chances at finding “the one.” We’re scolded for wanting anything less than a soul mate, and often men are blamed for the rise of hookup culture, as if it’s some sort of crime.
Many of us—myself very much included—have experienced the bitter side of relations founded on late night texts and alcohol. But “hookup culture” has undeservedly been deemed a new moral panic. We can’t argue that there are men who just want sex and women who just want marriage, but the inverse is also true. And here’s the kicker: it has always been this way.
What has changed is that relationships are no longer black and white; everything now lives on a sliding scale. The problem is that we too often view relationships through this binary lens. Those in relationships tell us that we’re either with someone, or we’re not. Romantic comedies profile marriages or breakups, and those that do chronicle the “in-between” (“Friends with Benefits,” “No Strings Attached”) end in the former.
But sometimes, whether we like it or not, the “thing” we have with someone will never graduate from the “in-between” to the serious stage; similarly, there may never be a moment of finality that allows us to mourn it like a breakup. Perhaps it will live in Relationship Purgatory, and that’s just fine.
In my own “in between,” I have learned that it’s OK to not know what I want and to relish something just for what it is at the moment. I am allowed to enjoy sleeping with someone and telling him my secrets, without also hoping for anything more.
Like any relationship, this “affair” of sorts will evolve. Maybe we’ll grow closer and decide we want romance; perhaps we’ll become entirely platonic and attend each other’s weddings; one of us may develop unreciprocated feelings and pull away.
Whatever we become, I will always count him as a “relationship.” No matter where are relationships are on the spectrum, we should always acknowledge them as such. It is unfair and perhaps unhealthy to only accept something as “real” if it is considered a committed relationship. Now, in our generation, it is perhaps even more real to recognize—and appreciate—the in-between.