The relationship status: a fickle line in the sand for some, a stark border for others. At times, many fall into temporary commitments based on their emotional needs or lifestyle changes—aka “situationships.” Now, younger generations are intentionally entering temporary partnerships, embracing a relationship that may ebb and flow between “friends” and “more than friends.”

In a September feature, the BBC highlighted gen Z’s tendency to embrace grey-area relationships. Existing somewhere between friendships and relationships, gen Z are defining casual partners and embracing the semi-commitment that goes with them. Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan, researches sexuality and situationships. “Right now, this solves some kind of need for sex, intimacy, companionship—whatever it is—but this does not have necessarily a long-term time horizon,” she told the BBC.

Rather than focusing on what’s next, or concern over wasting time, gen Z is focusing on enjoying their lives at whatever stage feels most comfortable to them. Gen Z isn’t hiding this tendency, but speaking out about it. On TikTok, #situationship-tagged videos had over 900 million views as of late September. The term was mentioned on the popular reality TV show “Love Island UK,” and in Swedish singer Snoh Aalegra’s song, “Situationship.”

A recent article by VICE highlighted that relationship coaches and counselors are now offering advice on navigating these niche but increasingly popular partnerships. Ben Goresky, a relationship coach based in Vancouver, told VICE that “there are many cases where two or more people would get together to get one or more relational needs met, without jumping into a full-fledged romantic relationship.” In conversation with his wife Sheleana Aiyana, a relationship counselor as well as an author on the subject, VICE unpacked what makes these relationships work. “It’s about being really clear about what each of you want, and setting the guidelines and rules of engagement,” Goresky said. “Committed or not, it’s important to communicate,” said Aiyana.

Romance and exclusive relationships have given way to more flexible partnerships and hookup trends in recent months. For couples who want to explore their sexuality, there’s Feeld: an app that connects interested parties with like-minded intentions for a monthly membership fee. A feature story by i-D unpacked a looming consumer dislike for conventional dating apps, expressing how swiping blindly, ghosting and love-bombing online can ultimately feel unromantic and dehumanizing at times.

Situationships have become a legitimate relationship status that people are open to joining for company and comfort. Hovering somewhere between friendship and relationships, gen Z is embracing this middle ground in a healthy way, approaching ever-changing boundaries with communication and acceptance.

Cami, a 27 year old video editor from London, tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence about her own experience balancing fluid relationships in her 20s.

I identify as polyamorous. I’m more of a polyamorous anarchist: [I’m] not holding hierarchy in romantic relationships and friendships – every individual that I have a relationship with, I have my own dynamic with, and I take that as its own individual thing rather than create a hierarchy of, this relationship is more important than that relationship.

How do you interpret the rising trend of “situationships”?

I think [my identity] probably plays into situationships because it means that there's a more of a fluid boundary between friendship and relationships. I think a lot of what you call situationships is just more of a blurred understanding between friendship and sexual relationships, [a] transition between the two.

What, from your experience, makes these relationships desirable to younger generations?

In your 20s (and I can only speak from my experience) there is a lot of uncertainty in where you'll be, what you're going to do. You're setting yourself up for a future, for work, and there are all these uncertainties.

It's constantly very fluid. I might have a friendship and it will develop into a kind of relationship, but then if we're going be in a different country in the next month and we're not going to see each other, then it’s not going to be possible to have a proper relationship and to demand someone's time and energy when you can't have any physical contact.

I think there's an element of uncertainty on a philosophical level. There's an element of uncertainty in the state of the world: the environment, the political situation, [so] you're less likely to get into a traditional monogamous relationship if you're not certain that that there is going to be stability in the future.

Cami emphasizes the importance of open communication in a partnership like this:

[It] involves a lot of dialogue, a lot of speaking to people, on a level [similar to a] friendship. Just being completely open with what you need, what your desires are, what their needs and desires are, and where they're at, what they want.

It's the root of any good relationship, regardless of what structure you have. A good friendship dynamic in the beginning is where the good communication comes from.

Do you think these relationships are more prominent in younger generations, or could they become more popular with older generations as well?

I think it's more common in younger people. I've noticed [situationships] a lot with my younger friends in their 20s and less-so with my friends in their 40s and 30s who have started trying to establish a family. I don't know how that will [change] as the younger generations, who have been more open to this dynamic, enter their 30s. They could [see] a shift as well.

I think there's a correlation between stability and instability in life, and the more you're trying to find yourself and try new things as well, that can lead to situationships.

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