Friday, April 07, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Situation Critical

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Tom: By the time a cultural phenomenon makes it to The Daily Wire, it’s probably already at the tail end of the news cycle, which is about the time I usually discover things these days. Then, upon closer examination, I just happen to notice this “new phenomenon” is something that’s always gone on, except that somebody young and tech-savvy has coined a clever new name for an awful interpersonal dynamic and wants to tell us we should like it instead of hating it.

IC, let’s talk about “situationships”. Want to try to define this one for us?

Immanuel Can: In short, a “situationship” is an emotional and/or sexual relationship in which the terms of involvement are not defined to either participant. Usually it’s sexual, but the primary driver of the relationship is emotional entanglement with a decided “lack of commitment or clearly defined roles”. That’s how Corina Hsieh, the inventor of the term, defines it.

We Are in a Situation

Situationships can start as a sort of “friends with [sexual] benefits” arrangement, or more often, are established online at first, then eventually more physically. Whatever the case, all the participants can say with certainty is, “We are in a situation.” They can’t say, “We love each other”, they can’t say, “We are committed to each other”, even for a moment. They certainly cannot say they are in a relationship, a formal engagement, or on the road to marriage. They are not even officially dating. All they can say is, “There’s something between us that has the nature of more than a friendship.” Two people are in something emotionally and physically, but without having defined to each other what their intentions, commitments or goals in the arrangement are.

Not single, but not in a relationship — that’s a situationship. How’s that, Tom?

Tom: Works for me. Like I said, these things are not new. There have always been interpersonal dynamics in which one or both partners was frustrated by the ambiguity of what was going on between them. We used to call it “unrequited love” on the one end and “settling until you find somebody better” on the other. There was a movie about fifteen years ago called She’s Just Not That Into You about multiple couples in flux that pretty much defined the situationship vibe. Not recommended viewing, but you get the idea.

Situationship Distinctives

But even if the dynamic is not new, there are new things about such involvements for our current generation of young people. One is the zippy new name. But what else is distinctive about the way Gen Z experiences connections (and disconnections) between individuals?

IC: The mediated nature of all relationships. They’re started by text or on social media nowadays, even in the case of people who have already met. The opening stages of relationship are handled at safe distance, by chatting, followed by physical access as mutually decided.

Contrast this to the old way: in former generations, there were distinct stages of courtship. It began when a young man approached a young woman (or even her parents) to gain permission. The male could not even begin a relationship without presenting himself as vulnerable, for consideration. Then there was dating, then “going steady”, then engagement, then marriage. Each stage had specific expectations; and each told both participants and their social circles where they were in the process. And while emotional attachment would develop somewhere in stage 2 or 3, sex was conventionally off the table until after the process was complete.

Tom: Right. Now, to be fair, the traditional courtship ritual you are describing is a Western one, and fairly recent. It’s neither biblical nor really applicable in the rest of the world, where arranged marriages, dowries and other mechanisms by which two people got together were and are common. But even though they might not be derived from scripture, dating, courtship and engagement could be done decently and could result in two people coming together in marriage who had not “seen the world” first. That possibility existed at least.

A Courtship without Benchmarks

A situationship rarely does this, because it seems to inevitably start with sex. As you suggest, there may be some online flirtation first, but the moment the two parties meet, it is expected that by the end of the second date (or usually the first), they will have consummated their arrangement. That complicates things in ways young people simply are not equipped to understand.

IC: Yes, of course. The important point is that in every society, there have been benchmarks so both parties could mark the progress of the relationship. Situationship has no such benchmarks. And that’s why the participants don’t know where they are.

Now, what that indeterminacy offers the people in the situationship is freedom from commitment and duty to each other. They get to flirt, dally and even couple with each other, but without having to deal with the benchmarked expectations associated with the old kind of system. What they lose is any certainty about where they are on the relationship map. There are no rules for establishing what they owe each other in respect, follow-up or commitment. And you’ll notice it’s an entirely two-person arrangement, in which friends, family, faith community and society are all utterly unable to judge what’s going on. So their support and input is gone, too.

Tom: That’s an interesting point. The secretive, interpersonal nature of online or phone texting back-and-forth is such that it precludes the involvement of anyone else except the parties involved. Others will of course know there is something happening, unless they are complete idiots, but they do not get to weigh in or significantly influence the progress of it. That is very different from traditional courtships. Why would your child ask you for advice when she’s not even clear about what she’s involved in and where it might be going?

“All Relationships End”

One of the things I noted in the video you sent me was that professionals asked to weigh in on the value of situationships were generally quite positive. They said things like, “All relationships end; we have to get used to that” and “Situationships teach people to enjoy the moment rather than live in anticipation of something happening down the road.” What these professionals are ignoring is something that in economics we call “opportunity cost”. Every situationship a person engages in is time out of their lives they can’t ever reclaim. Those months are lost forever, and truly wasted. Moreover, “situational” hookups, when they do occur, change a person in ways they do not expect. We are a product of all our experiences, not just the good ones, and we take all our relationship failures, disappointments and grievances into every subsequent relationship. Many of these are sexual in nature.

IC: Yes. And men and women are on different biological time-schedules. For a woman, a relationship that’s going to result in marriage and any significant number of children usually has to start relatively early and proceed comparatively rapidly. If it’s not proceeding, she needs to be out of that relationship and on to a better one relatively fast, or her window of options quickly starts to narrow. Men, by contrast, do not need to worry about their child bearing potential or marriageability nearly so early as women do. And if that’s true, the cost of a slow relationship going nowhere is disproportionately borne by women. Situationships work against them.

Tom: Correct. But this is poorly understood in the present generation. What’s also wildly misunderstood is what men are actually looking for in a long term partner. More than anything, we want attractiveness, agreeability and lack of sexual experience. We would like to live in households characterized by peace and order, and to be with women who have not been around the block. That is universal among desirable males looking to settle down, even those who have no interest in religion at all. Women in the last couple of generations have been conned into thinking this is not the case; that men should prize independence, education and combativeness. In fact, we actively avoid women who excel in those areas. The more experienced you are, the less we are interested in anything long term.

A Cycle of Perpetual Uncertainty

IC: What situationships set a person up for, then, is a lot of uncertainty, a much higher chance of a series of failed relationships, and eventually loneliness and enduring rejection. But I remember, Tom, that you once said something very interesting about how a succession of failed relationships creates a cycle in which each subsequent relationship creates more and more pressure, and thus is made more likely to fail. Any interest in refreshing my memory on that?

Tom: Yes, sure. My observation is that when you put the cart before the horse, and sex before actually knowing the person you are involved with, when the relationship fails, whatever you did during it becomes your new baseline; the standard you feel the need to surpass with your next relationship in order to feel that it is actually going anywhere. You need to reach that previously established level of intimacy as soon as possible to prove to yourself that your latest experience means something, and that this new individual might be “the one”. So you rush the sexual encounter, and are gripped and shaken around by all the emotions that God designed us to experience with sex. Meanwhile, you know nothing whatsoever about the real person with whom you are sexually involved, so of course you begin to miscommunicate, and the relationship fails. You have raised the emotional stakes to 100 before you have even decided whether you want the relationship to continue. You have also created impossible expectations for yourself of perfection in relationships, a composite of all the good points of previous relationships with none of the bad bits. Nobody new can match that.

This cycle gets worse and worse. Regular fornication changes the fornicator. He or she becomes paranoid, untrusting, jumpy, afraid of inspiring emotions in others for which he will later feel guilty and duty-bound to pursue a permanent bond he doesn’t want. He or she projects her own history onto every person encountered later on, expecting every new partner to do that bad thing that was so very painful in previous relationships, and pre-emptively killing the relationship to avoid the pain of being the last one to know it was over.

In the worst cases, these transformations are permanent. The person can confess their sin and get right with God, but they can never really get back to where they would have been prior to the cycle of selfish, ungodly abuse of others. At that point, you had better like cats or dogs, because that’s who you will be getting old with.

Using and Discarding

IC: What you’re describing is, in the secular world, called “having baggage”, right?

Tom: Absolutely. But baggage that isn’t easily checked when you decide it’s finally time to grow up. Maybe you can’t ever get rid of it.

IC, the secular “experts” want us to think situationships are no big deal, and that they might even be good for people in some ways. That’s only true if every relationship eventually fails regardless of the effort we make to preserve it. But that’s not what I’ve observed among committed adults of my own generation or the previous ones. Is that your experience? Is that what the Bible teaches about love?

IC: We’d better hope not. The love of God is our model; if we think it fails, we’re all in deep trouble.

Christ gave body and soul to save us, and that is the Christian model for relationship. His relation to us is sharply defined; he is our Savior, and we are his beloved redeemed. He is our Lord; we are his bride. He’s committed to us, and we are bonded forever to him.

There’s no looseness, no opportunity for confusion and misunderstanding there. And if salvation is not some kind of uncommitted, undefined situationship, then why would we ever think that uncommitted and undefined relations would be better or more genuinely freeing than that? And why would we ever imagine that he would be okay with us using and discarding each other, as situationship implies?

No comments :

Post a Comment