Freeform’s Grown-ish is one of the most realistic depictions of culture for Gen Z. The issues they discuss on the show are real and increasingly relevant to me. I always roll my eyes at how trivial their issues seem, despite knowing that I’ve dealt with the same things. Season 2, Episode 15, Tweakin’ hit closer to home than most; Aaron and Ana had been pursuing a relationship, but they reached a dead end once they started considering their status. I’ve run into that issue myself too many times to count.
After all, I haven’t dated someone and been in an officially defined relationship since the tenth grade. When this out and proud lesbian had a boyfriend. That’s how long ago it was. Yet and still, I am always in a relationship. How does that work?
I think it’s important to not only define what a relationship is but also what the steps to date are. For a serial monogamist like I am, it baffles me to claim that you like someone without actually pursuing them. I can’t understand the logic behind people who want to do relationship activities, but not be in the relationship. (Well, immaturity and selfishness is a good assumption.) I’ve heard the various arguments about how “unnatural” monogamy is, but the primal instincts of sex and survival have never been instilled into me. I only choose to give myself to people I plan on being in a relationship with eventually. While I am aware that most people enjoy casual encounters, dating for me encompasses more than just sex.
When I date someone, I look for the qualities that I want in a partner, long-term. I have been in situations where the aesthetics were up to par, but the personality wasn’t. That doesn’t fly for me anymore. I don’t want a pretty face to look at if I can’t engage in other ways. I have dated sweet people, but ultimately physically unattractive. I have dated someone fun, but a little dense. Not everyone can be a good match. I have dated people that are all of the above, but they’re just not on my intellectual level - and all of that is important, to me. I feel like I am amongst the only ones who factor in all of these qualities. That already puts me at odds for having any luck.
So, now that I’ve decided that all of the potential components are there, we start to engage. We go on dates. We kiss. We cuddle. We talk 24/7. Our friends know about what we have. We’re crossing our circles, meeting people. Everything is great. And we’re dating, yes?
And I mean, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck… Clearly, it’s a chicken.
That duck-related logic is lost on this generation. Especially when you decide to incorporate the mundanity of these newfangled, intermittent, mini relationship milestones that deter couples from becoming official. I find it all ridiculous. This is a nuanced discussion, people. When phrases like “situationship,” “thing,” and “FWB” exist, the lines can blur, hard. I have been guilty of the preconceived notions based on assumptions when, in reality, we were in two totally different places.
To me, dating is really binary. You’re either together, or you’re not (trust me, I know this is an unpopular opinion). I can’t fathom having more than one flame at a time - how many candles do you have? This generation comes with an abundance of candles, and they all take to the flame simultaneously. That’s fine if all parties are consenting to the polyamorous attitudes. The breach of trust happens when you make this decision, without letting your partner in on it.
Who does the fault of the misconception fall on?
Is it me, assuming that two people who are engaging in relationship/more-than-friends/bae-zone activities are in some relationship? Is it on them for being allergic to commitment? For evading the question?
The answer: it’s both of us.
As soon as you start to involve yourself romantically with another, I believe that it is most beneficial to address the biggest elephant in the room: the “What are we?” Although it is extremely unsexy and unorthodox to lay it all out within the initial weeks, I find it necessary. Tell me by the third date what your intentions are. Are you in this for sex? Are you just trying to hang out with someone new? Do you really just want to be friends? Or are you lending yourself towards something that could turn out to be official? Often times, they don’t know. It’s fine if they don’t have an answer readily available (if they’re trying to marry you on the first date, run). The goal is to gauge where they are mentally and emotionally, and what their intentions are, to offset any kind of misperceptions. In this situation, without verbalizing the question, it’s always a mistake to assume.
Refraining from asking the dreaded question is only going to cause yourself strife. If you don’t feel comfortable with the prospect of asking, then it is likely that you already know the unfavorable answer. Be okay with that answer, and move on. Don’t break your own back being suspended in limbo when you’re the only person keeping yourself there. You don’t have to consent to the limitations of others. There is no need to settle for something undesirable, just to hold on to a sliver of what you want. Go get the damn thing somewhere else. Find someone else. Better yet, find it within yourself; you deserve better than being reduced to an option by your only choice.
These are things I wish someone would’ve told me a couple of months ago. These are things I wish I could’ve told Ana. In Freeform’s Grown-ish, to move mountains to justify sleeping with her. But why? It’s worth noting that he does this while admitting that she’s “really cool” and that he “likes kicking it” with her (ahem, you like her, Aaron).
Brushing off the question is asinine. Give the people what they want. Everyone deserves to know what they’re getting into, before they’re too deep into it to walk away, unscathed.
When put on the spot and asked the uncomfortable question (insert: so… what are we?), they always overcompensate. When questioned about the validity of their feelings, they douse you in affirmation (insert: you’re really special; you’re different; there’s just something about you). All of that is good and well, but that isn’t what was asked of you. Don’t tell me that we’re friends if you’re picking your clothes up off of my bedroom floor. Tell me if this is going anywhere.
If you’re anything like me, your attachment establishes itself quickly. And that superficial validation is more than enough to keep me sated when I’m wondering about the nature of my budding relationship. The people who navigate these multiple relationships are master manipulators, and it isn’t a bad thing. They tell you what you want to hear to keep you there; because they do like you. The disparity is what you intend to do with that affection and attraction. If you want to invest in that person, while they want to continue spreading the love, there is the point of contention. That’s why the conversation is necessary.
Alternatively, once the benefit of the doubt is out of the way, sometimes… people are just assholes. That’s the beginning, middle, and end. Some people love to lie. They don’t want to compromise on what they have going on, so they mimic what you want without experiencing it. They keep you at bay. When you’re excited and infatuated, the sincerity can fall between the cracks. And when you just want it to work out, when you’re more attracted to the thought of being in a relationship with that person than being with that person, you’re more susceptible to falling for the okie-doke. That’s the green light for those types of manipulators. That’s where it can become problematic. But you need that concrete answer, the knowledge that - no, they aren’t going to choose you out of the lineup. And trust me, honesty in the moment is gonna suck, but it sucks a whole lot less compared to the suckiness of realizing I care more about this person than this person cares about me. That’s why the conversation is necessary.
In Ana and Aaron’s situation, she was mortified that the impression she’d been under was false. Aaron blindsided her with the fact that he didn’t actually want to pursue a relationship with her. Ana reacted exactly as she should’ve because her inference was valid. Only for him to say that he just wanted to maintain their friendship. I’m calling bullshit. Ana deserves better. I deserve better. Anyone who has been in that situation, we deserve better.
I really felt for Ana, because it’s happened to me too many times to count. Too many times have I been in her position, left confused, and questioning my own worth because the person that I thought I was going to date - didn’t want to date me. Even with a strong mental health status, you still question yourself. When that happens enough times, you begin to wonder if you were the problem. But it’s never you (sometimes it is you, but that’s a different conversation).
And I get it - So many people have real reasons for their commitment issues, but that’s the thing - communication is the thing. It makes no sense, and I would say it’s pretty callous, to pursue someone and convince them of the future when you have no intention of giving that to them. Don’t sell someone a dream and rip it away because of unrelated insecurities, as Aaron did.
Ana said something that unfortunately really resonated with me, “I don’t even get the dignity of a breakup, because I didn’t even get the relationship.” What becomes of the “situationships” that die before they can mature? What happens to all of the “things” that have dwindled down to nothing? The friends with benefits who, apparently, just go back to being friends (but not really)? Those don’t get the dignity of calling it a breakup, because technically, you were never really together.
But I throw those kinds of technicalities out of the window. When you intertwine with someone, enough for them to affect you emotionally, I think you damn well deserve the title of a breakup. Breakups are painful and can have long-lasting psychological effects; anything that comes to an end can dampen your spirits. If the show you’ve been invested in for weeks suddenly gets canceled, it’s a disappointment. Similarly, if the guy you had a “thing” with played mind games on you, their effects are just as pertinent to your future relationships as they would’ve been, had he been your boyfriend. If someone decides one day that they don’t want you - that hurts, despite the severity or longevity of what was going on. It’s not about the title of what you’re indulging in - it’s the depth of it all.
Never becoming defined as a boyfriend/girlfriend; it has got to stop. The emotionality should be validated throughout the entire process of engaging with someone new. There is no time frame for falling for someone. But just as well as you’d console the girl whose boyfriend of two weeks broke up with her, you should extend that compassion towards the girl who just got told that after six months of having a “thing,” he doesn’t even want to be in a relationship at all. It counts as a breakup. They’re both shitty feelings. Ana represents so much of the population; I want anyone who has been in her position to know that you do get the dignity of a breakup. Although it could’ve been avoided by defining the relationship earlier.
I have never been on the other side. I can’t vouch for those people who are capable of juggling partners. I have been certain of what I wanted out of every relationship I've been in. I am a monogamist. I always know what I want; the endgame is always to be official. It is okay that I am the way that I am, just as much as it is okay to be capable of dating around. The problem is born out of a lack of communication. So, define the relationship. You deserve to know.
Kara Ireland is a contributing writer for BSW Chronicles. You can find out more about her by following her on Instagram @kelisebooks.