“It’s Complicated:” A Field Guide To 20 Different Modern Day Not-Relationships

Whether it’s because you’re allergic to putting labels on things, or are just too scared to ask exactly how invested your significant no-ther is when it comes to the two of you, being in an undefined relationship is tough. And yes, in an ideal world, you could simply cut the drama, ask if this is actually going anywhere, grow a pair, decide to call it what it is, and exclusively see each other naked for the rest of the foreseeable however long — essentially, either be in a relationship or not be in one. But we like choices, and we like to complicate things, so here is a handy list for the ins, outs, and in-betweens of modern day almost-but-not-quite romance.

1. The Standard Not-In-A-Relationship: This is the one where you honestly might as well be in a relationship, and you’re probably well on the road to Label City, but you just haven’t had that discussion yet. Yet, you keep saying. Oh, how you cling to yet. Your friends assume something’s up, you find yourself needing to clarify that you’re not the boyfriend or the girlfriend, but deep down — well, you’re not all that sure what you are, beyond maybe hopeful that you could be.

2. The Platonic Friend Who You’re BASICALLY In A Relationship With: The both of you are going to constantly say that you’re just like siblings, but dude, nobody hugs their siblings like that. You finish each other’s sandwiches, share each other’s clothes, and are a perfectly compatible extension of the other person — you just tell yourself that you value that very special friendship too much to risk it if you two were to ever break up.

3. The Textual Relationship: This is the antithesis of the booty call, in which you text each other all day long, have a seemingly endless string of sparkling, pixelated conversations, and your inside jokes and emoji games are as fierce are they are funny and endearing. And yet, you never see each other, or if you vaguely allude to the fact that you might be free, the other person never acknowledges it, but rather sends a funny .gif to deflect. It’s the pixelated version of “ssh, no, you’ll ruin the illusion.” Face it: You are somebody’s Second Life Significant Other.

4. The Seasonal Fling: Whether this crops up like allergies or Sandy and Danny’s notorious summer niii-hiiiiiiights, this is the relationship that has a finite expiration date. Maybe you’re lonely around Christmastime, maybe you want someone to dress up with on Halloween, maybe you want someone to rub lotion into the far reaches of your back when you go to the beach. Whatever the case, trying to extend this relationship’s life is only going to hurt everyone in the long run.

5. The Vacation Souvenir: Better than a snow globe or shot glass, this is the tan and sexy stranger eying you from the other side of the piazza or pool, the person whose language you might not understand, but you don’t need to. It’s going to be passionate and tempestuous and really, really hard to say goodbye, but nine times out of 10, you’ll come home and find that you really didn’t have anything in common with that stranger beyond the fact that you were both staying at the same hotel and had an itch the other person knew how to scratch really, really well. Do not add this person on Facebook. Nobody needs to see those photos.

6. The Social Media Relationship: You’re pretty sure this person is like, a real person, so you relentlessly favorite all of their jokes and double-tap their selfies, and they do the same to you. (You have spent many an afternoon dissecting their fave-ing pattern with your friends, as if this is not wholly illogical. If you want to turn Twitter into Twinder, go right ahead.) In fact, it’s such a constant volley of DMs and RTs and comments and snapchats that it feels like you’ve spent every waking moment together — and the microscopic detail that you have never, actually, met in person is minor in comparison to how well you… wait, did they just follow somebody who’s cuter than you?!

7. The Daydream You Have Of Your Barista: Now, I have to admit that I am an avid coffee drinker, and my genetic makeup at this point is probably nearing 57.3% dark roast, but here’s my theory about this relationship. When you love your coffee more than life itself — after all, it’s the thing that allows you to deal with life — you’re going to displace a little of that love. In such a powerful emotion, gratitude rips your love in two, and this split love attaches itself onto the first living being in its path. This person is your barista. You love them because they are now your coffee’s horcrux.

8. Your Work Relationship: Your work husband. Your work wife. Your cubicle mate. Your Chipotle buddy. The person who knows you’re running late so they pick up your coffee for you. This professional-grade godsend is the person who snags the last of the good mailing envelopes for you, who always knows how to sneak a quality eye-roll when your boss is being particularly power-trippy in meetings, and who is the reason why people have often threatened (sometimes jokingly, sometimes not) to sic HR on you because really, work relationships can not be stumbled upon lightly.

9. The Person You Joke About Being With, And Really Kind Of Should But…: There’s just something about it. You can’t quite put your finger on it — okay, you can, and it often amounts to the fact that you’re not sexually inclined in the same direction, or that really, taking it one step beyond what it is would feel forced and weird, or that you have all of the quirks and compatibility and chemistry, but you’re just… somehow missing that spark. You cannot fix this, nor can you force it. Tragically.

10. The Relationship Between You And Your Cat: The truest of the love/hate relationships in that you attempt to show Mr. Whiskers love, but he hatefully rebukes your advances. He only shows you love at 2 in the morning when you want to sleep but he’s yowling at you to feed him. Do not give him a friend to see if that abates his selective neediness. Remember the old saying: a flock of seagulls, a murder of crows, a single woman of cats.

11. The One Between You And Any “Ideal” Fictional Significant Other: You know deep down you shouldn’t fall for the Jim Halperts and Augustus Waters and CeCes of the fictional world, but you just can’t help yourself. You tend to tread lightly into any work of art that might contain such a perfect faux-specimen of human emotion because before they can even say it, they’ll have you before you’re done typing “Netfli…” into your search bar.

12. The One Between You And The Fictional Person You’d Never, Ever Fall For If They Were Real: Stanley Kowalski. Don Draper. Santana Lopez. Adam Levine’s entire scuzzy persona. No matter how intangible and dangerous and red flaggy these people are, you know that if you actually had an actual shot with them, you’d jump on it, only to regret it about 0.05 nanoseconds later. Still though, it’s nice to fantasize sometimes about what could be. This is the crush that works only because it is kept at a very safe, very impossible distance.

13. The Friend With Benefits: Everyone knows about this one (whether by this or its less sophisticated moniker, the hallowed booty call) but it’s important to bring up for the fact that truly at its core, it’s not a relationship at all. It is sex. You don’t talk about your lives. You don’t share friends. You don’t get food together. You don’t do anything except consciously unclothe, consciously copulate, and consciously leave it at that. Really. The only way this actually works is if neither of you so much as allow yourselves to get even slightly invested in their choice of shoes.

14. The Middle School Reunion Crush: Far more involved in the high school sweetheart whose Facebook you check in on every once in a while, this is the kid all your friends told you wasn’t worth the time — and, over the course of puberty and a few chance run ins at your hometown bookstore, you suddenly realized exactly how hot they became. Really, they’d put that ugly duckling-ergo-swan to shame. Still, you two are fundamentally different people, and only having grades 6 through 8 to bond you does not a love story make. Middle school was probably the hopeless place Rihanna was talking about, and finding love there is nigh but impossible.

15. The If Only Our Stars Aligned…: When you’re single, they’re in a relationship, and when they’ve finally split up, you’ve taken a job that requires you to be out of town for 3 weeks a month. It’s a relentless cycle, wherein fate is the cruelest mistress, and however deeply you care for each other, you can’t bring yourself to hurt another person or find a new job just so you guys can have a go at whatever is pulling you together.

16. The One You’re Irrationally Waiting For: You had a thing once, but broke up because you were headed in different directions — you to school, they to travel, you to a career and they to that strange netherworld that exists only in the basements of the houses that belong to our increasingly exasperated parents. You keep saying that you’ll get back together when your lives are a little more stable, a little less busy, and you fully believe this… yet they seem to be a little vague. Still, you’ve turned down other prospective suitors because you’re holding out for this one person, when really, all you’re holding onto is the memory of the past, hoping that one day, they’re going to Facebook message their way back into your life, all shiny and new and ready to live out the rest of forever together like they promised.

17. The One You Make Up To Ward Off Unwanted Advances: You can go so far as to buy a fake wedding band or engagement ring if you really must, but in case the one drunken Casanova just doesn’t get the hint, this is either the friend you pull in for the Hail Mary of “thanks but no thanks,” or a completely imagined human being (maybe the Ideal Fictional Significant Other) that gets you out of the way of the flirt who just will not take no for an answer.

18. The One You Make Up To Make Your Friends Jealous: This one will take a far bit more acting on your part than the imaginary relationship you use to save yourself at the bar, because your friends know you in and out and will be able to call you on your shit. Make sure that if you enlist an actual, real life human being to help you out at a wedding, high school reunion, or sort-of-ex’s housewarming party, they are the kind of person who is so committed to living a lie that they will never, ever ask to actually take this further. (It helps if they’re hot and/or sentimentally bankrupt. Especially the latter.)

19. The One You Make Up So Your Parents Stop Worrying: The ultimate Grand Master of Imaginary Significant Others, this is your lifeline come the winter holidays; at any and all family weddings, christenings, etc; and any time your mom starts in on the I just want to see you happy, honey monologue. (Of course she wants to see you happy. She’s your mother. All mothers want to see their kids happy. All mothers also wants to see grandkids.) Do not enlist a friend to help lie to your mother. This bad boy (or gal) better be 100% fictional.

20. The One You Decide Is Worth Clarifying: Because after all is said and done, and after the exhaustive, juvenile ways we try to complicate our own love lives in the never-ending quest for Love At First Sight, there is going to be that one person where you realize that, hey, maybe this could be a little bit more. And so you will text a little bit more, and be a little bit more flirty, and nudge them softly every now and again, and eventually, you will find the strength to admit that maybe, just maybe, you want to have a real, labeled, capital-R relationship with them. And this is the kind of person who is so good and kind and worth the risk of asking that you will find that maybe, just maybe, they want to have one with you, too. TC mark

featured image – Friends With Benefits

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