You’ve probably heard by now of “the almost relationship.” But if you haven’t, it’s either A) the time before you get into a relationship, that’s full of exciting prospects that this person might be your next partner or B) a place of pure limbo hell where you are expected to act like this person’s partner, in secret, and know that it’ll never be more than what it is—something more than friends with benefits, but never fully reaching the next step. Most of the time, it’s going to be B.
A point that needs to be made here is that I am NOT talking about friends with benefits. FWB relationships have clearly defined parameters, agreed upon by BOTH parties, and usually comes with a set of boundaries and rules. They have a clear guideline of what it is, what it’s not, and definitely what it will never be (a committed relationship). They can be a healthy and supportive dynamic full of growth for both parties, and usually end on a good note if the communication stays open and honest throughout the course of the relationship.
When you’re in the grey area of a relationship, tangled in the almost relationship state, you have zero clarity or visibility on what is going on. Either one or both people have a lack of understanding of what the dynamic is about, or, most commonly, one person has unrequited feelings and they hang on to the hope that the relationship will progress. Emily Mendez, M.S. EdS, a mental health expert and writer (onthewagon.org), nails the problem down to one core issue that truly makes it toxic:
“The problem with almost relationships is that someone in the relationship is sacrificing what they really want in order to be with the other person. Usually, one half of the couple wants to commit and the other half doesn’t want a real relationship. Because the person that wants the relationship doesn’t want things to end, they usually go along with an almost relationship with the hopes that it will turn into a real commitment,” she tells HipLatina.
When you’re stuck compromising your values and what you want to placate another person, you, your needs, and on a deeper level, your worth then become second to someone else’s wants and needs. That is a huge red flag and, the moment you bend on every will, the more you’re losing yourself in an unstable dynamic.
I’m a huge advocate for open communication, no matter how hard it might be to hear something you would rather ignore. The last time I was in an almost relationship, the cycle began with us being friends, dating, breaking up, then hooking up in secret. I knew there was no way we were going to move forward—the idea of a relationship was out of the question. I started blaming myself for why it went wrong, then beat myself up for going back into it in the first place. I had a moment of clarity where I realized, “this is done, because there is no way to move forward.”
When you’re tackling an almost relationship, this is one of the few moments I advise that an ultimatum is needed— clearly set the boundaries. We’ve been told that we have to fear “what are we?” conversations, but really, what we’re afraid of is the answer to that question, especially after weeks or months of going back and forth in a limbo state where one or both of you is comfortable not acknowledging the truth. A relationship or dynamic born from a lack of clarity is usually stressful, and ends in an ugly split.
If you’re not sure if you’re even IN an almost relationship, there’s a few signs (ahem STOP signs, ahem), that come up that tell you to get OUT of this dynamic. Check out some tips from Sex and Relationship Expert Bethany Ricciardi with TooTimid.com:
- “There’s never a next step. You’re relationship is currently all it will ever be. You miss out on talking about the future, you miss out on dreaming together. Unlike some of your friends in relationships you’ll never be discussing moving in with your partner, getting married or talking about children. So what’s there to look forward to with one another? Everything is only for the now, and sometimes that can be a downside.”
Think about the conversations you have. Are there ever any hints about the future? I don’t mean future plans (i.e. vacations, movies, concerts), but solid plans that show the relationship is progressing in a more serious way? Such as, meeting friends, family, or even having an honest conversation about what you both want and need.
- “You’re in love with someone you have no future with. It’s still easy to fall for someone even when you know your future paths won’t cross. It’s also even easier to stay in the moment and soak it up while you can…instead of just quickly ripping off the band-aid, you’re slowly pulling it off, and overtime it hurts.”
Remember what I said about open communication, even having those hard conversations about what you both are? That’s where this comes into play. It’s fun being into someone for a short time, but when you have no real vision about what you want, or what they want, the ending of the “relationship” is almost harder than, like Ricciardi mentioned, ripping off the band-aid.
- “You know your partner is keeping their options open. Jealousy exists in most relationships, but when you’re not official, trusting each other can be even harder.” says Ricciardi, “It’s a downside when you start to feel like you’re just being kept around for now, until someone worth putting a ring on it comes along.”
This the really ugly one—when you’re in an almost relationship and suddenly, the other person hooks up with someone else or is committed to someone else. You’re filled with anger and betrayal but because nothing was ever established or discussed, you feel abandoned, angry, and betrayed. Having an open dialogue about what the dynamic is, right off the bat, is vital to making sure you don’t fall into this gray area.