Grammar Moses: The Situationship

It’s spring, and love is in the air.

But boy, has it gotten complicated. If I know my demographic, I’ll bet you haven’t heard of a “situationship” before. In the interest of helping you to better communicate with your grandchildren, here is something I picked up last weekend.

My wife and I were having brunch with some friends of ours and their daughter, who attends Barrington High School.

As with most interactions I have with people younger than 30 these days, I picked up on some lingo that was new to me.

But first, the point of reference of someone who is about to turn 62:

Back when I was in high school, one of my friends would ask the friend of a girl I was interested in whether she fancied me. Normally, the response from the girl’s friend would be, “Who?” And at that point, my heart crushed, I would swear off girls for three or four days. I was largely invisible and painfully shy back then. I could blend in with any wallpaper pattern. But if there were a glimmer of recognition, and our proxies could work something out, the dating process would commence.

The process then was:

1) Meet through a mutual friend;

2) Sweat out a first date;

3) Go steady or break up;

4) Go to prom;

5) Get married or break up just before you went to college because, what, am I an idiot?

That seemed a pretty standard progression for my peer group anyway.

Today, in the age of social media, dating apps and kids being in absolutely no rush to become adults or follow our traditions, things are different.

According to the Barrington Highschooler, it’s more like this:

1) Talk;

2) Enter a situationship;

3) Date;

4) Enter a relationship;

5) Etcetera.

Holy Moses, what’s a “situationship“?

When she mentioned that, my ears perked up and I went full Dan Rather on her.

As I understand it, a situationship is an ongoing, casual romantic or sexual arrangement with no commitment. The closest parallel I can think of is “friends with benefits.”

So, if you had any question about what “dating” means today, it’s more advanced than friends with benefits.

Because social media labels us all, younger people are very protective of the words applied to them.

That’s why when you are introduced to your grandson’s significant other, don’t assume it’s OK to label that person a “girlfriend” or “boyfriend.” Good grief, that makes them pre-married. To them, the word might mean something else and probably overstate things dramatically.

Let’s say you have a 28-year-old grandchild who has yet to strike out on their own or get a driver’s license. We all know someone like that. The finality of adulthood is being delayed more and more. And with that you’ll see more resistance to commitment.

People in a situationship are free to see other people. The trap, of course, is a lack of emotional safety net. So there is a lot of gray area, a lot of undefined qualities. By nature they are messy and transitory.

One of the earliest uses of “situationship” was a 2006 entry in the Urban Dictionary, which is almost always on the leading edge of language evolution. As I’ve warned you before, while it is full of valuable intel on the current lingo you’ll also trip over plenty of terms that are sure to curl your toes. Log on at your own peril.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim’s book, “Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage,” at Write him at and put “Grammar Moses” in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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