I watched In the Mood for Love recently. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a beautiful film set in Hong Kong about two individuals who find out that their respective partners are cheating on them. Eventually, they fall in love with one another although neither party wants to stoop to the unfaithfulness that their significant others did.
The movie hit me in my solar plexus for many reasons. The cinematography, the sharp outfits, the unfulfilled love and lust, but I felt the most deeply about the illegitimate romantic bond that lacks boundaries and publicity of a relationship. In simpler terms, the ‘situationship.’ This is one of the rare films that demonstrates what it feels like to be within the constraints of your feelings for another person, but unable to truly have the type of relationship that you want. We’ve all been there; in that strange limbo of feeling like someone owes you their complete loyalty even though they don’t because they haven’t actually promised you anything. These types of circumstances are always difficult and thorny but they have a well of wisdom that we can draw from and in many ways, are a rite of passage for most people.
I used to feel incomplete because I never had a full and ‘official’ relationship. I had never introduced a man to my family or my friends. In fact, my first situationship happened at a purgatorial point in my life. In between finishing secondary school and heading off to university. It was a transformative experience for me. Never had I been the sole focus of a boy’s attention before. After spending years slogging through a generally embarrassing adolescent experience in school here I was my teenage years soon to be behind me and I’ve met this person. I got so carried away with not only being attracted to someone but of the feeling of being mutual that I didn’t question what his intentions were further than that. There are no pictures of us, holding hands on Instagram, no emojis meant to be a stand-in for each other’s names. But that doesn’t mean that what happened wasn’t real, it simply defied boundaries and explanation. Even as I grappled with these feelings of confusion and sadness surrounding my often complicated relationship status, I knew there was really no reason to feel that way; romantic relationships are simply a part of your life. They may be painted in technicolour, full of lessons that spill into every other facet of who one is and who that person will become but they are still only a fraction of what makes an individual into whom they are.
But emotions are tricky, they do not obey the cold and calculated laws of logic; they defy explanation. Knowing something isn’t always enough, and it is these feelings and emotions that got me into my next romantic dilemma in University. It was more of the same much to my surprise. The one thing I had always heard is that as you grow older the first rushes of emotion change, but that hadn’t been my experience. It was every bit as exciting, confusing and heightened as the first time. It ended acrimoniously, I wanted more than he was willing to give and no one told me that standing for what you deserve doesn’t always look like walking out of the door with perfectly tamed hair flying about behind you. Sometimes it looks like shaking hands and a broken voice before the incessant sound of a dial tone. There have been other times I accepted a situationship because no matter what my feminist leanings are, I have always wanted a hand to hold as I wade through life’s disappoints and stand on its’ achievements. It is a certain kind of strength that I’m not sure I possess yet, that me being a witness to my own life is more than enough.
In these two particular circumstances, I was at a turning point in what position relationships, love and sex would occupy in my life. I was in a space in these particular situationships where I could lay the foundation for what I would and wouldn’t accept from a romantic partner. It also taught me that the presence of romance alone doesn’t create a relationship, which I why In the Mood for Love is one of my favourite films, because it embodies that notion. Situationships are complicated because we are often ridiculed for mourning the end of something that didn’t ‘exist’ in the first place. There is a rigid binary of singledom and committed and when someone doesn’t fall neatly into either category it can be a very alienating experience. Opening yourself up to a friend’s perplexed glance while explaining that although this person wasn’t your boyfriend/girlfriend, it is still the end of something; and it hurts. The phrase ‘we used to talk’ seems so flat and devoid of life to describe the depth of feeling a situationship can give you, that’s just as valid as a legitimate relationship. The lessons, experiences and memories this type of connection can bring should not be ignored or passed over. Love and relationships take many forms and each is valid, possibly even life-affirming and most importantly, transformative. With that being said, I will be spending Valentine’s Day with my friends, eating olive pizza and watching my favourite movie.