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Are You in a Superficial Relationship?

by Alejandra Saragoza on October 13, 2011
Senior > Communication and Chicano Studies > University of California, Santa Barbara
Photo by Michelle Rattinger > Senior > Psychology > The George Washington University
Photo by Michelle Rattinger > Senior > Psychology > The George Washington University

Today’s dating world brings about all types of relationships, from friends-with-benefits and booty calls to serious and long-term romantic connections. In college it can be more common for students to play the field, have fun and see what’s out there. Between classes, exams, work or internships, being in a serious relationship can seem like another obligation. Some students may just want a casual relationship simply based on mutual physical attraction. And while being in a shallow relationship may not be for everyone, this type of relationship has its benefits—and dangers-- if both partners are looking for a fun time, with no-strings-attached.   

The Perks

Leandro Severo, a junior at Loyola Marymount University, said he is very happy with his shallow relationship. Severo has been hooking up with a “friend” for several months, and though they sometimes hang out in their free time, he said that he likes not having to worry about a stage-five clinger or the awkwardness of waking up the morning after. “Both of us know that we’re using each other, so there’s no commitment,” he said. “We go to each other in our times of need because it’s comfortable having sex with the same person and knowing that there’s no complications.”

Toni Coleman, a relationship coach and internationally recognized dating expert, defined a shallow relationship as one where there is no real continuity, consistency or expectations of one another-- basically: hooking up. The people involved are not getting to know each other beyond a superficial level, and building a deeper connection may not have much importance if neither person is planning on being there for the long haul.

According to Coleman, shallow relationships are more common among people during their college years because students are concentrating on getting an education and generally want to stay uncommitted for a variety of reasons. “They want someone to go do things with, or someone to spend time with, or they are just simply looking for casual sex,” she explained. “It’s tied into what a person’s goals are and what’s going to meet his or her needs at a certain time.”

Dangerous Waters

While a shallow relationship can have its benefits, it also has its downfalls. One of the dangers is that it is solely based on physical appearance, causing both partners to overlook each other’s personalities. This type of relationship can be hollow and lifeless, and will never flourish unless partners can find qualities that make the other person more attractive beyond the initial physical attraction. Though looks can be important, Coleman said it is also essential to build an emotional connection with someone you care about since it is the foundation for any kind of relationship.

Nahal Rosen, a senior at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said that she has always had a crush on one of her best guy friends, who also happens to be her hook-up buddy at times. But while they do connect on a deeper, less superficial level, Rosen is reluctant to take the next step. “I try to distance myself from him when I find myself getting too attached because I don’t want a relationship,” she said. “I’m too busy for a boyfriend right now, and I don’t think he wants to be tied down either.”

The Signs

There can be a kind of “safety” in shallow relationships; people never really have to be vulnerable or reveal who they truly are, because they do not need to build an emotional connection with their partner. And, since there is no attachment, the chances of getting hurt are significantly less—or so it would seem. Though some may define a shallow relationship as one that is purely sexual, sometimes it has less to do with sex, and more to do with not building an emotional and intellectual connection with someone.

Coleman identified five types of shallow relationships and the signs to look for:

1. A relationship in which two people do limited activities together and are involved sexually, but don’t progress into a deeper level of sharing or involvement.

2. A relationship that one or both parties would define as convenient — they are helpful to one another, the relationship is easy and meets some basic needs. However, if someone better came along for either partners, it would be over.

3. An on-again, off-again relationship where he or she drops out when their partner asks for, or pushes for, more commitment. Somehow they dance around it, but pull back, break-up and then return when the other person backs off.

4. A purely sexual relationship that involves hooking up and “sleepovers,” but is missing any emotional and/or intellectual connection.

5. Any relationship in which there is an inability for both partners to be completely open and real with one another. Without this level of sharing, the relationship will never deepen or progress.

Just Not That Into You

Those who think they are in a shallow relationship should try to weigh the pros and cons and assess the relationship, whether or not it is based on lack of depth. Coleman advised people to move on and find someone else if they are not happy with a shallow relationship, or, to simply put it out there if they wish to seek a deeper connection with their partner. But don’t feel too heavy-hearted if the outcome is not the one you hoped for; “If you start sharing more about yourself, and then your partner puts up a wall and pulls a Houdini act on you, then they just weren’t that into you,” said Coleman. “If a person makes an effort but it’s not happening, then they just haven’t found the right candidate for a deeper relationship.”

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