The Situationship: What and Why

Our society is becoming more and more saturated with labels. We have increasingly more labels for ourselves, our lifestyles, our relationships, and our habits. A new label you may have heard of is the situationship. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you probably will soon.

What Is a Situationship and How Do You Know if You’re in One?

The exact definition is a little vague and open to many interpretations as the term continues to find its footing, so instead of regurgitating one of the many definitions people have come up with, here are some general guidelines to help you understand the term and if you or someone you know is in a situationship:

  • You aren’t in a committed relationship, at least not yet. Maybe you’re just getting to know someone, or you want to keep your options completely open. Your situation can still change, so you may view your relationship as a situationship if you can’t think of another label for it. 
  • Maybe you hang out with someone, but you aren’t a big part of each other’s lives. You don’t share dreams or plans or hang out with their friends and family the way you would with a normal friendship. 
  • Often the relationship feels superficial, as if there’s no emotional depth to it. In a dating relationship, this could mean that the connection is physical only. 
  • Perhaps there’s no consistency to the relationship. You don’t make plans ahead of time to hang out, and the frequency of your interactions tends to be sporadic. This is a sure sign of a situationship! 

As you can see, it’s marked by an in-between feeling. You’re more than an acquaintance, and you might even be getting physical with someone, but you haven’t committed and perhaps don’t feel the strong emotional attachment you need to truly become part of someone’s life or to allow them into yours.

Why Are They Popular?

Our lives are changing rapidly in the modern world. More and more, people are marrying later in life and starting their families later. As our lifespans increase, we seem to be putting things off more and more until we’re older and more mature; we’re saying our long goodbyes to those days when people married their high school sweethearts right after graduation (if they waited that long) or fell in love at university.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we moved around quite freely and more often for work and study, leaving friendships behind and trying to find new ones. Often these friendships weren’t the fast and true ones that could withstand distance or hardship; they were superficial ones or those based on mutual benefit.

Due to all of this, people are more willing to explore relationships in an unstructured way. Instead of jumping from one intense relationship to the next, or just getting hitched right off the bat, we want to take things slower. We want to know that if someone is interesting to us, and if we can continue the relationship and take it deeper; but we also want the security of knowing that if we abruptly stop hanging out or dating that there will be no hard feelings for either party.

But Are They Good for Us?

A conservative group may find such a lifestyle choice appalling, but there is evidence that a situationship can actually be good for your mental health.

Many relationships within the dating scene don’t happen organically. People seek out other people, looking for marriage or a committed relationship right away, which puts pressure on them. You go on a few dates and spend your nights lying awake, wondering if he or she is “the one”.

Is the other person into you? Are you really into them? Is either of your circumstances spelling doom over the relationship? The maddening questions pile on and the pressure valve can lead to long sessions on a therapist’s couch!

Situationships are like releasing the pressure from a pressure cooker. They allow a relationship, romantic or otherwise, to grow in a more organic way. Instead of reading quick-fix books about how to make your girlfriend or boyfriend want you now, you can navigate your way through the relationship without guessing or trying to force commitment from someone who is still unsure about what they want. For friends, this means being able to hang out without becoming too involved, especially if you know your circumstances are temporary, such as moving abroad a bit for work.

Of course, everything has a downside, and situationships do have a dark underbelly to them.

Situationships, at least with regards to dating, are generally favored by men over women. Men are often looking to “play around” or have casual relationships, while women are more frequently looking for commitment and security. They don’t want to be a thing men use to test the waters; they want to be valued, respected, and loved.

This is often where problems arise, as even a woman who is into the idea of a situationship will typically want more of a commitment earlier than a man will. Many women who have been in a heterosexual situationship attest to feeling as though they were being used, as the men they were with were either seeing them along with multiple other women to keep their options open, or they were certain that the relationship would only continue for so long before he would end the situationship to seek out new thrills.

On the flip side, men often complain that after they had moved on, the women they were previously dating would still seek them out. This leads to complaints that the woman had already “grown too clingy” for their liking.

This differential in the level of commitment experienced by partners likely stems from the fact that women are the ones who can get pregnant. If the casual sex of a situationship should result in an unexpected pregnancy, it is usually the women who bear the responsibility. Men don’t face the same consequences, so a casual relationship isn’t a big deal to them and can continue to remain casual on for longer.

On both sides of the aisle, some simply consider a situationship, especially one that goes on for years and years and doesn’t involve dating multiple people, to be an excuse for one party to reap the benefits of an exclusive relationship without any of the responsibility. Lazy at best, abusive at worst.

There’s also the issue of regret that lingers whenever a situationship is called off. If the situationship lasted for any significant length of time, the lack of ever finding a commitment can be a difficult thing to process sometimes. Even a situationship requires a degree of time and effort, sometimes even some money, but if it never bears any fruit, it was only ever a stagnant relationship. This can result in a deep sense of regret, for at least in marriage there was, at one time, a deep level of commitment and some fruits born of the efforts of both parties. A situationship doesn’t provide that.

Do You Think You’re in a Situationship?

In order to make a situationship work in a healthy way that doesn’t lead to the dark road of regret, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

  • If I decide to start looking for a serious relationship, is this person someone I would consider an option? 
  • Is this, honestly, the type of person who would consider me a strong contender for a committed relationship, or are they just leeching? 

If you answer “no” to either of these, you should probably terminate the relationship. Situationships, at least in the romantic sense, are meant to be temporary, not a forever thing.

If you can answer “yes” to both of these questions, then you need to have a long talk with whomever you’re seeing when you feel the time is right. You need to tell them if you’re starting to need a commitment, and what you really want out of a relationship. Don’t wait until you’ve been “seeing” them for years and years, hoping that the relationship naturally blossoms – do it early so you don’t feel like you’ve wasted a substantial amount of time.

Don’t be alarmed if the other person has no interest in a deeper relationship. Process any grief you feel (which shouldn’t be a lot, since you were both aware that this was a situationship and not a serious relationship) and move on.

This can be a good learning experience, too. You can review your interactions with the other person and see if you missed any warning signs, gave in to grossly unfair compromises, or didn’t quite recognize the other party’s priorities sooner.

A situationship can be a healthy way to begin a relationship, but boundaries must still be set and you need to be upfront and honest if and when you start looking for something deeper and more significant. They can be fun and relieve stress, but if you’re aching for a deeper, more emotional relationship, a situationship will only bring frustration.

In the end, you need to analyze yourself and your circumstances. What are you looking for? If you aren’t ready for a commitment, then a situationship could be right for you.

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