Urban Dictionary defines a “situationship” as:
“A relationship that has no label on it… like a friendship but more than a friendship but not quite a relationship.”
Modern dating dictionary has a slew of these confusing terms: ghosting, breadcrumbing, zombie-ing, benching. You name it.
But apparently, situationships are now the new norm amongst millennials.
If you find yourself confused about the status of your relationship, (if you can even call it that) you might have unwittingly entered a situation.
Let’s find out everything there to know about situationships and what to do if you’re in one.
What’s a “situationship”?
Dating and Relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan puts a more official definition on situationship, defining it as:
“It’s a pseudo-relationship. A placebo masking itself as a relationship, but the reality is that it is not.”
The worst thing is that this pseudo-relationship is now considered the new normal in modern romantic relationships.
So to give it to you simply: a situationship is like your ordinary relationship, except that ironically it is not labeled as one.
You date someone, do the normal relationship things with them, except you can’t call them your girlfriend or boyfriend.
Ultimately, you absolutely can not define this relationship. The question “what are we?” simply can’t come up, whether or not by choice.
Doing so would ruin the already fragile parameters of whatever it is you’re doing.
Think your casual flings and hookups are bad? Situationships are actually much, much worse. In fact, it’s downright toxic.
So if you find yourself relating to these 11 things, then we’ve got some bad news for you, you’re definitely in a situationship.
Sign #1. You haven’t DTR
You haven’t “Defined The Relationship.”
You’re kind of together. You may even have a toothbrush at each other’s place, maybe even a drawer. And you do everything that normal couples do.
Except you are not a couple.
You avoid the words “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” like a plague.
According to licensed counselor Nicole Richardson, this is becoming common in millennial dating.
“People are increasingly terrified to have the relationship conversation because vulnerability is scary.
“In the digital age, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be open, sincere and vulnerable. We don’t want to put ourselves out there unless we are sure the other person will reciprocate our feelings.”
You’re in a situationship if you keep finding yourself justifying your lack of label.
However, sooner or later one or both of you will be sick of the ambiguity and come to an ultimatum.
Sign #2. You don’t talk about the future
Not only do you avoid labeling the relationship, but you don’t even talk about the future.
Making long-term plans of any kind is completely off the table.
You don’t make plans even for a weekend away.
Either you’re just too afraid to ask and get rejected, or you’re scared the other person has plans with someone else.
According to life coach Kali Rogers:
“If you have been together for at least … a year and a half and have not talked about future plans for progressing the relationship, that’s not a good sign. If your partner is not discussing future endeavors with you, chances are they aren’t completely invested for the long haul.”
You know you’re in a situationship if any kind of future is off-limits. Maybe it’s too much pressure. Maybe it’s too early to make any sort of plans.
Or maybe one or both of you don’t see each other in your lives in the foreseeable future.
Sign #3. You don’t know each other’s friends
Introducing a partner to your friends often signifies a relationship is going serious. It’s a big step in any real relationship. It’s a good sign that this person wants you in their life.
Otherwise, it’s a red flag.
According to therapist Tracy Ross:
“If you are feeling a large degree of uncertainty introducing them is not a good idea.”
If you haven’t met each other’s friends and you’ve been dating for a while, or there are absolutely no plans of doing so in the future, then you’re probably in a situationship.
Sign #4. You’re exclusively dating.
What separates a friends-with-benefits scenario from a situationship is that you are probably not seeing other people.
Situationships are typically a gray area in dating. Sometimes it’s that stage between meeting each other to becoming a couple. But most of the time it’s just a gray area you stay in.
According to La Salle University professor Marianne Dainton, who is specializing in interpersonal communication, it might be because of fear of rejection.
“We are looking at a generation of people afraid of harming their face, people who want to remain free of being rejected. People underestimate how much saving face is an essential part of young adults’ behavior patterns and that it interferes with their expectations.”
Sign #5. You have feelings for this person, but it doesn’t feel like love
You feel comfortable with this person, and they excite you just enough that you stay in a situationship with them.
But you don’t love them. Perhaps this is the reason why you’re staying in this gray area after all.
And you think that being in this situation is better than being alone, so you simply settle for whatever it is you two have.
According to dating coach and image consultant Neely Steinberg, whatever you choose to call it, it just doesn’t have anything that binds a real couple
“They’re all offshoots of one another and all getting at the same thing: two people who enjoy each other’s company and like each other, but are scared for whatever reasons to actually give the ‘relationship’ more weight.”
Sign #6. You’re basically single during important events
You go alone to important events like weddings, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or holidays you share with your loved ones.
This is a classic sign the relationship isn’t going anywhere.
According to Eliza Boquin, owner of The Relationship & Sexual Wellness Center:
“People who want to build a future together blend their lives — they don’t keep them separated. It may be a sign that they’re either hiding something, or they just don’t see a future with you.”
Deep inside, you really consider yourself single and don’t even consider bringing the other person as a plus one. This is a part of your life you’re holding back from and you just don’t know why.
Sign #7. You sleep at each others’ place on a routine basis
In a situationship, you’re so comfortable with each other, that you can even be practically moved-in.
You don’t hook up and leave after sex. You actually hang out with them and do domesticated activities with them.
But somehow, it’s not a big deal or anything exciting. To you, it’s just normal. And maybe that’s what the problem is.
According to dating coach and author Samantha Burns:
“It’s like you’re playing house by pretending you’re in a relationship, but with no real consistency, dependency or reliability. You might go out on a date, Netflix and chill, or go grocery shopping together.
“It can be a confusing and nebulous time in the relationship, full of uncertainty about what you are and where it’s going.”
Simply put, your relationship is largely physical with just breadcrumbs of permanence and a little bit of emotional openness. But not so much that it’s a real relationship.
Sign #8. You don’t “date” each other
You’re not “dating.” You don’t plan activities that you might especially enjoy together. There’s no effort to surprise or woo one another.
No fancy dinners, holding hands at the beach, or anything romantic that might be too “couple-y.”
It’s especially alarming if you don’t do anything together during the weekends.
According to dating coach Karenna Alexander:
“When a guy is in love, he wants to spend Saturdays and much of the weekend with you. Weekends are down time and fun, and if you aren’t going to spend it with your girlfriend, it’s clear that this guy is not super into you and probably has no intentions of settling down.”
Simply, a situationship doesn’t give you that thrilling experience when you’re spending time with someone you love.
Sign #9. There are no “signs” of you as a couple
According to psychologist Antonio Borrello, you’re in a situationship if:
“You haven’t taken any pictures together or haven’t posted anything to social media alluding to any sort of idea that you’re in a “pseudo-relationship.”
You’re both “ghosts” in each other’s lives—outside of one another, nobody knows of your existence.
It’s not because you’re intentionally hiding each other, but you don’t make an effort of showing them around either.
Sign #10. You’re dating someone who says they don’t want commitment
The worst part is, you’ve entered a situationship explicitly knowing that one or both of you don’t want to be committed.
This may not be a bad thing if you both genuinely don’t want to be in a real relationship.
However, you’re in for heartbreak if one of you starts developing feelings for the other.
Especially if you’re wondering why they don’t want to commit and want to change it.
According to psychologist Ryan Howes:
“It could mean they have fears of being stuck or feeling suffocated in a relationship, or that they struggle with ambivalence and doubt major decisions, including their relationships. Or they are polyamorous and have great difficulty with monogamy.
“Or maybe they have a tendency to gravitate toward people who are a poor match and the relationships quickly disintegrate. Or they so deeply fear feeling rejected that they end relationships prematurely with a pre-emptive strike.”
These sound like issues that are out of your grasp.
Sign #11. You have insanely amazing sexual chemistry
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Having mind-boggling sex can be the primary reason why you’re staying in a pseudo-relationship.
Maybe it’s not fulfilling you emotionally, but sex can feel like a cure for loneliness, which is probably why many people choose to settle for a situationship.
It’s one of those things that feel like, “having something is better than nothing.”
But don’t mistake sex for intimacy. There’s a big difference.
According to psychologist and marriage and family counselor Marie Hartwell-Walker.
“Intimacy is what most people long for but not everyone finds, or rather, makes. Why? Because intimacy, true closeness with another human being, can also be scary. Getting to the intimate core of a relationship requires that both people work through their fear.”
Sign #12. You’re always anxious
When you’re in a situation that has no security, it’s normal to feel anxious.
A situationship is not a relationship built on trust or commitment. You have no idea where you stand or what you’re role is in the other person’s life.
All of these insecurities can lead you to be anxious.
Relationship expert Abby Medcalf says:
“You know you’re in a situationship when you feel anxious because there’s uncertainty, ambiguity, and ambivalence.”
Sign #13. It’s getting boring
Relationships are constantly working towards something if couples want to keep that spark alive.
But if it’s not going anywhere right from the start, it’s bound to get stale real quick.
Matchmaker Christie Tcharkhoutian says:
“If it’s vague, doesn’t have direction, and doesn’t have any structure, it’s going to be stale, and it’s not going to be fun anymore.”
Situationships might feel exciting at first, but the lack of plans can be monotonous in the long run.
Situationships aren’t necessarily a bad thing
We all have different needs at different points in our lives, especially when it comes to romantic relationships.
Situationships aren’t inherently bad. In fact, it can be a good thing. But there’s a big “if.”
First, both people should be aware that they’re in a situationship.
If the situation is established, boundaries are clear, and if both agree that they’re not truly a couple, then there’s nothing wrong in being in this situation.
Situationships can also be ideal if you’re not so settled in your personal life. It’s an ideal situation if you’re still figuring things out.
Mental health counselor Justine Carino says:
“If you are spending time in a temporary location like traveling abroad or being temporarily relocated from work, a situationship might be a good thing. If you know right from the beginning that the relationship will most likely come to an end, you may have less of a need to define it.”
In truth, a situation can be a convenient “compromise” for two people who want the companionship, but not the deeper strings attached to it.
How to end a situationship
But if you do find yourself in an unwanted situationship, you’re in for a real heartbreak.
CEO of Plum dating app, Jenna Berch, says:
“Situationships can become painful if you want something more from the person you’re seeing, and they’re simply not on the same page. If you want a commitment, having someone slot you low on their list of priorities is not going to feel fun — especially if you know they are dating others. That hurts.”
If you’ve found yourself in one of these painful situations, you might be wondering how to end it.
How do you do so?
1. Be honest.
Honesty is always the best policy, especially in situationships. Don’t make it any more complicated by lying or keeping your feelings to yourself.
According to licensed marriage and family therapist Anna Osborn:
“Honest, kind and straightforward communication during a break up conversation not only allows for it to be as ‘clean’ as possible but it also gives the other person the answers they may need for closing the chapter on this relationship.”
The sooner you be honest with yourself, the sooner you can deal with your pain and start moving on. It’s also better for the other person involved.
2. Break up in person.
It’s not a real relationship, that’s true. But that doesn’t mean you can end it haphazardly. Be a mature adult and break the situationship off in person.
Maybe it won’t go as planned, but at least you were brave enough to end it in person.
However, if you feel that your situationship wasn’t deep enough for a personal conversation to be necessary, then a thoughtful and well-crafted text can be acceptable.
“You can break it off in person, but I think that’s less necessary these days,” she says. “It’s better to carefully craft a perfect text that conveys exactly what you want to say. Keep it short; they’ll follow up if they have questions.”
What to say exactly? Birch recommends something along the lines of:
“‘Hey. I’ve really enjoyed our time together, but I’m not ready for a relationship and don’t think we’re on the same page there. I wish you all the best!'”
How to turn a situationship into a real relationship
You might want the opposite.
Perhaps you feel that there’s some potential between the two of you that it can become a real and serious relationship.
But is it possible to do so? And what are the chances?
It’s unique to every couple and every situation. But here are some things you can do before you dump the bucket.
Have an open conversation
According to psychologist and interpersonal communication professor Marianne Dainton, it’s important that the situationship started with a deep understanding, open communication, and respect for each other.
“The ideal way is to make sure it’s a setting where you can have an honest conversation and no one is an altered state.”
Timing is key.
Dainton emphasizes that it’s a bad idea to pop the question of “what are we?” before or after sex.
Choose the right timing, when both of you are calm and rational.
As to exactly how to handle that conversation, licensed marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson advises:
“I think the way to handle that is to say, ‘Hey, this is the kind of relationship I’m looking for. I don’t know what you want, but this is what I want. And if that’s not what you’re looking for, that’s cool, but I’m going to looking for something else.
“Not like an ultimatum… But basically say, ‘It’s OK if we don’t want the same thing, but please tell me.'”
Be honest about what you want out of the situationship.
Let them “chase” after you.
Sometimes, a little hard-to-get play can work wonders.
Don’t mistake this advice for being rude and unkind though, but it might be useful to let them “chase” you instead of actively trying to “catch” them.
“It might work in the moment, or for a few weeks or months, but it doesn’t come from his heart and it’s not lasting. You have forced him to do something, and he likely – on some level – resents you for telling him what to do.”
If the outcome is good, you’ll benefit from the security that knowing it’s a real relationship. If not, then at least you’re not wasting any more time and energy on a relationship that’s not giving you what you need.
How to avoid a situationship
The truth is, no matter how common situationships are nowadays, you can hardly call it ideal.
If you deliberately want a no-strings-attached relationship, then a situationship could be good for you.
However, if you’re a person who likes being in clear and committed relationships, you should avoid ending up in such a sticky situation.
Here are some steps you could follow if you know what’s good for you:
Know what you really want.
Here’s a piece of solid advice that would do you well in any romantic situation:
Before you try to commit to a relationship, you first need to figure out what you really want. Knowing what you don’t want is equally just as important.
Clear goals and standards of what your ideal relationship is will help you attract the right partner. And it will save you the wasted time, effort, and heartache, too.
Psychotherapist Arlene B. Englander advises:
“Two key questions to ask oneself are: Does this person share my lifetime goals and dreams? Do I feel better about myself when I am with this person? The first question deals with the practicality of the relationship.
“If we want marriage and children and we’re out with somebody who tells us that they’ll never commit to a permanent relationship, we’d do best to tell ourselves to move on, rather than falling for the fantasy of ‘once they love me they’ll change.’
“The second question deals with the equally important issue of how they’re treating us. If their eyes are drifting off of us and onto any other eligible single in the room, leaving us feeling slightly edgy, that’s a wake-up call for us to look further — for a new relationship.”
Be honest with your potential partner. But most importantly, be honest to yourself as well.
A lot of pain can be avoided if only we’re all brave and honest enough to ask the right questions and say what we really mean.
People end up in situationships because they’re too scared of admitting that they want to be in a committed relationship or they’re simply too scared of being single.
But would you rather be honest and move on from a situation you don’t want to be in—or waste your time being stuck in an unhappy arrangement?
According to licensed psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith:
“When you have a relationship and a family, you need to know that everyone is on the same page, and this is hard to do unless both of you are being honest.
“What honesty gives you is a great deal of comfort. Knowing you can implicitly trust your mate allows you to be your best self, and your relationship will continue to thrive because you are able to give each other the positive energy you need to navigate life’s ups and downs.”
Staying true to yourself and what you want is also extremely crucial.
Ohio State University psychology professor Amy Brunell says:
“If you’re true to yourself, it is easier to act in ways that build intimacy in relationships, and that’s going to make your relationship more fulfilling.”
Situationships are complicated and toxic in the sense that these relationships don’t really progress to anything. However, situationships are actually the kind of relationships that last longer than you intend.
This is because you feel that there is a semblance of something, just enough to keep you stay. You think that this will change eventually, but it doesn’t.
In the end, what you have is half of something that won’t ever turn into anything at all.
And to be honest, you ‘re much better being alone than to be with someone only halfway.
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