Have you heard of a situationship? Maybe you don’t know the term, but it’s entirely possible that you’re in one. While the meaning of ‘situationship’ is still rather vague, it seems to be balanced precariously somewhere between friends-with-benefits and a relationship.
In all probability, when people are at a stage in their lives where they are not ready to make a serious commitment, or they have just come out of a long, toxic relationship, they get into situationships. If you’re looking for the literal meaning of the word, then Urban Dictionary says it’s a connection or bond between two partners without any specific label to define their situation.
The classic situationship vs. relationship difference is that commitment has no existence in this agreement. When you are in a situationship, you are allowed to see other people and make your own life decisions without feeling guilty about not checking with your partner. In most cases, this kind of arrangement eventually makes room for situationship red flags.
To bring more clarity on situationships, and round up some signs that you might be in one, we got some insights from psychotherapist Hvovi Bhagwagar (M.A. in Clinical Psychology), who has over two decades of experience in the field of mental health practice, training, and research. Defining a situationship is still difficult. But if you’re wondering about situationship vs friends-with-benefits dynamics, or looking for signs to end a situationship, read on.
What Exactly Is A Situationship?
“Any kind of relationship (queer or heterosexual) which hasn’t been legalized/formalized, and where a sense of commitment is lacking, is a situationship,” Hvovi says. In other words, a relationship that has no clear definition, where you’re ‘seeing each other’ but not ‘dating’, where it’s simply a convenient situation for one or both of you, can be termed a situationship.
From a distance, situationships look very glamorous and let’s face it, somewhat alluring too. Who doesn’t want to enjoy all the sex without having to deal with the ‘where is this relationship going?’ bullet shot at them? But the real drama begins after you get into this sort of a relationship. I have seen couples struggle with different signs of a toxic situationship and terrible situationship anxiety. Let me give you a few examples:
Scenario 1: Here, the couple engages in absolutely amazing sex and have emotional intimacy. One of them is going on frequent dates to keep their options open and this makes the other partner sad, frustrated, and anxious. But they both agreed on this situationship from the very beginning, so the partner who feels neglected finally admits that they want more.
Scenario 2: It’s only the physical act that’s drawing the couple close. They don’t connect on an emotional level. It’s one of those situationships where one partner leaves the apartment right after the lovemaking. And again, the other partner falls back to feeling taken for granted.
Scenario 3: This is a type of situationship without sex. They meet, they talk, but sexual intimacy is still a few steps away. When you are in a situationship like this, the thought of “Will this person ever fall for me completely?” or “Will it ever lead to something worthwhile?” keeps you awake at night.
Are there any situationship rules?
We can’t really hand you over a rulebook on situationship signs. In fact, if you go to a friend for advice on this matter, you may have to hear, “You knew what you were getting yourself into.”
While they have a fair point, people outside this loop often do not understand that it’s not always in your hand. Sometimes, we cannot control our urge to be with a certain person despite being fully aware of all the signs of a toxic situationship. That being said, I would like to offer you a few pearls of wisdom to prevent you from shattering your heart and soul in this process.
Overtly expressed emotions can poison a situationship. In most cases, situationships fall apart because one person has caught feelings and the other is still a free bird. It’s better to fight your feelings for them until you see a sense of reciprocation from your partner.
Be concerned about your self-respect more than anything. If you try to set foot into their life crossing the situationship boundaries, and start to expect relationship benefits, that may not end well. Forcing a person to fall in love with you will only chase them away.
There is another way to deal with the situationship anxiety and insecurities – you keep your options open too. Go on a couple of dates but this should not look like you are trying to keep score or make the other person jealous. And last but not the least, always, always have protected sex – be smart about your health.
How Do You Know If You Are In A Situationship And Not A Relationship? (10 Signs)
The more loosely defined and vague your connection is, the more likely it is that you’re in a situationship. If you’re thinking about a situationship vs friends-with-benefits scenario, remember that friends-with-benefits also has a definition, as long as both sides are on the same page.
In a situationship, it’s likely that one of you is a little more committed than the other, and since there are never any discussions about where you stand, you’re basically floating in relationship limbo. You could even be in a long-distance situationship, which brings its own complications.
“Friends-with-benefits is a no-strings-attached sexual relationship. The dynamics and boundaries are ‘clear’ in that way. In a situationship, the couple is in such a place where the relationship boundaries are undefined so, it is neither merely casual sex nor is it a dating relationship,” Hvovi points out. If you’re uncertain about your status and wondering whether or not you’re in a situationship, here are 10 signs you probably are:
1. The relationship is inconsistent
When we try to pinpoint the exact meaning of situationship, inconsistency is one of the first words to come to mind because one, or both, of you isn’t clear on what you’re doing with each other or where things stand between you. Maybe your affection for them depends on your mood or you just like having them around when you’re lonely. Either way, there’s no steady thread of feeling binding you.
One moment they’re love-bombing you, the next thing you know, it’s been 2 weeks and you haven’t heard from them. On Monday, they tell you they’re going to meet you for sure on Friday, but they cancel at the last minute or don’t follow up at all. Inconsistency is one of the biggest situationship red flags.
“I was seeing this girl off-and-on for about three months,” says 27-year-old Michael. “She was fun and we had a great time. But she would disappear for days on end, and then suddenly reappear and shower me with affection all over again. I really had no idea when I would see her next, or what we were doing.”
While people and relationships evolve and change, consistency is a key component of committed, healthy relationships. Even if you haven’t planned out the rest of your lives, at least some of your ideas about the future should align.
Related Reading: Love Maps: How It Helps To Build A Strong Relationship
2. You haven’t defined the relationship
Defining the relationship or DTR is still the scariest conversation to have in a fledgling relationship. Let’s face it, we’re always afraid the other person may not want the same thing or they probably don’t like us as much as we like them. “In a situationship, the partners might not be willing to have a discussion regarding giving the relationship a name/tag,” Hvovi says. So, forget having ‘the talk’, even hinting at having the talk is sometimes not an option.
Defining the relationship would mean all kinds of expectations and opening up to each other about common relationship goals and other intimate matters. Obviously, if one of you is content to let the situationship float along as it is, you won’t want to discuss changing it in any way. In fact, while a situationship is inconsistent in every other way, perhaps the only consistency will be the fear of emotional change or letting feelings enter the picture.
3. One or both of you is seeing other people
So, you haven’t defined the relationship – you haven’t discussed it in so many words that you can see other people but you are. And, you’re left wondering if this is an open relationship or a situationship vs. relationship scenario. At the end of the day, you are super confused about your next move.
What do the situationship rules dictate anyway? As far as we can tell, a situationship has very few rules – it’s sort of a law unto itself. So, it could mean that it’s okay to see other people but the glitch is that you probably won’t discuss it or lay down any ground rules before getting into it.
“I went out with this guy I met on a dating app for 6 months,” says Tanya, 24. “We’d never agreed to be exclusive, but we did meet almost every weekend, and it started to feel like it might be something. And then, I realized we both were still on the dating app and seeing other people. We never talked about it though.” If one or both of you are seeing other people and there’s been no discussion about it, it’s a definite sign that you’re in a situationship and not a relationship.
4. The ‘relationship’ is based on convenience
We’re not saying relationships need to be inconvenient to be real, but life does get inconvenient when you try to adjust your plans and schedules with someone else’s, along with having a strong emotional dependency. Someone who loves you and wants to be with you will navigate those inconveniences and stick to you no matter what.
That is the basic situationship vs. relationship difference. In a situationship, it will be all about what’s easy. Do you happen to live in the same area? Is it some sort of an office romance where you are dating a co-worker? Are you just generally available to each other on short notice? As long as that stands, you’ll be seeing each other. But as soon as it takes extra effort, you’ll notice a marked drop in communication and meetings.
If you’re not making any effort to see each other unless circumstances throw you together or you really need a date and they’re available, it’s leaning toward a situationship. If in a long-distance scenario, you’re not making an effort to talk to each other or have periodical cyber-dates, it’s more of a long-distance situationship without sex. And, as always, there won’t be any conversation about expectations and rules.
Related Reading: 10 Signs Your Relationship Is Just A Fling And Nothing More
5. No one’s meeting the family or friends
So many rom-coms revolve around a convenient date to a family wedding which eventually turns into a passionate romantic affair. This could happen in a situationship, but it’s more likely you won’t be meeting each other’s families or friends at all. “Socially, a situationship doesn’t resemble a couple dynamic. There might not be a readiness to even inform social circles or family circles about the person,” Hvovi says.
“I don’t want questions from my folks or my friends,” says 25-year-old Sally, who enjoys her casual situationships. “I’m not ready to sit around and discuss what my bond with a person looks like or where it’s heading. I’m okay with not knowing what it is, and I don’t want to be put on the spot. So, I keep my dates away from my social circles.”
Meeting the family is often seen as a major step in a relationship, a sign that it’s becoming serious. Since a situationship isn’t really meant to be heading anywhere, you won’t find yourself at their family home or at their sister’s birthday or having Sunday brunch with their friends.
6. You don’t celebrate special occasions together
Is it your birthday? They either won’t know the date or will perhaps send a text message and wash their hands off the matter. When it comes to Christmas or other holidays, we’ve already discussed that you won’t be unwrapping presents around the family Christmas tree or sharing a festive meal together. Because all situationship signs clearly say that family is off-limits.
In all likelihood, people involved in a situationship would spend special occasions and holidays with people other than this ‘situational person’. Again, sending someone a special birthday gift or flowers would require you to get to know them well and their personal preferences. It’s also a sign you were thinking of them which doesn’t fall under situationship rules.
Now, a situationship doesn’t mean you don’t care about each other at all, but celebrating special days together has an underlying comfort and intimacy that you probably haven’t achieved in your connection. You might wish them well but you won’t be saying it with flowers.
7. Dates are not very frequent
You might get together a few times a month but you’re not planning date nights quite often. When a cute, new café opens in town, they’re not the first person you think of. When the weekend rolls around, they’re vaguely on your mind but you’re not spending Friday night together as per situationship rules.
“I met a girl at work and we hit it off,” says Kristen. “We went out a few times and had fun. We didn’t talk about where things were heading, so we never really broke up or anything. We continued to see each other sometimes but there was no thought or expectation of spending every weekend together.”
Planning dates and sharing time with someone shows that they are a significant part of your life and this relationship truly means something to you. You get to know one another and make memories in the process. On the flip side, putting enough effort to plan and actually make a date night happen, or taking a short overnight trip together, are not the prime characteristics of a situationship.
8. There’s no deep connection
Everything we do in a relationship – spending time together, meeting family and friends, etc. – is to build emotional intimacy and a strong connection with the person we’re seeing. “In a situationship,” says Hvovi, “The partners might be awkward expressing their feelings to each other and prefer to stay at the stage of casual talk or casual sex. There will be little interest in going beyond the surface and getting to know the other person on a deeper level.”
Again, a parallel could be drawn here with friends-with-benefits. But honestly, it doesn’t look like there’s always a lot of friendship involved here either. In fact, to call someone a friend would also mean defining the relationship, and a situationship falls outside those parameters.
9. No discussions about the future
A situationship depends on the here and the now. There’s no thinking ahead, and no plans are made that take each other into account. You either don’t know each other well enough or you’re still so uncertain of where you stand, that you don’t see a future together. After all, if you are not sure about when you’re going to see your partner again, looking ahead seems futile.
This isn’t to say you could never have a future together. If that’s something you want, it’s vital to have that discussion with the other person and make sure they’re on the same page. Also, introspect a little and see if they’re on your mind when you’re making future plans, and see if you feature in theirs. When the answers are not very promising, well, you’re in a situationship.
10. Maybe you have feelings, but it’s not love
A situationship might be based on convenience, but that doesn’t mean there are no feelings involved. It’s possible you have a certain warmth for the other person, and it may even be reciprocated. There could be affection, friendship, and genuine enjoyment of each other’s company. But that doesn’t mean it’s true love.
It’s not really easy to define love in any specific way either. But it’s safe to say that for love, you’ll go the extra mile. You’ll want to take care of them when they’re sick and coughing and look like something out of The Exorcist. You’ll want to know their quirks and eccentricities. And you won’t mind making an effort to align your life with theirs. Love is to acknowledge strong feelings and act on them every day. A situationship, while it can contain feelings, won’t go all the way with them.
How Do You Handle A Situationship?
Hvovi says, “While the terminology around relationships might have changed with the turn of the millennium, our brains continue to process emotions in a timeless and universal manner. So, our attachment needs toward a partner have a very instinctive basis to it. We find comfort and security in a partnership where there is consistency and commitment. Any relationship that doesn’t have access to deep emotional intimacy or a sense of commitment is unlikely to lead to fulfillment for either partner.”
Related Reading: 11 Signs You Are In A Complicated Relationship
She adds, “While situationships might have temporary advantages, such as the couple knows one of them is relocating and want to be in a partnership until then, most people look for long-term relationships. If you feel dissatisfied with the shaky foundation of your dynamic, and can see the tell-tale signs to end a situationship, then it’s best to have a heart-to-heart with your partner and share your feelings. If they don’t want a commitment, it’s best to move on.
“For this generation, it appears that using less ‘confining’ terms (such as dating, boyfriend/girlfriend/partner, going steady) to define a relationship leaves them with more choices. Also, due to social media, most young couples find their lives completely exposed to the world, and the pressure on them is fairly high. Using ambiguous terms to define a partnership allows them to have relationships without social expectations, and also allows sexual exploration and sexual agency.
“However, if we go by the way our bodies and minds are attuned to relationships, we are instinctively not cut out for ill-defined partner roles. Ambiguity in relationships can reduce attraction, and lead to poor sexual intimacy. A number of studies have also recently explored how the hookup culture has brought to light the misogyny, sexual violence, and attachment insecurity in partnerships. So, the advantages and disadvantages need to be explored mindfully by a couple before either gets emotionally affected.”
While there’s no fixed timeline for a situationship, it should only continue till both partners are on the same page. If one of you is more committed, or looking for more commitment, the relationship power dynamic is imbalanced and this can lead to misery and an unhealthy situation.
Be clear about what you want from a relationship. Are you all right with a casual, no-strings-attached situation, or do you want more? Then, talk to your ‘situation partner’. Find out if they’re on the same page. If not, end things. You can perhaps remain on friendly terms, but make your terms clear when walking away from a situationship.
Yes, if both parties want to. A situationship is when you don’t define where you stand, so to turn it into a relationship, you will need to dig deeper and see what your feelings for each other are, and how far you’re willing to go for the relationship.