Relationships

What Exactly Is A 'Situationship'?

Relationship experts say this dating dynamic has pros and cons.

Dating in this day and age comes with a dictionary’s worth of funny lingo ― from “half-night stands” and “monogamish” to “orbiting,” “curving” and “serendipidating.” Recently, I’ve noticed a term for a specific kind of romantic connection cropping up more often in memes, love articles and conversations among friends: “situationship.”

Assuming you’ve dipped your toes into the dating waters, odds are you’ve found yourself in a situationship of sorts at some time. Maybe it’s even been a more frequent experience for you than traditional relationships. On an early episode of the U.S. edition of “Love Island,” one contestant declared, “I’ve never had a proper relationship. I’ve been in situationships, but never an actual relationship.”

But what exactly is a situationship? And what are the upsides and downsides of this type of dynamic? HuffPost spoke to a number of relationship experts to find out.

Situationships can be fulfilling under the right circumstances, but they can also lead to confusion and hurt feelings. 
Situationships can be fulfilling under the right circumstances, but they can also lead to confusion and hurt feelings. 

What Is A Situationship?

“A situationship is a romantic connection that in most cases serves a short-term need in one or both partners but may or may not evolve into something more stable or meaningful,” said Damona Hoffman, a dating coach and host of the “Dates & Mates” podcast.

“It’s like you’re playing house by pretending you’re in a relationship, but with no real consistency, dependency or reliability.”

Samantha Burns, a dating coach and the author of “Breaking Up & Bouncing Back,” described a situationship as a convenient “relationship” that lacks traditional labels and/or a defined, monogamous commitment. While this romantic connection typically involves hooking up, it can also include emotional intimacy and real friendship.

“It’s like you’re playing house by pretending you’re in a relationship, but with no real consistency, dependency or reliability,” said Burns. “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.”

If you’re in a situationship, you may have gone on a few dates or even been seeing each other for a few months, but you haven’t yet had the real DTR conversation.

How Common Is This?

Many attribute the rise of the “situationship” to a millennial tendency to eschew traditional romantic relationships. Hoffman said she first heard the term “situationship” about three or four years ago, and she believes this type of dynamic has become more common with the popularity of dating apps.

“To meet someone new even a decade ago, most people had to put out a lot of effort by going to bars, events, asking friends for setups, etc., and the return on your effort was often pretty low,” she explained. “Now apps have a low barrier for entry. You can create a profile in minutes and start swiping immediately with many matches at the swipe of a button. This has led to people going on more casual dates and putting people in wait-and-see mode until they see if someone better comes along or not, causing the rise of the situationship.”

In addition to allowing people to keep their options open, situationships are fairly common because “daters like to try it on for size before buying, aka entering into a committed relationship,” noted Burns. These connections offer the convenience of having a partner without needing to put work into a full-fledged relationship. Situationships also serve as safe havens for people who fear commitment or emotional vulnerability.

“The term ‘situationship’ is the latest incarnation in how to define a nontraditional romantic relationship,” said Seth Meyers, a psychologist and author of “Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.” Several experts noted that terms/phrases like “friends with benefits,” “fuck buddies,” “bootycalls,” “hanging out” and “it’s complicated” can fall under the same category as situationships.

“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,” said Neely Steinberg, a dating coach and image consultant.

What Are The Upsides?

As with most romantic connections, there are upsides and downsides to situationships.

“A positive is that perhaps you get to explore your feelings for the person, your sexuality, and how you operate within a kind of relationship, without the pressures that come with being in a defined relationship like boyfriend/girlfriend,” said Steinberg.

“By not settling down too soon and exploring nontraditional relationship dynamics, the individuals involved can use their experiences to better inform them about what they truly need from a romantic partner,” Meyers noted.

There’s also the benefit of getting your physical needs met and having a buddy by your side for various activities and events. Younger generations are putting off marriage to focus on their careers and personal growth, so situationships can be great for those who don’t have time for the obligations of a committed relationship.

“If both parties are aware of the undefined status and expectations of their relationship, it can be very fulfilling and convenient,” said Alysha Jeney, a therapist and owner of Modern Love Counseling in Denver. “If both parties understand their relationship and desire the same things from each other, it can make for a very satisfying situation.”

What Are The Downsides?

Unfortunately, both parties are often not on the same page. If one person has stronger feelings and wants to turn the situationship into a full-on relationship while the other prefers things the way they are, there can be insecurity, frustration, confusion, hurt feelings, resentment and other negative emotions that make for an unhealthy dynamic.

“A situationship is like false comfort and lacks true intimacy and vulnerability. This is a lazy way of dating since you’re half in and half out.”

- Dating coach Samantha Burns

“People can get stuck in this type of limbo for a long time and not know how to extricate themselves from something that is not ultimately healthy for them,” Steinberg said. She also believes the situationship dynamic doesn’t allow young people to practice important life skills like vulnerability, non-sexual intimacy, having difficult and awkward conversations, resilience, self-respect and boundaries.

“Also, it doesn’t teach people how to be alone and be OK with that or to just sit with the often uncomfortable feelings of being alone and learn how to move through those feelings,” she added.

Another problem with situationships is that they can meet enough of your needs that they stop you from pursuing a more fulfilling match with longer-term potential. So while having a somewhat steady person around can alleviate short-term loneliness, it can also distract you from the real goal of cultivating a committed relationship with a like-minded partner.

“A situationship is like false comfort and lacks true intimacy and vulnerability. This is a lazy way of dating since you’re half in and half out. You’re not truly courting someone or investing the effort a relationship needs to blossom,” Burns explained.

“A lot of singles struggle to get out of a situationship with the person they’re seeing and into a real relationship with them. This is mostly because neither partner is truly invested, or one is way more into the other person,” she continued. “People are constantly dating with a ‘grass is greener’ mentality, so they are hesitant to commit to one person, and are entering into short-lived situationships, rather than investing fully and giving a defined relationship a real chance.”

What Should You Do If You’re In A Situationship?

Situationships are common in a world full of easy dating options and less emphasis on commitment.

“It’s challenging to put in the vulnerable work to create and sustain a true connection because there so many avenues that support excitement and instant gratification,” said Jeney. “It doesn’t surprise me that a term like ‘situationships’ is a thing.”

But that doesn’t mean your dating life has to be situationship or bust.

“I’d encourage singles, especially young ones who are learning about themselves and relationships, to be honest with themselves about what feels right and good to them and to start learning how to trust in their inner voice or gut. If this type of ‘situation’ doesn’t feel right, believe in that and don’t settle for crumbs. You want and deserve the whole cake, right?” Steinberg said.

These experiences offer opportunities to develop self-awareness, which will serve you throughout your romantic life.

“If you find yourself in a situationship, yet deep down, don’t really like it and can be honest with yourself about that ... well, this is a great opportunity to explore that more,” Steinberg added. “Ask why you’d stay in something that doesn’t feel right or good. Your answers will tell you a lot about your unconscious, your views about yourself, relationships, love, etc. From there, from that place, you can start to make different choices that feel empowering and healthy to you.”