Situationships: The Wrong Way to Find Mr. Right

Situationships—relationships that are not quite relationships—are ambiguous, resulting in uncertainty, hurt, and unrest.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Nada Hameed

You shiver and can see your breath in the freezing cold mist that envelops 14th Street. The boy standing in front of you begins to take off his jacket, thrifted from L Train Vintage, and offers it to you, but you refuse and push his hand away. It is below freezing tonight, after all. He grabs your hand and holds it in his pocket as he rests his chin on top of your head. This usually brings you comfort, but today, you feel tense. You feel the urge to ask him, “What are we? Where is this going?”

This isn’t a unique incident. These are common thoughts for those who are more than friends but not in an official relationship with someone. They’re not friends with benefits, which occurs when two people casually hook up, but they’re also not in an official relationship in which the terms and end goals are defined and acknowledged. They’ve never defined the nature of their relationship or put a label on what they have. It’s a situationship—a relationship that’s not quite a relationship.

In adolescence, many are eager to experience and explore romantic relationships without any pressure to commit, hence why situationships have become popular in recent years. For the increasing number of people who choose to marry later and opt out of long-term commitment, situationships may suit their lifestyles best. The pandemic brought along increased isolation, loneliness, and consequently, the craving for attention, affection, and human companionship. As a result, situationships have increased.

In situationships, two people become immersed in each other’s lives. They spend an excessive amount of time with each other, fostering a close bond and growing accustomed to the affection, intimacy, and romance the other offers. At the same time, situationships are a gray area between a friendship and a committed relationship, leading to constant ambiguity and uncertainty. Situationships offer almost everything a relationship offers, except commitment and stability. They provide the convenience of having some sort of romantic partner without needing to put effort into a full-fledged, official relationship.

Though you want his answer to the questions that muddle your mind, you don’t ask. You are too afraid to even introduce the topic: what if his answer isn’t what you want to hear? Neither of you know what to do next. Those on the receiving end of the undesired response may feel awkward, embarrassed, or hurt, while the other may feel guilty or callous. The relationship changes after that discussion takes place.

Thus, we stay in situationships, regardless of how nebulous they are, because they seem easier than the alternative of having the “what are we?” conversation. We don’t want to lose the other person in the situationship, especially if feelings have developed. We’d rather stay in it—even without the devotion, commitment, and security—rather than not have them at all.

In situationships, the lack of a label causes our minds to be clouded by uncertainty. We replay every moment, glance, and interaction in our heads, because we simply do not know. Due to all of the confusion, both parties are often not on the same page. Frequently, one person develops stronger, romantic feelings and wants something more, while the other prefers the relationship the way that it is. This imbalance can cause frustration, resentment, sadness, and unresolved feelings. Understandably, it is emotionally taxing to provide all of the benefits a relationship has to offer while not receiving commitment.

What hurts the most in a situationship is that we search for the completion of ourselves in a relationship. Relationships make us feel as though we are worthy of someone’s love and that we match their expectations. We perceive situationships more as a reflection of our character. They make us feel as though we are unworthy of exclusivity and commitment. We search for relationships to feel loved and wanted, and in a situationship, that’s what we yearn but do not receive.

It’s true that labels are just words, but those labels help to establish boundaries that ensure stability and reliability. They ensure both parties are on the same page, and they ensure no one is set up for disappointment when finding out what the other person wants. No one is giving exclusive, concentrated attention and effort to people who aren’t doing the same.

When situationships end, many people will tell you, “but you didn’t even date them” in an effort to provide comfort, but that’s exactly the problem with situationships. Technically, there was never anything there to break off, but those feelings were still genuine. When situationships end, you hold on to that glimmer of hope and constantly wonder what a relationship with them would’ve been like. Moving on from an actual relationship may even be easier than a situationship because you’ve already experienced each other and your flaws—there’s a lower chance of idealization and romanticization. Unofficial, undefined relationships are still relationships, and the emotions involved in them are not any less real.

Romantic relationships are complex, but even bad encounters with some of them can serve as a lesson. Despite all of their ambiguity, situationships provide us with the opportunity to learn and discover more about who we are and what we are looking for.

At the end, you realize the answers to the very questions you want to ask him. This never meant something to him and was never really going anywhere. You realize it is more important to prioritize yourself and not settle. It’s difficult to extricate yourself from a relationship that’s ultimately unhealthy for you. However, at the end of the day, it’s not possible to make someone love and commit to you by giving them more of what they don’t already appreciate.