Relationships can be tricky, no matter what stage you’re in.
Anytime you’re interconnected with another person, even in a committed relationship, you each come to the table with your own questions, your own thoughts on romance, commitment and lovelife goals. You also have your own agendas about what you’re looking for in a partnership.
Sometimes your intentions are similar and you’re on the same page about the trajectory of where you might want things to go. Other times you’re in more of an undefined romantic relationship, with each person reading from a totally different book on commitment.
For both older people and young adults, behavior patterns can be hard to read and decipher, which is why having “the talk” with a romantic prospect is so important. Without communication, you could end up in what’s called a situationship—a relationship without a clear definition or goal.
If you’re not looking for anything serious or committed, this type of pseudo-partnership may work for you. But if you’re on the hunt for love, read on to better understand what exactly a situationship is and how to get out of one, so that you can find a real mature romance.
What is a situationship?
A situationship is any kind of ambiguous romantic relationship with no label on it. It’s not exactly a toxic relationship, in fact, a situationship can be quite a healthy relationship – it’s simply one that hasn’t been clearly defined, so you may not really know where you stand in the other person’s life. A situationship is essentially relationship purgatory—you’re not single, you’re not coupled up, you’re somewhere murky in between.
If you’re in a situationship, there will definitely be feelings involved, but you may not know exactly what those feelings are from the other person’s perspective. You’ll likely have a lot of questions about the state of your relationship status, including:
- Are you just casually dating each other?
- Are you considered each other’s girlfriend, boyfriend or partner?
- Are you exclusive?
These are all pretty easy questions to answer affirmatively when you’re in a true partnership with another person. Conversely, they’re easy no’s if you’re just hooking up with someone, or in a clear, agreed-upon friends-with-benefits type of relationship.
When your answers to these questions are clearly “I don’t know,” you’re probably in a situationship. At the very least, your relationship could benefit from an honest conversation ASAP – especially if you want to maintain that emotional connection moving forward.
Signs that you’re in a situationship, not a committed relationship
Here’s how to really know that you’re in a situationship. Aside from the above definition, there are clear red flags that tell you you’re in one. If you think your relationship could fall into this category, use the signs below to evaluate your partnership. (If you’re not sure, or aren’t ready to face the truth, enlist a trusted friend to support you and help you figure things out.)
Hopefully these signals of a situationship can provide some clarity on your current romantic situation. While you don’t have to have all of these things going on to designate your relationship as a situationship, typically if you can identify at least a few of these red flags then you may want to evaluate if this is the kind of partnership you really want to be in.
You’re not on the same page as the other person
You haven’t had the “what are we” talk:
This is the big talk that precedes pretty much every clear cut relationship. If you haven’t had the “defining the relationship” conversation, you could be in a situationship. If you did have the talk, but the conversation was inconclusive or left you with more questions than answers, that’s also a red flag.
Perhaps you intended to define the relationship but instead you both just agreed to take things slow or decided not to put a label on your relationship just yet. Either way, the relationship doesn’t have a clear definition, making it a quintessential situationship.
Communication is lacking
You’re not hanging out or communicating consistently.
When you’re dating someone or in a clearly defined relationship, you expect to see them or hear from them on a regular basis. Maybe you have a weekly date night. Or perhaps you send each other goodnight texts before bed.
However, when you’re in a situationship, you may go a week without hearing from the person you’re seeing. Or you may text a bunch for a few days and then the person goes dark the next day. You may hang out all weekend and then not see each other—or have clear plans to see each other—for a while.
If you’re not sure when you’ll see them or communicate with them next, you’re in a situationship.
Things are one-sided with the other person
You’re waiting around to hear from them.
Speaking of communication, when you’re in a situationship, you’re likely checking your phone constantly wondering when you’re going to hear from the other person. You might not make plans with friends (or just with yourself) because you want to keep your schedule open in case the person does happen to call or text you asking to hang out.
While you could just drop them a line yourself, you may tend to wait for them to make the first move because you feel unsure about taking the lead—or you’re worried that coming on too strong will scare them away.
You’re not sure if you want the same thing
You feel like you don’t know where you stand.
If you have anxious feelings about your relationship, this is a major emotional sign of a situationship. Of course, you’re never going to be able to read someone else’s mind, but you should at least have a sense of what you are to each other and how the person really feels about you.
It’s only a nighttime thing
You don’t see each other in the daylight.
Typically, in a real relationship, you’ll hang out any time of day. In a situationship, your together time may lean more toward the nighttime hours. You’ll meet up at a bar in the evening or go to the other person’s place for a late-night booty call. The most time you’ll spend together when the sun’s up is when one of you is sneaking out to go back to your own place.
The convos are deep enough
You don’t talk about anything other than surface-level stuff.
Situationships may be more about convenience or boredom than about true partnership. When you get together, you might chat about common interests, mutual friends and pop culture stuff, just like you would in a real relationship. But you likely don’t get much deeper than that.
You spend a lot of time analyzing their every move.
In a relationship, you don’t usually second-guess your partner—unless you’re going through a rough patch or having insecurity issues. These things happen to all of us from time to time. But in a situationship, you’re second-guessing the other person, and yourself, pretty much all the time.
You might pour over their texts trying to figure out what they really meant by something. You overthink the things they do (and don’t do). You basically drive yourself (and your friends) crazy by reading way too much into every little thing.
You’re worried they’re playing you
You’re pretty sure they’re seeing other people.
In a committed partnership, you’re seeing only each other. In a more flexible relationship, you might be dating other people. In a situationship you’re—you guessed it!—not quite sure either way.
You may think that the other person is still playing the field, but you haven’t exactly worked up the nerve to ask outright. (Perhaps because you hope that they aren’t seeing other people and, once you ask, your dreams of a real relationship could be crushed.)
It’s always just the two of you
You haven’t met each other’s friends.
If you only hang out with each other, you’re likely in a situationship. When you’re in a relationship, you meet each other’s besties, hang with friends and maybe even get introduced to family members eventually.
While there is a sense of exclusivity in only spending time with each other, this kind of isolation is anything but romantic. Really, it just shows that you don’t mean enough to each other to expand your relationship into your respective social circles.
An even bigger red flag would be if you’ve brought this person around your friends and family members but have yet to meet any of theirs.
It’s all about the present
You’re not talking about your future together.
Finally, if you aren’t at least touching on what the future holds for yourselves and your relationship, you probably don’t really have one with this person.
Even in the early stages of a real relationship, you and the other person might talk about what you want your lives to look like down the road. In a situationship, the sense is that you’ll be in each other’s lives for right now, but certainly not forever.
Pros and cons of a situationship
If those red flags were a bit deflating, don’t be discouraged. Sometimes, you might actually want to be in a situationship. (Truly.) While the anxiety-inducing aspects of a situationship aren’t much fun, being in a no-strings-attached relationship could be what you need, at least for right now.
Maybe you’re not looking for something serious, or you don’t know what you’re looking for. Having a situationship allows you to explore your romantic side in a very low-stakes way. You know it won’t last forever so you can get a sense of what you like about this relationship, and this person, and what you don’t. You can understand what behaviors are deal-breakers for you, and which ones you’re okay to let slide.
If you’ve recently ended a serious relationship, a situationship can be a good bridge between being totally single and being coupled up. It gives you some of the closeness of a romantic partnership without the longevity.
That said, situationships aren’t for everyone. Not knowing where you stand or where your relationship is headed can really mess with your head, and your heart. If your situationship is causing you more grief than it is fun, this can be a huge downside to being in an undefined relationship. Plus, if you really want to be in a committed partnership, a situationship will take up the time and emotional energy that you could be using on finding your forever person.
Can a situationship turn into a relationship?
In a word, yes. But it takes a lot of courage to break out of the anxiety a situationship can cause and actually have that talk to define the relationship. You’ll need to take the lead and be vulnerable to see if you and this person really have something, which is easier said than done. You can always reference our list of 21 questions for a new relationship to help on this.
But before getting into the questionnaire, first, take your hangouts from virtual to in person. If you’ve been texting more than you’ve been hanging out, get offline and into real life. Sometimes, people get stuck in the supposed safety of communicating on their phones and just need to make the leap to being around each other in the flesh. Make a date for coffee or drinks, keep things lowkey and see if there’s something really there.
If you’re already hanging in person but still feel like you’re in situationship territory, start inviting your friends to hang with you, or asking the person to meet up with you and your friends. This may feel like a big step but if you can’t make this happen then you’ll never make it into relationship territory. Your partnership can’t exist in a vacuum that’s compartmentalized from the rest of your life.
You’ll also need to put yourself out there a little. If you’ve defined your relationship but you don’t feel completely like you’re really in a partnership yet, then you need to take some baby steps emotionally. Be open to talking about your relationship. Affirm your feelings to the person by giving compliments and telling them when you want to see them. Don’t play hard to get or make them chase you.
Being upfront about your feelings may feel scary but if you play games you’ll both end up losing out on a real relationship. If the person doesn’t reciprocate or the partnership fizzles out, at least you know you did everything you could and you can look back on the situation with no regrets.
How to get out of a situationship
Luckily, getting out of a situationship is pretty easy. If you’ve had enough second-guessing and feel like your relationship isn’t really worth your time and energy anymore, you have a few options for letting it go.
The most passive thing to do is to let the situationship gradually phase out on its own. If you and the other person are mostly texting and only seeing each other occasionally, just text back less often and don’t offer up hanging out or making plans. If the other person doesn’t try to get together with you then it’s pretty clear that you’re both ready to end things and the situationship will dim out on its own.
If you’re ready to just make a clean break and move on, you can say (or text) something as simple as “This isn’t working out for me anymore.” You can offer to be friends, if you actually want to be friends. Or you can just leave it at that and say your goodbyes. If the person wasn’t really part of your social circle or connected to your friend group it will be pretty easy to go your separate ways.
When you’ve been in a situationship that’s more of a friends-with-benefits relationship within your friend group, it may be worth going the added step of discreetly letting your crew know that the two of you are no longer seeing each other. If you need to take a step back from social get-togethers, hang with just your besties while you transition out of the situationship so that you’re not having to be around the other person for a while.
The right answers lie within
Whatever you choose to do, remember that most of us have been in situationships or situationship-like romantic situations.
Relationships can be awkward, messy and hard to define sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with getting into a situationship or staying in one—every kind of partnership can ultimately help us grow.
What’s really important is that you’re listening to your intuition and being mindful of your heart no matter what kind of relationship you’re in.