The Problem With “Situationships”

Unofficial relationships still present legitimate issues.

We think that in not placing labels on our romantic associations that we’re going with the flow and keeping things cool. The belief is that we’re engaging in some evolved, freer form of courtship. The perspective does make some sense. With definition comes increased expectation and pressure. When all involved parties are clear that they are just dating, hanging out, friends with benefits or otherwise not in a formal relationship, it can help to temper requirements.

We wouldn’t ask someone whom we’re only dating to help us out of a financial bind, nor anticipate him or her coming to our family reunion. Well, most of us wouldn’t. Even if we wanted to, knowing that things aren’t serious makes us uncomfortable with such major requests. The idea behind applying caution when labeling our connections is very logical, but rarely is love. This is where issues arise.

The lack of a defined arrangement does not influence our emotions. We can’t make ourselves not have a strong affinity toward someone simply because we know that we shouldn’t. Now, we can take steps to avoid fostering closeness. However, usually, we end up falling for someone but trying to hide it because we don’t think it’s OK to have those feelings. We create ‘situationships,’ which exist somewhere between friendship and commitment. It’s a gray area of uncertainty that often does more harm than good — at least where our mental health is concerned.

Situationships are a result of intimate interaction that goes far beyond casual yet is not overtly regarded as consequential. It’s what happens when we spend excessive amounts of time with someone, have regular sex with that person, become immersed in one another’s lives, continue learning about and growing close to them, but don’t say we’re together. It’s an unofficial relationship.

Being in a situationship can offer us the affection, support and comfort of a committed love affair, with none of the stability. It’s an illusion of significance. We believe it means something because of the way that we behave with one another, yet we don’t get the reassurance. We don’t know what to think or even how to act in some instances. This constant state of ambiguity is a breeding ground for insecurity and heartbreak. I’m sure we’ve all been here, and it’s not pretty.

Some use undefined unions for manipulative purposes, and “I don’t like labels” is a mere copout. It’s a disarming tactic. As important as backing up words with action, is supporting action with words. These individuals want to give you the impression that what you two have is real, and that they care for you more than they do. They do all that is necessary to establish this atmosphere, careful not to say what’s actually going on. Or, they’re sure to reiterate that it isn’t a relationship. Hey, wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea from their behaving like your significant other!

Other times, stuff just kind of happens. We start to like someone, enjoy their company, and we roll with it. We don’t want to ruin the vibe by attempting to put it in a box. Labels can get a bad rep as restrictive and unnecessary, making us afraid to even introduce the topic, or ask the “what are we?” question.

What if the answer isn’t what we’d like to hear? Then we don’t know what to do next. We can try to go back to normal and pretend the conversation didn’t happen, but human nature gets in the way. We may feel slighted, hurt or embarrassed when on the receiving end of the undesirable response — awkward, callous or guilty when on the other. Either way, things change once this discussion takes place. And that’s what we aim to prevent in our hesitancy to address the relationship elephant in the room.

We allow ourselves to remain in this nebulous space because it seems better than the alternative. Especially once we’ve developed feelings for someone, we don’t want to lose them. We’d rather everything stay the way that it is, without the official devotion, than to not have them at all.

Nothing stays the same. Arrangements such as this naturally either progress or dissolve. It’s only a matter of how long we’ll wait to find out which will happen. If both people are happy, then fine. Continue. This is seldom the case if we’re honest with ourselves, however. One person, sometimes both, usually gets to a point where more is desired.

On occasion, even if the object of our adoration would also like to take the relationship to the next level, they’ll avoid such mention as long as possible to delay the commitment. I get it. Commitment is scary. FOMO is real. What was once loose and fun can start to feel like an obligation when that step is taken. But sometimes we’re keeping quiet and staying in a situationship when we don’t want to, even when we don’t have to. If we’d speak up, we’d learn that the other person wants the same thing we want.

We get comfy in situationships and let them go on far too long, when this just isn’t a sustainable environment. The longer they last, the more likely someone is to be hurt — because unofficial relationships are still relationships. Regardless of what we choose to call it, the emotions involved aren’t any less real.

Labels are just words. But those words are descriptors that establish natural boundaries and help ensure that everyone is on the same page. If the interaction is to be informal, so must be our approach. Once we cross that line into girlfriend or boyfriend behavior, without the designation, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment, and to be taken advantage of. We’re also likely giving concentrated effort and attention to people undeserving.

Author of the critically acclaimed book on women and relationship status, “Single That.”

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