Are you in a situationship? Dealing with romantic ambiguity

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Medically reviewed by
Julie Dodson, MA
Updated June 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

“Situationship” is a pop culture term describing ambiguous connections with others that may hover between a romantic relationship and a friendship. The line separating these casual connections from full-on partnerships is often unclear. This lack of clarity can be frustrating, especially if you prefer a more committed relationship.
Uncertainty or lack of clarity about your relationship status is often the defining mark of a situationship. When you’re past the casual dating stage but unsure what you’ve moved to, you may be in one of these relationships. Learning to openly converse about your needs, respect your boundaries, and move forward if you’re not on the same page can be crucial for getting out of a situationship phase.
The word “situationship” emerged in 2006 as a slang term for a romantic or sexual relationship that was ongoing but not committed. People in situationships may exhibit characteristics of an intimate relationship, including sex, emotional intimacy, shared friend groups, sincere affection, and endlessly repeated inside jokes. However, they may not describe each other using words like “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” or “partner,” and there may not be a clear sense of where the relationship will go in the long term.
It can be challenging to define a situationship clearly. The lack of definition separates it from a more traditional romantic relationship. Although people in this arrangement might engage in the same shared activities as a couple, they haven’t clarified their relationship status.
Simultaneously, a situationship often has more emotional investment than a series of casual hookups or a friendship. People may define it as somewhere between being “friends with benefits” and having a committed relationship.
Signs you’re in a situationship
Some might argue that most relationships begin as situationships. In the early stages of dating, it can be common to be unsure when to call the other person your boyfriend or girlfriend. It might also take time to determine whether you want to be exclusive and whether your connection is worth pursuing over the long term.
As time passes, you might wonder whether you’re in a serious relationship or a fling. Below are several indicators that you might be in a situationship:
You’re not sure how to talk about them to other people
Imagine you’re telling a story to someone you don’t know well. You say, “I was with…” Then, you pause for thought to try to figure out how to refer to the person you’re seeing. Eventually, you settle for calling them “the person I’m seeing.”
You may have been with this person for long enough that, on some level, you want to call them your boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner but are unable to because of the undefined nature of your relationship. This pause may be a sign you’re in a situationship.
Plans are rarely made far in advance
Some relationship specialists note that situationships often involve last-minute hangouts or spur-of-the-moment dates. A little spontaneity may be normal in a relationship, but if you never know more than a few days ahead of time if you’re going to see the other person, it could suggest that the connection isn’t serious.
You don’t talk about a future together
While not every romantic relationship is necessarily a straight line to marriage, couples growing in intimacy often find themselves discussing their plans. If the subject never seems to come up, it could indicate that the other person isn’t thinking of you as a long-term partner.
The same could be true if they discussed their plans but never included you. If they talk about where they’d like to live or how many kids they’d like to have, do they always say I instead of we? This type of communication could be a sign that you aren’t a part of how they imagine their life.
There are often long periods when you don’t see them
When you’re in a situationship with someone, they may not be a steady presence in your life. They might abruptly stop reaching out to you for days at a time. Work or family matters may often come up suddenly and prevent you from getting together, or they may go on a trip without letting you know in advance.
A pattern of behavior like this may signal that spending time with you isn’t one of their top priorities. They may like you and enjoy your company, but they aren’t making the effort to budget time for your relationship.
Exclusivity is unclear or absent
If one or both of you are still seeing other people, and you haven’t agreed to a polyamorous or open arrangement, you might be in a situationship. Uncertainty about this question can also be telling.
For some people, the ability to pursue more than one sexual relationship at the same time is a significant motivation to keep a connection undefined. Can you confidently say that your partner isn’t still hooking up, using dating apps, or going out with other people? If not, you might be involved in a situationship.
Not everyone sees a situationship as unhealthy. Some people, particularly among younger generations, are happy to enjoy a casual relationship without any particular expectation that it will progress to a deeper level of commitment. Some may find it liberating or refreshing to have a romantic connection without tying it to specific milestones. A situationship might also enable someone who’s questioning their sexuality to explore and experiment.
For people who view the expectation of monogamy as overly heteronormative or close-minded, this type of loosely attached intimacy may be ideal. However, difficulties can arise when people don’t have the same expectations. Over time, one person may start to feel frustrated that the connection isn’t progressing. Meanwhile, the other may be perfectly content or worried that the connection is escalating faster than they’d like.
A mismatch could place a strain on your mental health. Romantic relationships can contribute to an individual’s well-being and personal identity. Being dissatisfied or undervalued in this part of your life may cause serious emotional turmoil. When you’re interested in committing to someone, but they seem to be keeping you at arm’s length, it can make you question your sense of self-worth. Your conflicting feelings around the relationship — happiness when you’re together or sadness and frustration when you think about your future — could become a substantial emotional burden.
A connection could be problematic if the other person is deliberately ambiguous about their intentions. If they know you want a more profound connection but are happy with the current dynamic, they might offer hints of progress without fundamental change, leading to uncertainty, anxiety, and self-doubt.
What to do if you want more than a situationship
Open and honest communication can be crucial once you’ve realized that you’re in a situationship and have decided you want a firmer connection. Consider clearly discussing with the person you’re seeing and explain your interest in a more committed relationship.
You’re not alone if you’re worried about having a conversation. Ambiguity is common in the early stages of romantic relationships, and you may be worried that you’ll be perceived as moving too fast. Some people may fear that by trying to define the relationship, their partner will think they’re “no fun anymore.” However, the ability to communicate can be crucial for committed relationships. If you’re hoping to have a long-term bond with this person, it can be vital to discuss your feelings and needs openly.
Try to bring up your intentions in a way that emphasizes your positive feelings about the relationship. If you explain that you’re interested in moving forward because the other person makes you happy, they may not take your communication as an accusation or attack. Being transparent, specific, and firm about your relationship expectations can also be crucial. Using ambivalent language could give the impression that you’re conflicted, leaving room for continued ambiguity.
If the individual is not interested in having a more defined relationship with you, it is up to you to decide how you want to move forward. Waiting for someone to value you the same way you value them may lead to long-term heartbreak and disappointment. If someone has communicated that they aren’t ready for a relationship and you are, it may be beneficial to break off the connection and move forward without them.
It can be painful to discover that the person for whom you were falling doesn’t think of your relationship in the same way. It can also be challenging to be strung along or find that someone is going behind your back to connect with others. Talking with a therapist may help you work through those feelings, rebuild confidence, and advocate for your desired relationship.
If you face barriers to in-person counseling, such as financial challenges or distance, you might also consider online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples. Finding a counselor with whom you can meet in person can be an arduous process involving referrals and inconvenient commutes. Connecting with a mental health professional over the Internet is often much more convenient and allows you to attend sessions via phone, video, or live chat from home.
Some individuals may be skeptical of online therapy. However, a growing body of research suggests it can be practical and effective. A 2017 meta-analysis concluded that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) delivered over the Internet is a useful approach for treating various mental health challenges. Using an online therapy portal may be a convenient way to get support as you navigate the emotional uncertainty surrounding your romantic relationship.
Takeaway
Uncertainty about where you stand with a romantic partner or where your connection is headed can indicate you’re in a situationship. A situationship may not be a problem if you’re happy with this arrangement’s freedom and flexibility. However, if you want a committed relationship, it can be crucial to communicate your boundaries and decide whether to end the connection. For support in navigating situationships, consider contacting a therapist online or in your area.**


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