Situationships: What They Are and 5 Signs You’re in One

Situationships: What They Are and 5 Signs You’re in One

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The word “relationship” has never really been enough for us, has it? We need a whole fleet of “ships” to understand our associations with other people. Those definitions help us create expectations, construct boundaries and set goals.

But sometimes, things just sort of … happen. You become romantically or sexually involved with someone without any labels or formalities.

We talked to psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, about this relatively new term. She explains what a situationship is, whether it’s a healthy way to connect with another person, how to know you’re in one and what to do if it ends.

What is a situationship?

“Situationship” isn’t a word you’ll find in the dictionary, but it’s hard to avoid in popular culture. So, what is it exactly?

“Situationships are characterized by a lack of obligation or exclusivity, but the real hallmark is a lack of clear boundaries or labels,” she explains. “There are elements of friendship and romance, but they exist without defining the relationship. So, essentially, you have many of the benefits of a traditional relationship without having to make a commitment.”

One the one hand, situationships may allow you to feel the sense of connection you’d experience in a standard-issue relationship and the independence that comes with being single. On the other hand, if you’re not clear on the nature of your involvement, it can’t progress.

“Our brains really like clarity,” Dr. Albers notes. “They gravitate to black and white, so this gray area can be very hard to process and may even create anxiety.”

Dr. Albers explains, “It’s very hard to stay unattached. It can feel like you’re skimming the surface of a relationship. And the ambiguity can consume a lot of energy.”

That difficulty is a byproduct of how our brains work. “We’re human. And when we’re intimate with someone, our brains release a hormone called oxytocin,” she adds.

Oxytocin is powerful stuff. It stimulates sexual arousal, ejaculation, contractions during pregnancy, parent-infant recognition and bonding – even lactation! Oxytocin also facilitates behaviors you might not expect, like trust.

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Examples of situationships

Because they’re undefined by definition (see what we did there?), situationships can vary a lot from person to person and relationship to relationship. Some situationships are healthy and some … not so much.

  • That one person you meet up with whenever they happen to be in town for work.
  • The post-break up rebound that you’ve been seeing for two months, but can’t imagine committing to … at least, not right now.
  • The special someone you’re having a passionate love affair with over spring break (and will never speak to again once school starts).
  • That one devastatingly attractive individual you call every once a while for sex.
  • Your go-to “plus one” for couple-y events … whom you’d never dream of introducing to your parents. Probably.
  • The gaming partner from Scarsdale that you’ve never met in person but talk to for hours every week (and occasionally exchange racy texts with).

Maybe your current … whatever it is … doesn’t sound like any of these scenarios. That doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t a situationship.

5 signs you’re in a situationship

  1. No labels or exclusivity. You’ve never had a “DTR” (define-the-relationship) conversation and one or both of you may be seeing other people.
  2. No clear boundaries. Expectations – big and small, reasonable and unreasonable – help give our relationships definition. Are you splitting the bill? Do they get to spend the night? Is it OK to meet their kids? If neither of you are asking these kinds of questions, it’s hard to know the nature of your companionship.