Dating: Are situationships worth the trouble?

Welcome to the world of situationships where there are no labels and no commitment

A young couple in a situationship hold a broken heart
The term "situationship" is a new trend in the dating world, describing a non-committal relationship with no clear expectations or future. While it can be liberating for some, it can also be challenging, especially when one person falls in love and wants more. (Photo: Getty Images)

Breakups are tough, and I’ve had my fair share of long-term relationships that ended in heartbreak. While the breakups in those relationships were painful, there’s nothing quite as painful as those I’ve experienced in a situationship. In a separate article, I’ve talked about what situationships are and how one particular experience shook me to my core.

It’s been almost four years since the situation ended, and even though I’m engaged now, I still think about it sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not attracted to the person I was involved with anymore. But the relationship was so torrid and traumatic that I never want to put myself in that position again.

Recently, I recently learned – from TikTok hashtags, no less – about the Life-Altering Three Month Situationship. In one video, someone asked why the breakup of their three-month relationship was more painful than the end of their long-term relationship. I understood the feeling completely. After all, there is a reason why the situationship is pegged as life-altering. So popular is the concept of a situationship that the term hit an all-time high in Google traffic searches in 2022.

I felt that because she wasn’t my girlfriend, I couldn’t ask her why she didn’t want to be with me.

Almost half a year ago, my friend *Thom, 29, started dating a girl he found attractive, even though he saw no future with her. Before they started their relationship, they agreed that they were seeing each other casually and had no expectations for one another.

However, he soon fell deeply for her despite his initial laissez-faire attitude toward the relationship. Unfortunately, their situationship ended with her breaking his heart because she didn’t want anything serious to happen. Unrequited love aside, Thom couldn’t help but feel like he didn’t get enough closure when the relationship ended. “I felt that because she wasn’t my girlfriend, I couldn’t ask her why she didn’t want to be with me or convince her to give me a shot,” he explained. Till today, Thom occasionally thinks about her and hasn’t quite been able to start dating again properly.

Are situationships worth it?

A woman puts her hands on a depressed man's shoulder while encouraging him.
While some find them fulfilling, others find situationships painful, leading to feelings of unfulfilled needs, hurt, and heartbreak when they end. (Photo: Getty Images)

This makes me wonder if situationships, or even relationships with expiration dates, are worth it, and why we still get involved when they don’t always end well.

According to a 2022 BBC report, Gen Zers are not seeking or prioritising long-term or committed relationships. Instead, they opt for a more pragmatic approach that allows them to define and meet their needs however they want. As such, many choose to enter relationships where their needs for intimacy, companionship, and fun are met without the promise or pressures of something long-term.

“Being in situationships has worked for me because I get to define the things I want and need without the pressure of ‘adult’ problems like thinking about marriage or finances,” says *Zoe, 22. “I’m still young, and I think this is when I should be out there exploring my options instead of tying myself down too quickly. I don’t want to be married in the future and regret not meeting different people.”

I get to define the things I want and need without the pressure of ‘adult’ problems.

Although situationships can be painful, experts share that it is possible to have one without causing unnecessary hurt.

“When entering a situationship, the best way to manage your input is to be honest with yourself and the person you’re with about what the relationship really is,” says Sarah Louise Ryan, an international matchmaker and dating and relationship expert. “Knowing what the relationship comes with the consciousness of knowing oneself and doing the work of self-development,” she further explains.

Filling the void of sexual or emotional intimacy

Couple lying on couch with smartphone kissing
Experts suggest honesty and self-development as key to managing such relationships and avoiding unnecessary hurt. (Photo: Getty Images)

Unfortunately, not everyone is committed to putting in the work for self-development, especially when they’re not in the right headspace. In my case, it was only after the situationship had ended that the guy I was involved with could see how unfairly he was treating me. It was also only after our relationship folded that I could see that I had not communicated my needs and wants to him. In hindsight, the relationship was just bad timing, and he wasn’t in the right headspace to be in one.

“Situtionships can fill a void of sexual intimacy, emotional intimacy, or make someone feel connected to otherness that they aren’t currently experiencing in their day to day lives,” Sarah shares.

After a situationship ends, the person who got the shorter end of the stick often feels they could have done something to save the relationship. Sadly, this isn't always true.

“Most situationships end in a way that causes one or both people to feel a void, feel hurt or cause upset and heartbreak. This is because not everyone is honest or able, to be honest with themselves about the need that their situationship is really fulfilling. So, that need is no longer being met when the relationship ends,” says Sarah. These needs could include emotional dependency and, in some ways, commitment and consistency as well.

Moving on from situationships

Couple pose for a selfie inside their home
Situationships can help individuals learn more about themselves and their relationship desires, leading to personal growth and understanding. (Photo: Getty Images)

So, if you’re in a situationship where these needs were met – whether you realise it or not – it will feel like your whole world has been turned upside down when it ends. Even though it may be painful, this can be a valuable learning experience to understand your attachment style and the actual relationship you really want. “The only time individuals exit a situationship feeling good and happy is if they feel whole, complete, and can provide the need the situationship was fulfilling to themselves,” says Sarah.

In my case, my situationship taught me what I really wanted in a serious relationship and showed me how uncomfortable I actually am with being involved with someone who couldn’t give me something definitive.

So, are situationships really worth it?

It could be.

“A situationship often fulfils one or two needs but not the fundamentals required to create a connection that can sustain a long-term romantic relationship,” explains Sarah. Taking this into consideration, a situationship should be seen as something that fills a temporary need. This is something many people fail to remember when getting involved with someone, which is what leads them to getting hurt in the end.

Sarah also recommends that couples in situationships should be honest with each other. If they’ve met someone else that’s a good fit for their romantic needs, they might want to consider ending the situationship. “Some people have multiple situationships and while they may not feel like it in the compartmentalisaton process of it all, some of them can deflect and draw your energy from the search for a deeply fulfilling connection,” she explains.

(*Names have been changed and details have been modified upon request.)

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