Living and loving through a global pandemic has resulted in some unique new relationship dynamics. Some new couples have found themselves in turbo relationships, having gone from zero to 100 on the intensity scale in a very short timeframe; and others broke up, having found themselves in unintentional long-distance relationships. Many single folks have turned to video-call dating as a means to meet potential matches, and others just got super-close with their vibrator of choice. But the most nebulous romantic structure that’s be on the rise during pandemic times? The situationship, which is essentially a marriage of convenience that autocompletes the phrase, “Desperate times call for…”
Well, okay, maybe that was a bit harsh. A situationship doesn’t have to be an act of desperation. Generally, though, the defining element of the dynamic is its complete lack of definition.
Okay, so what is a situationship, anyway?
“A situationship is an undefined relationship where partners go with the flow and don’t label things,” says psychologist Paulette Sherman, PhD, author of Marriage and the Law of Attraction, and the host of The Love Psychologist podcast. “Often they don’t discuss their future, intermingle with family or friends, or have traditional dates. It is very present-focused and can often be based on their current situation.”
“A situationship is an undefined relationship where partners go with the flow and don’t label things. Often they don’t discuss their future, intermingle with family or friends, or have traditional dates. It is very present-focused and can often be based on their current situation.” —psychologist Paulette Sherman, PhD
And hey, that can be fun! It’s also worth noting that given the current social climate of isolating or social distancing, including a romantic partner in your chosen quarantine pod may even be a choice rooted in a goal to survive amid an uncertain world. That would certainly make sense, at least.
As Dr. Sherman says, it’s extremely common for people to strike up situationships when they’re frightened. “Everything is on hold, there are few proper date options, no one knows what will happen in the future or how long this COVID quarantine will go on, and many people aren’t seeing family and friends anyway,” says Dr. Sherman. “It seems easy to spend time quarantining together in a bubble and to not define things.”
While companionship—undefined as it may be—is certainly a benefit of being in a situationship versus being alone, if you’re someone who tends to catch feelings like butterflies in a net, there can are also cons of the dynamic to be aware of. Situationships, after all, are inherently confusing. “The indefinable category of ‘situationship’ leaves both partners unclear as to how they should proceed with each other,” says relationship expert Susan Winter. “You’re left asking, ‘How much am I allowed to feel for you? Do I have the right to have expectations? And if I have expectations, what should they be? Is there a healthy bottom line’?”
But if you’re someone who doesn’t get emotionally attached, or someone who was never into labels anyway, this could certainly work for you. “For casual daters not wanting to be pinned down, this construct is a positive,” says Winter. “There is involvement, yet one may participate as much or as little as they like, and they’re excluded from all the undesirable duties required of [an official significant other].”
All of that makes sense, but how do you know if you’re in a situationship? According to Winter, there are a few telltale signs to look out for.
5 signs that indicate a relationship is really a situationship
1. You do not have an ‘all-access pass’ to your partner’s life, and vice versa
If you’re keeping things casual, both of you may have skimped on sharing essential and intimate personal details with each other.
2. You may have met a couple of your partner’s friends, but not their inner circle, and vice versa
And if you have met any of your partner’s people, it was likely unintentional and in passing, like on the way to the grocery store, or in the background of Zoom calls. Formal introductions are not a thing in a situationship, because, well…how would you even be introduced?
3. You are not included in family activities or gatherings, and vice versa
Again, how would you be introduced? And why risk getting family members attached to something so undefined?
4. Your partner makes plans without telling you, and vice versa
This provides you with a sense of independence and supports a lack of communication all at once.
5. Your partner has a distinctly independent life where you feel as though you know them, but don’t really know them
Even if you’ve been quarantining together, there’s still an air of mystery you can’t quite touch.
Is it healthy to be in a situationship, or not so much?
According to Dr. Sherman, it’s really up to the people involved in the situationship to decide whether the dynamic is great or potentially problematic. What all parties need to ask themselves, she says, is whether they’re okay with having comfort, companionship, sex, and fun without necessarily having an overarching relationship game plan or deadline—during the pandemic or not. And if you feel okay about a pandemic-time situationship but not so much when a sense of normalcy is restored? That’s something to consider as well.
“Some of these people usually [wouldn’t] have moved in with someone without first defining the relationship or conversing about the future, so that’s why it’s a situationship,” Dr. Sherman says. “When the situation changes, will they be on the same page? For the most part, probably not, but sometimes people can choose to turn a situationship into a serious, committed relationship. Both people have to want to and be ready to do so.”
So, if your situationship isn’t working for you, you have a couple of choices: You can vaguely slip out as easily as you slipped in, if it’s begun to feel unclear, forced, and no longer fulfilling to you. “It’s easy to get out of something you’re not actually in,” Winter says.
That being said, if you really think you have something special with someone and want more, you can be direct about that and break the unspoken rule of the dynamic by having the DTR conversation. Who knows? Maybe the other person is also afraid to broach the subject. “Let your partner know what you want,” Winter says. “Are they willing and able to share that vision with you? If so, start communicating honestly and directly. If not, walk away from the lesser to be open to the greater.”
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