In her song “Situationship,” Snoh Aalegra sings about not meaning to seduce someone yet not being able to help it. “Guess we got a situation, shit,” a line many must utter some version of under their breath when they suddenly find themselves in similar, well, situations.
These types of relationships aren’t new but we finally have a word for them. Urban Dictionary defines situationships as more than a friendship but not quite a relationship. Usually, these are uncommitted relationships or romantic connections sans DTR. It can be based on convenience or short-term circumstances but can still have some or even all of the trappings of a regular relationship, including physical intimacy and emotional connection.
In other words, it’s a relationship only when you want it to be. You can enjoy intimate dinners but not be invited to family get-togethers, make last-minute plans when you’re bored but not have to, say, pick up your partner’s laundry. It’s the type of thing you can enjoy when it’s there and forget about when it’s not. But anybody who has been in a situationship will tell you that’s much easier said than done.
The problem is that people and situations change, and the boundaries of a situationship become increasingly blurred as they do. One party might end up wanting more time and commitment when the other has none to give.
But that doesn’t mean people should avoid situationships altogether.
“There are many cases where two or more people would get together to get one or more relational needs met, without jumping into a full-fledged romantic relationship,” Ben Goresky, a relationship coach based in Vancouver, told VICE.
According to Goresky, everybody has needs, whether it be for sex, security, social status, companionship, mental stimulation, or spiritual connection, and people can enter situationships to exchange any of these.
Sheleana Aiyana, a relationship counselor and author of “Becoming the One: Heal your past, transform your relationship patterns, and come home to yourself,” and Goresky’s wife, said that sometimes people find themselves in situationships because of where they are in their lives. Maybe they just went through a breakup and want a connection but aren’t ready for another serious relationship, said Aiyana.
Both Goresky and Aiyana said that situationships work best when terms and boundaries are clear to the parties involved.
“It’s about being really clear about what each of you want, and setting the guidelines and rules of engagement. In every relationship, there are no-fly-zones and deal-breakers. Discuss what those are, and also acknowledge that our needs and wants can change often,” Goresky said.
This might include discussing who else each party is engaging with intimately and periodically checking in with how everyone feels to make sure you’re still on the same page.
“Committed or not, it’s important to communicate,” said Aiyana.
That might seem like a lot of work for something that isn’t really a relationship, but according to Aiyana, situationships can be valuable when people approach them with the intention and care they might reserve for “real” relationships.
“It’s likely that a lot of folks seeking this kind of thing expect a situationship to be low maintenance, but it’s the people who treat each other with respect and honor by being transparent and emotionally aware that can actually come out of a situationship feeling empowered,” Aiyana said.
This can only work when the people involved are honest with themselves and truly have the capacity to be in a more casual and open relationship but, of course, that’s not always the case. Aiyana said that situationships are often rooted in a pattern of chasing unavailable love or avoiding intimacy, and this rarely ends well.
“When we have strong feelings for someone but settle for scraps because that’s all they’re willing to offer, we’re only delaying the inevitable pain and heartache that will follow,” she said.
In other words, there are situations in which situationships just aren’t a good idea. According to Goresky, this happens when people don’t get what they want or need.
“If what you want isn’t what your partner wants, your situationship is not a good idea,” Goresky said.
That’s why it’s important to remember to check in with yourself and find out what you really want. Aiyana advised asking yourself questions like: Is there any part of me that may be guarding my heart by choosing a situationship over deeper intimacy? Do I have feelings developing for this person that I’m trying to deny in order to take what I can get?
“If you know you want a committed relationship, entering into anything other than that isn’t a great idea. You’re selling yourself out and making less space in your life for what you actually want. We can’t change people’s minds or convince them to be ready if they aren’t,” Aiyana said. In this case, she advised owning your desires and moving on.
The onus isn’t only on the party who wants more. If all you’re willing to give is a situationship and you know your partner wants more than that, stop getting into those intimate situations, as well. Don’t lead people on.
Ultimately, the key to satisfaction in a situationship is the same as that of any relationship—that everyone's needs, desires, and expectations are met.
“That only happens via clear communication, sharing what you need and want in the relationship, listening to what your partner needs and wants, and creating a relationship agreement based on what you are both willing to bring,” Goresky said.
Follow Romano Santos on Instagram.