Love Better

From 'Situationship' to Relationship – When is a Relationship Legit?

And what to do when you want more than just a "thing."
drawing of kissing
ivetavaicule x VICE 

Whether you call yourself asexual, pansexual, demiromantic, aromantic or polyamourous – the gist is we all want different things when it comes to relationships. And some people don’t want relationships at all.

One type of relationship is the dreaded “thing”: When you’re not quite sure where you stand, haven’t had the talk about commitment, or don’t really want it to go anywhere but aren’t ready to give it up. It’s also fairly regularly referred to as a “situationship.” But no matter what you call it, these relationships aren’t “bad” (at least in theory).


Dating casually – and without pressure – can be a great way to grow as an individual in confidence, self-assuredness and identity. You get to know what you like and what you want. And hey, maybe a little heartbreak comes along with that. 

But that’s where a “thing” gets messy: as much as space and freedom around dating can be needed, a little bit of structure can help stop your dating life from becoming a shit show. Casual shouldn’t mean careless, and even if only having non-distinct situationships might be easy for you, it can still be pretty shit for the person on the other side.

If (like me) you were raised around purity culture by way of school, church or a conservative parent then you might be familiar with the term “dating for marriage”. It’s a totally baffling concept that locks you into dating from the offset and prevents you from safely getting to know people without a heap of outside pressure to make it work. Even as teenagers.

To me, the idea of a “thing” didn’t really exist growing up. You were dating seriously and with intent from the get go, “courting” under the watchful eye of friends and parents, and pretty much in it for the long run. Being raised this way meant dating became a massive burden and commitment, so I avoided it altogether. 

But not everyone you date is gonna be your one and only — and they don’t need to be. 

So, when you’re involved with someone and not sure whether your situation is lighthearted or serious, here are some ways to hash that out: 

Make up your mind before you open your mouth.

Communication is great, but only when you mean it. If you don’t want something serious when it comes to relationships, no sweat – but don’t say you’re interested in someone because it’s what you think they want to hear. And, equally, don’t tell someone you’re cool with keeping it casual if you’re actually more invested and hoping things will change. 


It's important that you know where you stand — and what your reasons are — before trying to explain it to someone else. Otherwise you mind end up giving mixed messages. 

Be honest, first. 

Being the first person to put their cards on the table is something a lot of people struggle with — but if you’re always waiting for them to say something, and they’re waiting for you to say something, you’ll be locked in a western showdown for all eternity. 

The hardest part is accepting that you might be shut down by someone for putting your feelings out there, but it often takes one person being vulnerable to get the conversation going and help the other person to feel like they’re in a safe space to share their thoughts. 

Stick with your guns. 

When you’ve made the decision to either pursue things, carry on casually, or leave things be, stick with it. Not knowing where you stand with someone can be incredibly distressing – so if you’ve said you’ve called it quits, don’t keep hitting your ex-thing up to hang out and vice versa. Likewise, if you’ve decided you actually want to date, put the effort in to show them that it’s more than just casual to you now. Basically, call it what it is and don’t tell someone something you don’t mean. 

Keep that communication up. 

One of the defining qualities of a “thing” is the uncertainty that comes with it, but if you’re wanting to take things to the serious relationship stage you’ve gotta get used to having conversations about where you’re at and what you want. A good partner doesn’t just stop communicating when they’ve got what they want. Keep communicating how you feel, keep being honest, and make sure everyone involved knows where they stand.


Own the Feels is brought to you by #LoveBetter, a campaign funded by the Ministry for Social Development.

LoveBetter Youthline support channels:


Or rangatahi can text lovebetter to 234

Rachel Barker is a writer / producer at VICE NZ in Aotearoa.