What is a situationship and why are they so popular?
Non-commitment relationships are common and they seem to be more popular than “normal” relationships.
A situationship can be best described as a romantic or sexual relationship that is not considered to be established aka you are together but you aren’t in a relationship, so basically a mind f**k. Your friends with benefits but realistically one of the partners will catch feelings and all hell will break loose. It is like being in limbo just waiting to see whether you will become official; however, most of the time you will be sailing that ship on your own. "This vagueness often leads one person to feel uncertainty, anxiety, frustration, resentment, helplessness and sometimes even depression," explains psychotherapist + author, Jonathan Alpert.
Situationships are only becoming more popular and it's hard to say why but we’re going to try to break it down.
- Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan, argues situationships are popular due to the fact they challenge the ‘relationship escalator’ meaning, the idea that intimate partnerships are meant to have a structure with the goal of hitting conventional relationship milestones, such as engagement and marriage. The idea of the situationship goes against “this notion that being with someone where it’s not going anywhere is ‘wasting time’”, she says – a sentiment she notes Gen Z is increasingly embracing. Rather, individuals in these arrangements willingly go into the grey area of an undefined relationship.
- Situationships became more common during the much-loathed Covid time. During the pandemic, a lot of relationships escalated much faster than usual but an increasing amount lacked the definition needed to take off in the first place due to the fact we were locked down and couldn’t meet friends (unless you were part of party-gate). In fact, dating app Hinge found that after speaking to 12,000 users, 34% (i.e, one-third) defined themselves as having been in a situationship during the pandemic and it appears this trend is still continuing, people now want to be free but also have someone to come back to, have that evening hug and dot, dot, dot.
The normalising of dishonesty. Everybody has expectations to be lied to by a partner, so in order not to be the weak one, a situationship will often occur. It’s like a competitive sport and the prize is your broken heart.
Dating apps. Everybody is disposable - sadly! Just look at the abundance of singles on Tinder and other dating sites. Before we were not able to get tens of messages per day and even hundreds of matches, now it is accessible. Some believe it messes up the dynamics within the sexes. Women feel bombarded, annoyed and dissatisfied by this paradox of choice (the more choice you have, the less you know what to do) and more often than not, they are often targeted by the neediest, low-quality dudes that just want to try their luck and have a quick shag. This makes us cynical and even if a genuinely good guy comes along, we cut him off. Since women filter men so much for all those reasons (admit it, we do), men are being rejected left and right and centre and are getting bitter and confused. Everybody is disposable and nobody is unique so what is the point of a proper relationship? There is always the next swipe.
Holding your cards close to your chest. In interviews with 150 undergraduate students during the 2020 to 2021 academic year, Lisa Wade, associate professor of sociology at Tulane University, observed that Gen Z are more reluctant to define the relationship, or even admit to wanting a relationship to progress - some may call this self-care. She says her research has shown that “holding one's cards close to one's chest is not unique to today’s young people”, but Gen Z is especially unwilling to share their feelings with each other. People are becoming less likely to share how they REALLY feel and will just go with the flow even if they do not like it.
- Bigger Plans. Many people are now putting emphasis on their careers and less on their dating like we were in the past; facing the climate crisis, an unstable economy with growing inflation and political and social chaos, young people are more involved in advocacy and in search of personal, professional and financial stability first. “Young people would say that relationships are distracting them from their educational and career goals and that it's best to not get too attached because you might sacrifice your own trajectory in life for someone else,” says Wade. Again proving why situationships are more popular.
Exploring sexual identity. Lockdown-induced isolation has given many people the opportunity to more deeply analyse elements of their lives and identities more. Among these intimate shifts, some research indicates people’s attitudes towards their sexuality have evolved amid the pandemic, too. Before the pandemic, Lauren says she barely had free time between working, going to school and her social life. “I [couldn’t] deal with any big life changes, and shifting identities felt like a big life change.” But the mandatory slowdown gave her the space she needed to re-examine her sexuality. Speaking with her therapist and watching other women who formerly identified as bisexual come out as lesbians on TikTok brought her to newly identify as a lesbian herself. People want to explore their sexuality and not be tied down by someone else, therefore, people are more likely to undefine their relationship status. The phenomenon “diversifies the sense of options that people have”, says Armstrong, and it’s become increasingly normal to opt into this grey area instead of avoiding it.
Situationships certainly give couples the space and time to understand their individual needs and what is expected from their partners. Having said that, the lack of rules often makes it a slippery slope, forcing people to walk on eggshells. “It becomes a little depressing and complex when both of the sides know they are talking to other people on various dating apps, but do not know where to draw the line for it to become exclusive,” says Shalini. Speaking about her experience with situationships, she adds, “It’s all cool and happy initially but beyond that one gets really tired of not having anything meaningful.”
The most toxic part of situationships is how it romanticises casual sex. While it seems okay in the beginning, research shows that it’s horrible for women. Another major issue is that casual sex will inevitably lead to developing an emotional bond with the other person.
While situationships may seem exciting and trendy on the surface, they are not only confusing, but the confusion can lead to totally preventable stress and heartache.
Regardless, in today’s dating world, the rising interest in situationships indicates a shift in how young people may re-frame love and sex going forward – newly embracing what they feel is a satisfying middle ground that many daters in prior generations avoided.