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What’s a situationship, and are you in one?

Reviewed by Brooks Baer, LCPC, CMHP

A man and a woman sit in the park, the woman leaning on the man's shoulder and looking at him while he makes a hard-to-read expression

What is a situationship?

In 2022, the popular dating app Tinder reported a 49% increase in users adding the word “situationship” to their bios.1 By 2023, it was a finalist for Oxford Languages’ word of the year.2

Situationships aren’t really a new idea, though the name is fairly recent. Generally speaking, a situationship is a sexual or romantic relationship that’s casual and undefined, sidestepping traditional commitments and expectations.

Long-term commitment isn’t implied in a situationship, and there’s usually an understanding that either person can leave at any time without a formal breakup. To avoid emotional entanglement, people might limit how much they share about feelings or frustrations. They also typically don’t make firm plans for the future, instead focusing their connection on the present.

What’s driving this relationship trend?

The appeal of situationships may be rooted in our shifting attitudes toward relationships and dating.

Members of Gen Z, who make up a big chunk of the current dating pool and spend a lot of time on dating apps, tend to prize individual identity and expression while rejecting labels and stereotypes.3 Because situationships are less structured and not very concerned about the future, they align well with these values.

Our tech-heavy social landscape also plays a role in the growing popularity of casual dating. Social media and dating apps can make it easier to connect with new people, focus on personal fulfillment or instant gratification, and move on quickly when things aren’t working.

The perks of keeping it casual

Because situationships are all about freedom and flexibility, they may feel like the best of both worlds: companionship and intimacy without the pressure of commitment.

A casual, few-strings-attached romantic relationship can potentially offer:

  • Independence and spontaneity: People can follow their own routines, make plans, pursue life goals, and enjoy their social circles without having to plan around a partner.
  • Self-discovery: Each partner can explore their own values and goals without the constraints or influence of the other’s expectations or needs. For people exploring their gender identity or sexuality, situationships offer a casual setting to discover what feels right in terms of intimacy. Being in a situationship might even help someone figure out what they want in a committed relationship down the line.
  • Emotional safety: People may hope to avoid the emotional challenges of a deeper relationship.
  • Casual intimacy: It can be freeing to enjoy a physical connection without the complications of intertwined lives.
  • Less stress: Situationships involve fewer obligations to a partner’s schedule, emotional needs, family, and social circles.
  • Variety: Without the expectation of exclusivity, people can potentially explore connections with multiple partners.

Can a situationship turn into a relationship? 

Situationships are supposed to involve minimal emotional investment, but that’s not always under our control.

“Catching feelings” can happen unintentionally, thanks to the euphoric effects of new romance.4, 5 Even if you’re just hooking up at first, you can get attached or start longing for something more meaningful. This can lead to:

  • Confusion over mixed signals or uncertainty about where the relationship stands.
  • Frustration and disappointment when expectations aren’t met or one person wants more from the relationship.
  • Jealousy if the other person is seeing other people.
  • Loss of friendship if the situation ends badly.
  • Distress if affection isn’t mutual.

The uncertainty and lack of clear expectations in a situationship can sometimes lead to more hurt feelings than a traditional breakup would. Ambiguity and a lack of clear boundaries can also draw people back into an unfulfilling emotional connection over and over again.

Can a lack of commitment ever be healthy?

Whether a situationship is healthy or not depends on the people involved, how they treat each other, and what they’re both looking for.

Sometimes people choose situationships as a way to avoid the vulnerability that comes with a formal relationship. Struggles with intimacy or commitment may arise from past trauma or relationship anxieties, or they can stem from a person’s attachment style, especially when that style is avoidant.6

In some cases, the lack of commitment helps a person protect their time and energy. In others, it can be emotionally challenging or unsustainable. And when partners are on completely different pages, it can create an ongoing limbo where neither one is content or at peace.

Long-term commitment isn’t the be-all and end-all of a healthy relationship, but it’s important at any commitment level to communicate clearly about what you want and expect. Finding a balance that works for everyone is essential.

9 tips for navigating situationships

If you find yourself in a situationship and hope to make the best of it, clarity and communication are key. Here are some tips to help navigate the muddy waters:

  1. Ask yourself why you’re in a situationship. Is it because you’re afraid of commitment or because it genuinely suits your current lifestyle and needs? Be honest with yourself about your motivations and feelings.
  2. Set basic expectations. Discuss what you both want and don’t want from your arrangement to make sure you stay on the same page. This includes all levels of intimacy—enthusiastic consent is always a must.
  3. Check in with each other regularly. Emotions can change, so it’s important to be honest and keep the lines of communication open to address any shifts in feelings or desires.
  4. Be honest. Be clear with yourself and your partner about your feelings, preferences, and boundaries, whether you find yourself wanting more or less out of the relationship. This can prevent misunderstandings and hurt feelings later on.
  5. Enjoy the moment, but be mindful of how it’s affecting you. While it’s fine to indulge in a whirlwind romance without any expectations of future plans together, don’t lose sight of your emotions and well-being.
  6. Manage your expectations. Since situationships are inherently uncertain, acknowledging and remembering that your relationship might be temporary can help you stay grounded in reality.
  7. Practice self-reflection. Take time to understand what the situationship is teaching you about your relationship needs and areas for personal growth. This insight can be valuable for future relationships.
  8. Know when to walk away. Recognize if or when the situationship no longer serves your needs, and be prepared to move on for your own emotional health.
  9. Have a support system. Friends and family can offer advice and perspective. Share your experiences with them—it can be clarifying and provide emotional support.

How to find support

If you’re doing all of the above and still find yourself feeling unfulfilled or stressed, help is available. A mental health professional who specializes in relationships can help you navigate your feelings and decisions in a constructive way. Visit our directory to connect with a licensed therapist near you.

About the author

Elise Burley is a member of the therapist.com editorial team. She has more than a decade of professional experience writing and editing on a variety of health topics, including for several health-related e-commerce businesses, media publications, and licensed professionals. When she’s not working, she’s usually practicing yoga or off the grid somewhere on her latest canoe camping adventure.

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