What is a situationship vs. a relationship? Here's how to tell, according to dating experts

The term has been flying around but exactly what is a situationship? Let the experts fill you in on the nitty gritty deets

sad couple in a blue spotlight looking in an opposite direction
(Image credit: Future)

What is a situationship vs. a relationship? (Not to be confused with being in a relationship vs. being exclusive.)

Things can get murky in the dating world, and though there's no shortage of trending terms— untypingwanderlovingmosting, the list goes on—a situationship definitely has some striking contrasts from its more traditional counterpart. 

How do you differentiate the two? What signs do you need to watch out for? Is it possible to survive this no-labels journey? Here's what dating experts want you to know.

What is a situationship vs. a relationship?

Unlike casual, no-strings-attached relationships, which have clearly defined boundaries, situationships are ambiguous and involve emotion. You date someone and do all the things couples do, but you don't receive a title. According to relationship expert Abby Medcalf, Ph.D.,  it's simply "hanging out here and there and generally feels directionless."

So how does it differ from a regular, 'ol relationship? It's all about the future. 

According to relationship expert Susan Winter, the main difference between the two is that a situationship likely has no hope for something long-term, whereas a relationship does.  

"Though it may not be spoken in words, you instinctively know not to ask [about the future]," she said of situationships.

What are the signs that you're in a situationship?

Now that you understand the difference between the two, what are a few points that define situationships? These are the behaviors to look out for:

1. There are no long-term plans

You'll know you're in something fleeting if you or your partner only makes last-minute plans, and any attempt to look weeks or even months ahead is met with confusion.

2. There's no consistency

In a relationship, you rely on your partner. You speak to them regularly and can count on them to show up. In a situationship, you might not necessarily be on a consistent schedule with your partner. It's not unusual to go several days, perhaps even weeks, without connecting.

3. The conversations are superficial

Situationships are characterized by surface-level conversations. Is your partner not willing to talk about certain things? Are they truly aware of your personality, or do you feel like you're putting up a facade around them?

4. You haven't met each other's loved ones

In relationships, it's common to get to know your S.O.'s family and friends, but in a situationship, your partner might not be concerned with introductions, considering they're not necessarily thinking about a future. 

Why are situationships toxic?

One of the greatest benefits of a situationship, at least in the beginning, is the lack of labels. Having an undefined relationship can be fun, liberating, and sexually satisfying. You get a chance to get to know someone without feeling pressured to make a decision.

Sure, it can possibly lead to something lasting and long-term. But more often than not, it sets us up for disappointment and just causes confusion. Here are a few reasons to kick 'em to the curb: 

1. Situationships keep you from meeting the right person

A situationship is a confusing arrangement where one or both parties don't want to claim the other but also don't want anyone else to have them. It keeps you on a hook and leaves you hanging, not knowing whether it will end or not, so you don't know what to do during this period.

Instead of living in perpetual hope that something will change and maybe your situationship partner will want a future with you, Medcalf suggests opening your eyes and seeing your partner for who they *really* are, not what you hope they'll be. 

"People will show you through their actions what they think of you," she noted. 

2. You invest more than you should in situationships

The biggest problem with situationships is that you continuously hope that things will get better. It takes up a crucial phase of your life. You invest a great deal of time—sometimes years—emotions, and even money in a situationship, only for it to end without ever amounting to any commitment. 

According to Carla Manly, a psychologist and relationship expert, "many people lament having invested a great deal of time, effort, and even money in situationships that proved fruitless." 

3. The connection feels inauthentic

Your situationship partner has probably not introduced you to family or friends or involved you in their lives. This shows a glaring lack of trust. Medcalf notes that "without trust, there's no vulnerability, and without vulnerability, there's no emotional closeness."

For more about the trend, have a look at our expert-backed advice for ending a situationship and what to avoid if you want a relationship, not situationship

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