Ever wondered what in the blue hell is going on with someone you’re meant to be dating?
We’re definitely not new to the idea of a “situationship”, which has been lovingly defined by Urban Dictionary as the state of confusion surrounding a couple who may be sleeping together, and/or have romantic feelings towards each other – but they aren’t, in fact, together. It’s a situation, not a relationship – and the post-Covid twist on this has become both a common and tricksy beast.
During the pandemic, some relationships escalated much quicker than usual – to varying levels of success – but an increasing amount have lacked the definition needed to take off in the first place. In fact, dating app Hinge has found that after speaking to 12,000 users, 34% (i.e, one third) defined themselves as having been in a situationship over the past year.
And it’s easy to see how this problem has arisen. With the world being in such a state of crisis, flux and emergency since March 2020, I’ve certainly been reluctant to define any romantic relationships that I’ve encountered because – quite frankly – I couldn’t afford for anything I truly invested in to fall apart while I was trying to hold myself, my career, my friends and my family together throughout a pandemic.
For me, it became easier to never ask the big questions, no matter how much I might have wanted some form of definition or clarification. My silence on the subject then morphed into a very weird attempt at self-preservation. Before long, I found myself in some form of a relationship purgatory.
If you’re in a situationship, you might be talking on the phone every night, but haven’t agreed if you’re exclusive. You might have already embarked on some form of emotional investment in this person – something we might be a bit more prone to jumping into during a traumatising time – without even agreeing what you mean to each other. Then, things can get messy. Expectations are all over the place, as are your feelings.
It’s no better when someone else is refusing to define your dating dynamic to you. One of my best friends, Daniella, also found herself in a series of Covid-era situationships over the last year. While each partner was different in some ways, as I watched her go through each one I noticed the dynamics of these “relationships” shared key characteristics.
They started out with a fairly sound emotional connection, then moved into a lack of communication about what each partner wanted out of the relationship, and eventually a general lack of definition around what was happening between them.
It was horrible to watch her struggle with this lack of definition, as she told me that she felt “disappointed and messed about” because these partners weren’t being honest or communicative enough about what they wanted, or how they viewed what they were doing together. Perhaps it was because they didn’t know themselves; perhaps it was because they didn’t care.
“I tried to be more cool and laidback than I normally would be, but then realised I was settling for something lesser and different than what I was looking for, to try and suit someone else,” she told me. During a time when we were being thrown in and out of lockdown, feeling a new kind of fear for her health and our futures, this emotional turmoil can be really hard to handle, and isn’t something you want to be inflicting on another, equally.
Dating and relationship coach Kate Mansfield says that a situationship can be “really destructive”.
“It’s a subtle but powerful undermining of your value, your worth and your identity as being lovable,” she says. “So often people kid themselves that this kind of casual time warp relationship will change if they just wait a little bit longer.”
This feeling of rejection if things don’t progress the way you’d like may cause you to think it’s because there’s something wrong with you, which can be toxic for future relationships, she suggests. “As time creeps on, you can likely also fall deeper into a belief that it is all about you and you need to be better – prettier, funnier, thinner, sexier etc. This ultimately becomes so painful that it requires an emotional ‘checking out’ that causes problems in future relationships, because you can no longer trust that you are enough.”
The need to play things “cool” that Daniella and I – and many others – have both been plagued by is viewed by Kate as a “surface symptom” of a situationship. “As a long-term label, a situationship is usually serving one or both of your avoidance of intimacy and fear of commitment,” she says.
So what can be done to leave this purgatory, or to ensure you don’t end up back there? “The key is to make sure that you are being genuine from the off, and if the person you are involved with shows resistance to being authentic then see this as the red flag that it is,” Kate advises. “If you feel that you are struggling to be genuine, then it’s a good idea to seek some kind of therapy or coaching before seeking an intimate relationship.”
The prevalence of this dating trend – an increasing amount of romantic relationships becoming a “situation” and somewhat lacking in definition – stresses the importance of fully exploring the person you’re dating and, above all, putting your own needs at the front of your agenda.
For Daniella, that has been all about recognising when someone is giving you the bare minimum, and rejecting that level of effort completely.
“In the past I had convinced myself that I was fine with the bare minimum, but now I know that I deserve way more than that” she tells me, a realisation that is undoubtedly the best, and most empowering “situation” of all to be in.