Situationship: How to Cope When Commitment is Unclear

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Are you in a situation where you’re seeing someone but it’s not exactly a relationship? You and your partner have fun together and may even be intimate, but you haven’t committed to each other or discussed a future together. You’re never quite sure what to say when someone asks you whether you’re seeing someone, and “it’s complicated” is the only response that seems appropriate.

If so, you may be in a "situationship," which is essentially a relationship without any commitment, says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University. She says this arrangement allows individuals to experience the benefits of being in a relationship and being single simultaneously.

This article explores the characteristics of a situationship, its pros and cons, and some next steps you can take.

Characteristics of a Situationship

These are some of the characteristics of a situationship:

  • The relationship is undefined: You and your partner may not have had the “What are we?” conversation, to define the relationship, set expectations, and outline boundaries. It may feel too early to have the conversation, or you may not feel comfortable bringing it up.
  • There’s no consistency: A lack of consistency is a major sign that you’re in a situationship, according to Dr. Romanoff. It can be hard to know what to expect from your partner—for instance, you may not know when you’ll see them next, how long they’ll take to respond to a text, or whether they’ll make the effort to reach out. 
  • There’s no mention of the future: People who are in a relationship may plan for the future in some capacity, whether it’s going to an event in the near future or longer term plans to settle down and have a family. In a situationship, there’s typically no discussion of the future.
  • The connection is superficial: Though you and your partner may spend time together, or may even be intimate with each other, you may not have developed a deep emotional connection. The conversation may be superficial and you may notice that your partner never asks you personal questions, says Dr. Romanoff.
  • The relationship is based on convenience: You and your partner may not prioritize each other or go out of your way to see each other; instead, you may tend to make spur of the moment plans based on convenience, if you have a gap in your schedule or if something else doesn’t work out, for instance.
  • The relationship is not exclusive: You and your partner may not have discussed exclusivity and one or both of you may be seeing other people.
  • There isn’t much follow-up: You and your partner may be in “relationship mode” in person, but when you’re apart you may switch back to “casual mode” via text or on the phone, says Dr. Romanoff. She says you may notice that your partner doesn’t take a lot of initiative or follow-up with you on conversations or plans.

Pros and Cons of a Situationship

These are some of the pros and cons of a situationship, according to Dr. Romanoff. 

Advantages of a Situationship

The biggest advantage of a situationship is that there is less responsibility. Relationships can consume a significant amount of emotional energy. 

People who tend to gravitate towards situationships are those who want the emotional connection and intimacy with a partner in a compartmentalized way. They can have emotional presence and connection in person, but when apart, they can have their freedom.

A situationship can offer a fun, stress-free way to enjoy the benefits of a relationship without a major emotional commitment, provided both partners are on the same page.

Disadvantages of a Situationship

A major disadvantage of a situationship is that each partner may have different expectations for the relationship. 

Even though both partners might agree on the dynamics when they enter the situationship, one person might grow to want more from it than the other is willing to give.

It can also be stressful to be in a relationship without stability or consistency, particularly if you start to develop expectations of your partner, but they have not committed to meeting them. 

Relationship status can also contribute to your identity and play a role in your social dynamics; there may be times when not having a committed partner can make you feel deficient.

Mental Health Impact of Being in a Situationship

Both parties may not be honest about what they want out of the arrangement. Typically, one person is content with the casual aspect of the relationship, while the other is hoping that it might turn into something more. 

The mental health impact can be immense for the person wanting more as they may begin to conflate their sense of self-worth with gaining the approval of the other person. 

Additionally, because situationships tend to be superficial, the partner wanting more usually does not know the other person well, which causes them to idealize their partner, and in turn devalue themselves. 

People who repeatedly find themselves in these types of relationships tend to struggle with self-worth and usually find themselves being attracted to partners who make them feel they must earn love. 

What to Do If You’re in a Situationship

Dr. Romanoff shares some advice that could be helpful if you’re in a situationship: 

  • Be honest about your feelings: It's important to be honest with yourself and to be clear about your intentions for the relationship.
  • Ask for what you want: If you're interested in a more serious relationship, consider stating how you feel about the person and asking for what you want. Either they feel the same and want to pursue a more serious relationship with you, or they don’t and you can move on and find someone who does value you. It’s always better to have an answer because it enables you to move forward.
  • Avoid the passive approach: If you do want something more from the other person than a casual relationship, the passive approach you are taking may be more harmful than you realize. Spending time without making your intentions or needs known perpetuates the illusion that you could still have a chance but in reality, it does little to actually change your situation.
  • Communicate your position: If you are in a situationship and are genuinely content with it, it is important to communicate that effectively to your partner. Communicate your needs, boundaries, and expectations from the beginning to prevent hurt feelings in the future. 

A Word From Verywell

A situationship is a casual, undefined, commitment-free relationship. If that’s what you’re looking for at the moment, it can give you a chance to enjoy the benefits of a relationship without expending too much emotional energy. 

On the other hand, a situationship can be a difficult place to be if you’re looking for a committed relationship. The lack of stability and consistency can be stressful and you may find yourself disappointed if you start to develop expectations.

Either way, it’s a good idea to communicate with your partner and let them know what you want, so you can check whether you’re both on the same page.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rodrigue C, Fernet M. A metasynthesis of qualitative studies on casual sexual relationships and experiences. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. 2016;25(3):225-242. doi:10.3138/cjhs.253-A6

  2. Howard DE, Debnam KJ, Cham HJ, et al. The (Mal) adaptive value of mid-adolescent dating relationship labels. J Prim Prev. 2015;36(3):187-203. doi:10.1007/s10935-015-0387-2.

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.