SSomewhere between great love and no strings attached is a relationship category that needs a little more definition. He is emotionally connected, but without commitment or future planning. The labels “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” don’t really apply, but it goes way beyond a casual hookup. It includes going on dates, having sex, and building intimacy without a clear goal in mind. Enter “situation”.
Coined by Carina Hsieh in 2017, when dating apps were used on the rise, it makes sense that as more and more people embarked on dating through swiping and matching, relationship statuses would have to change as well. Hsieh described the situations as “a hookup with emotional benefits,” as opposed to the equally amorphous “friends with benefits,” which begins platonically but develops a sexual component. What they have in common, however, is a lack of commitment and clearly defined roles. And this lack of commitment in situational situations could have more liberating effects than one might think.
For those who doubt indefinite entanglements, don’t be fooled: situations are relationships. In fact, on Tinder’s latest Year In Swipe report, the number one trend was that “young singles own the situation as a valid relationship status.” This has resulted in the creation of “relationship goals” on Tinder, a space where eager daters can choose from six options, including: Long-term partner; long term, open short; short term, long open; short-term fun; new friends; or yet to figure it out. Dates can choose an option that best suits their needs and are prompted to confirm or change their choice each week.
Many daters still see situations as deterrents to their dating goals and feel uncomfortable not knowing where a relationship is going or what role they play in the lives of the people they meet. But something has changed in recent years. Instead of seeing situations as a trap to be avoided, entertainers now embrace the idea that some relationships should not be rigidly defined. For some, the need for flexibility and openness points to a trend that could be here to stay. Situations, with all their gray areas, can help people focus less on defining where they’re going and more on fully enjoying the present.
Read more: The Perils of Searching for “Marriage Material”
As a sex and dating coach, many of my dating clients work with me because they want a long-term partnership, whatever that means to them. They are usually open to exploring possibilities in the process, and I encourage them to do so. Staying open to people who may not be exactly aligned with your initial dating goal makes things a little easier and a lot more fun. It removes the urgency to immediately find what you’re looking for, allowing you to stay open to enriching connections as you search. Instead of berating yourself for exploring someone who catches your eye, you can embrace that experience for what it is. This also prevents you from staying in untenable situations, because you are less likely to force a relationship when it really isn’t ideal for you. In this way, situations actually provide a structure or framework for understanding relationships that don’t fit neatly into a box. Maybe it wasn’t a “waste of time”. Maybe it was just a situation.
Over the years, I have seen clients in a variety of situations who have had a purpose in their lives for a while. Some of my clients are in long distance situations, and these relationships can be quite powerful, with the parties involved staying in touch for years. They may know each other’s families, look out for each other’s well-being, and attend friends’ weddings. When they meet in each other’s city, they hang out, have sex, and watch Netflix while cuddling. Still, compromise may not be an option for either of them. Distance can make it too difficult. However, these long-distance situations provide some of the stability that long-term partnerships do without the “what’s next?” conversation
Sometimes people who are in a relationship find themselves not having the awkward “defining the relationship” conversation because they know they don’t feel the same way about their partner as their partner does about them. Maybe the situation works because there is no need to move forward; everyone involved is meeting their needs for now.
This is slightly different than dating specifically because when the goal is to build something long-term, you need to have clarifying conversations along the way about where things are going. Situations can be the result of doing the exact opposite: moving from moment to moment and date to date without expecting anything beyond that.
It may sound pessimistic, but all relationships end. When you focus more on how you feel now and less on where things are going, you give yourself space to enjoy all that your partner has to offer. You worry less and enjoy more.
Sometimes people prefer the looser structure of situations. It might take the pressure off of having to figure out exactly where things are going based on traditional expectations of how relationships work. For example, some people Don’t feel the need to spend more and more time with your partner to live together or take other typical steps towards commitment. The fact that situations have grown in demand indicates a tendency toward ambiguity. But this gray area is not without merit. The Tinder Year in Swipe for 2022 report noted a “49% increase in members adding the phrase to their bio with young singles saying they prefer situations as a way to develop a relationship with less pressure.”
Since situations are a form of relationship, if you’re trying to avoid being emotionally involved, it might not be right for you. If it were possible to detach yourself emotionally in situational situations, there would not be so much talk about how to get out of it or overcome a situation. My clients feel the sting of ending a situation the same way they feel after a breakup. They may even experience the joy of falling in love or the pangs of jealousy. This is all part of dating.
So what do you do if you find yourself in uncharted territory? First, consider whether this works for you or if it causes you more anxiety than comfort. If you feel good about your situation, you can have a conversation with your partner and let them know that you like what you’re doing and that you don’t need them to change anything, but you want to make sure they’re okay too. If you feel unsatisfied or confused, you can let them know that you would like more clarity on what they are looking for.
Situations aren’t for everyone, but they can be a way to give you more grace when looking for what you’re looking for or to give you some consistency when your life is changing. Being in the gray area with someone can be beneficial. While you both enjoy spending time together, learning more about each other, and continuing to define what you both want, you may experience an intimacy that doesn’t need a reason.
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