Is Your “Situationship” Harming Your Mental Health?

young guy hugging young girl

More than friends but less than a relationship, we’ve seen it time and again in our own lives and in pop culture. A fictional “situationship” from one of my favorite movies — Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in No Strings Attached — instantly comes to my mind when I think of this topic. The storyline of the movie (highly recommend if you haven’t yet seen it), takes you through a friendship that becomes more than just friends, but then not exactly your typical monogamous relationship either. The movie ends in (spoiler alert) the two falling in love and living happily ever after.
Unfortunately, reality is hardly ever like it is in the movies.

What is a Situationship?

A situationship is an “almost relationship,” meaning you’re not just friends, not just casually hooking up, but haven’t defined the relationship. To some this might look like casual meals and hanging out, but never really discussing the future — but a situationship could look different for anyone. It’s important to keep in mind, that you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Relationships and dating don’t all look the same, particularly when compared to the experience of dating that your parents or grandparents had.

Your Situationship’s Impact on Your Mental Health

Situationships either work, or don’t, just like any other relationship. What separates a situationship from the more conventional dating relationships is all that is left up in the air — boundaries, expectations, and the future. Everyone has their own emotions, motives, and history. The only person to judge what works best for you, however, is you.
For some though, the uncertainty, among other things, could potentially harm your mental health. Someone in a situationship might also struggle with a decrease in self-esteem or a sense of loneliness from the potential lack of emotional attachment. Like I said, everyone’s feelings are different, but it’s important to remember that whatever you do feel, is valid. No one knows how you should feel, but you.

It’s possible it works for you

If you are not in a place where you want to commit, there’s no shame in having the type of relationship you want. However, with situationships, there is a lot more that is left unclear and undefined about the relationship. A lot of people crave stability and clear boundaries, and if these are something you personally need, not having them can be harmful to your mental health. Openness and communication with whomever you’re seeing is imperative in assuring the situation continues to work for both of you and no one gets hurt. Just because there aren’t any feelings in the beginning, doesn’t mean there won’t be later, so be sure to check in occasionally about the terms of your arrangement. As mentioned, it’s important to be clear and communicate effectively in order to protect your feelings.

Potential harm from a situationship

It’s easy to think you can change someone. Although this can apply to many aspects of a relationship, in this case, you might think you can change their desire to commit. If you’re being honest with yourself, you might think if you spend enough time together, they’ll be ready to commit. Not the case — if someone’s not ready, take their word for it.
So, what does this mean for mental health? Although different for everyone, the inability to get someone to commit could bring up feelings of rejection and ultimately feeling devalued as a person. According to Dianne Grande Ph.D., “[t]he paradox of healthy self-esteem is that we need someone else to validate ourselves as worthy.” In situationships, thoughts of “Why won’t they date me?” and “What’s wrong with me?” can be all consuming — it’s not feeling validated that can be most detrimental to your own mental health.
As cliche as it is, a lot of times the answer in these situations is that it is the other person, not you. Hearing this might be unsettling, but the sooner you accept the person’s feelings, the sooner you can return to a world of self love and feeling valued as a person.

Deciding What’s Best For You

While it’s true that there are no two people that feel the exact same emotions or hold identical truths, you have to decide what’s healthy and feels best for you. You might find a lot of advice, stories, truths — however, the only person who knows exactly how you feel is you. How you feel might not be how your best friend feels, and maybe not how the other person in your situationship feels.

Signs it might be time to break it off

Essentially, it boils down to the fact that it seems like you’re in a relationship, but you’re not. If the lack of security and feelings of uncertainty start to cause you harm after a while, here are a few signs it might be time to re-evaluate your situation:

  • You definitely have feelings and they’re not reciprocated
  • They other person is not willing to communicate
  • You’re more stressed, anxious, or upset than usual
  • The happy moments with this person are few and far between — an often overwhelmed by uncertain and anxious feelings
  • You don’t feel like your best self

What comes next?

If you end up deciding that it’s time to move on, it can be a sigh of relief, but there is also a potential for feeling sad or upset post-situationship. If you are feeling sad, here are a few ways that can help you move on:

  • Lean on your support system: Your support system can help distract you and also cheer you up in harder times! Seeking a therapist can be a great addition to this system because they can help you regain lost self-esteem and give you the tools you need to move past the harm and hurt feelings it caused. Online therapy might be a great option to express yourself, because it’s an unbiased and convenient safe space.
  • Create some space: Know that it’s okay to grieve this person as you would a breakup, even if you weren’t in a traditional committed relationship — it’s okay to unfollow this person on social media and take time away.
  • Take time to journal: Make a list of what you want to look for next time in a romantic partner and remind yourself why this particular person didn’t work out.
  • Self Care: Ask yourself what will make you happier on a day-to-day basis, what will help you regain self worth, and plan out how you can make that happen.

The best thing that can be taken from a situationship are the lessons you learned about yourself. You might take away a new appreciation for your strength, resilience, or ability to express your emotions. Each setback will only help you grow as a person.
Moral of the story, everyone’s situationship is different and each experience holds its own emotions and truths. There is no cookie cutter guide to determine if you’re in a healthy situation or if it’s time to get out — trust your instincts and don’t forget to make yourself a priority. Remember: we aren’t in a Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher movie, and although it might work out, it’s okay when things don’t always end with happily ever after.

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