I’ve been in my fair share of situationships over the past seven years. Apparently, they are on trend. Lucky me, hey! Not really, because the most painful thing about those situations, has been them waking up ready for a label, but not with me. 

Was I merely the warm up before the main event? The one who got them there, got them ready for commitment, ready for something more, but not the one good enough to enjoy the fruits of that labour?

Self-worth destroying, is how I like to incapsulate the situation that is the situationship

What’s worse, is I kind of knew the end was coming each time. The situations never had a title. No commitment. No meaningful depth. Never a long term plan and a complete lack of frequency. Half the time I wondered whether they were truly in. Did they need more time? Would they ever get there? Situationships were chocked full of confusion.

I imagine they’d likely known for a while that I wasn’t the one for them. Yet they carried on, happy with the situation until they were ready to commit to something or someone else. And I carried on, riding on hope alone that the situation would become more serious.

Why the heck do we do it to ourselves?

I know some people like the situationship. I get it. There was a time I did too. Straight out of a decade long marriage, I didn’t want labels or any kind of long term commitment. It simply came down to not wanting to be tied down again so soon after having been married for so long. Plus, I had nothing to give emotionally at that time. I wanted a friend plus physical connection, but nothing more. I wanted the simple elements of a relationship as I suppose a comfort blanket to see me through a tough time, but none of the commitment of a relationship.

Naively, I didn’t really see those situations as situationships at the time

And I didn’t see them as hurtful or damaging to someone else, because unlike the norm of a situationship – where you really don’t know where the hell you stand – I was upfront and honest about what I had to offer, which was nothing more than casual. But the truth is, even when we are completely clear about our situation, it seems inevitable that someone is going to catch feels and then get hurt.

We spend time with a person. We like them. Tell them things we might not share to anyone else. They see parts of us that others don’t. Whatever we tell ourselves, however clear we think we are being, it’s very rare for a situation to remain one where both parties are happy for it to be nothing further, especially as more time passes. Ideally of course, both parties will grow more feelings, or both won’t. Then there wouldn’t be an issue at all. But most of the time, I don’t think it works this way.

We are human beings, people who naturally crave affection, community and acceptance

At some point along the line, we are going to wonder why the person we’re spending time with, having sex with, enjoying moments of our life with, isn’t something more. That shit hits your self-worth real bad. I’ve watched myself do it to someone else, and it was pretty shit knowing I was the cause. And I’ve been the receiver, which was quite possibly some just karma, but also just as shit to experience it firsthand.

There is a very murky hard to read line between hoping that someone is going to reciprocate feelings, and them developing just at a different pace. To being part of a situationship, where there will never be intentions for the situation to transform into something more. How do you begin to tell whether one day the person you are dating will wake up and decide they are ready for a label with you, or with someone else?

Well, I honestly don’t have all the answers. However, over the years I’ve become somewhat adept at reading situationship red flags

So if you’ve been seeing someone for a while, and aren’t sure which direction it’s headed, here’s a few personal pointers.

A medium to long term situation with no title is a glaringly obvious red flag that you’re happening upon situationship territory

And if that’s not what you want, the only thing you can do is tell them how you feel, and communicate what it is you need. Yes, this might be a risk that doesn’t pay off. They may not say what you want to hear. If that’s the case, isn’t it better to know it now than another six months down the line?

They don’t introduce you to friends or family

Or if they do, it’s somewhat begrudgingly, perhaps even selectively. Like not the best buddies, but classed enough as friends that they appease your concerns. Keeping you out of their inner circle, tends to suggest you aren’t part of the inner crowd.

Emotionally you feel unconnected

Maybe you’ve talked about your passions in life, work, family, but you’ve never really got into the deeper stuff. Like what you both want from the future, things you’ve been through, where the relationship is leading. Emotional connection is such a valuable part of any relationship, without that element, the relationship is unlikely to meet your emotional needs in the long term.

An unwillingness to post a coupley photo on the socials, really says quite a lot

This is a big situationship red flag for me. People like to show off. If they aren’t showing off online about you, then it might be because they don’t want anyone to misconstrue the situation you are in as ‘serious’ or something more.

Everything else seems to come first

Although this is a tough one, people are busy nowadays, and we all know that relationships are more often than not fleeting more than longstanding, so it might not make sense for someone to pour all their time and energy into a relationship. And I do think it’s healthy to have separate time, but if consistently feeling like the very last thing considered, it might be because you aren’t really being considered at all, only when convenient for them. 

Infrequency and lack of consistency is another hard one to measure

I’ve dated people who were genuinely busy, had kids and an active lifestyle to work around, interests and hobbies that took up time, and so that was a hard situation to call. Quite possibly not even a situation as such, simply that I wanted more and they couldn’t offer it. But if once a fortnight / few weeks was all the time they had to offer, then we wouldn’t be able to transform the situation into something more. The relationship wouldn’t be able to grow. Stuck in repeat, not evolving. Perhaps more of a situationship by circumstance, but still a situationship.

You’re monogamous, whilst they are living the single life

The worst kind of situationship tbh. Especially when you discover that you’ve been loyally committing to them for the past weeks, months or more, whilst they’ve been committing to everyone else. It’s an important thing to discuss early on. Sure, someone might not want a label as such, to be defined as ‘boyfriend’, ‘girlfriend’ or whatever. But whether or not you are both exclusive, or free to enjoy other people, that’s a discussion to be had. And the lack of it, is a big situationship red flag.

Of course that isn’t an exhaustive list. And obviously not a guaranteed one either

Some people just don’t want a label not because they don’t want one eventually, perhaps they went through something they are still recovering from and are struggling to figure things out. Maybe they like you a lot, but dislike feeling confined to a relationship too quickly, the label is seen as a burden. The confusion that comes with a situationship is confusing for that very reason.

So the warning signs of a situationship, is gut feeling more than anything

And I’ve learned over the years that gut instinct is normally friend not foe. Far too many questions rolling around your mind at night to signify that the situation you are in, is one you’re totally comfortable with. A pace that doesn’t align with what you are looking for. A lack of commitment or behavior that signifies that the situation doesn’t have a label because it is intended never to have one.

Ultimately whatever situation you’re in with the person you are dating, there really is no way of telling whether it might get to something else. Love doesn’t work that way. If it were that straightforward and simple to decipher, none of us would google a ‘How to tell if he really likes me?’ question ever. And I’m just as guilty as anyone of occasionally reaching to Google as an all-knowing crystal ball.

It really comes down to what matters to you. What feels comfortable and what doesn’t

Whether a label is important, and if it is then it’s totally okay to say as such. Or if you’re not totally okay with the situation being undefined, but also happy to wait it out because it feels like something is developing despite the label attachment, then wait. There are no across the board right answers here. The decision is personal. But if you would feel better with a label in place, and they are dead set against one, then that’s a huge compromise for one of you to make.

It totally sucks if you’re the person who wants more, but isn’t getting that and ends up not being the one they want a label with

But if it’s any kind of reassurance, hope guides most of my romantic decisions too. No one is silly or stupid for hoping something grew. We aren’t idiots for liking a person, and believing their behaviors suggested they felt the same even if they didn’t come with a title in tandem and it didn’t end up working out. Or mis-reading situationship red flags as something else. We also aren’t ‘too much’ for requesting relationship definitions rather than non-committal situationships.

For me, these situations have taught me to create boundaries

I don’t enjoy situationships at all. I’m all for casual and seeing how things go. But if I begin developing feelings for a person, if I’ve spent months and months dating them and they still don’t feel ready for a label, that’s totally okay. However it is something I need. I’m far too old for long term casual situations. And I’m far too busy for temporary and occasional romances that aren’t leading to something meaningful for my future.

I’m no longer interested in theoretical and hypothetical romances that keep me guessing month in, month out. It’s exhausting and I’m over it. I know what I feel, and I feel comfortable in what I know. The situationship is not a situation I enjoy, and it is not one that makes me feel good.

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.