Karishma Patel, 28, says that she is tired of her current dating life. “All that comes my way are situationships,” she complains. Patel recounts that she has had men ghost her after having sex with her a few times, not build an emotional connection at all, or, build a connection and then say that they don’t want anything even mildly serious.
A similar case is that of Sameer Nair, 22, who says that he has stopped dating because most women he met wanted nothing more than a “situationship”. He says, “Most women I meet just want a hook-up and are not interested in spending time getting to know each other.”
In the rapidly evolving dating landscape, a novel form of relationships, termed “situationships”, is burgeoning amongst Gen-Z and Zoomers. Despite some superficial similarities with “friends-with-benefits”, “situationships” are distinguished by a more pronounced lack of emotional connection and a utilitarian aspect that seemingly enhances their feasibility. While this form of association might appear convenient and uncomplicated, it inevitably takes a psychological toll on those involved.
What is a situationship?
Sanjana Prasad, a trauma-informed counselling psychologist and psychotherapist based in Bengaluru defines situationships as broadly falling under the category of passionate love, and often lacking the element of commitment. while typically there is a need for intimacy and commitment from one of the partner(s) in a committed relationship, there may or may not be intimacy in a situationship.
“Often, a friendship/relationship turns into a situationship when one of the parties wants to take a step forward towards commitment, and the other partner is not interested in doing so. The in-between stage where both parties are unable to end the relationship, but at the same time, unable to make any changes in other directions, is the key characteristic of what a situationship looks like,” she says. One may thus define a situationship as two people willfully consenting to, and enthusiastically participating in low commitment, romantic connections.
The rise of situationships
Dr Sheba Singh, founder and director, TalkSpace-A Mental Health Studio, Mumbai reasons that Gen-Z and Zoomers are raised in an open and flexible environment and hence are more independent, realistic and more accepting of new concepts, be it sexual orientation, relationships or any mental health issues. “While they value professional growth and self-reliance, they also prioritise emotional connections. Being emotionally connected and having feelings of being loved is a basic human need and to fulfill that need what better can they think than a situationship,” she says.
The connection between attachment styles and situationships
Every human has an in-built attachment system. How we engage and interact with the world is informed by our internal worlds, and the attachment style we develop as young children. While all human beings have the inherent need to connect, a lack of secure attachment in the early years with the caregiver can create unhealthy patterns of connecting and relating with people. While this may seem unhealthy on the outside, this is also the only familiar way in which the person relates with the world.
“For example”, says Prasad, “if you've lived next to the train tracks, you're probably used to the noise pollution so much so that when you move to a quieter locality, it may feel unfamiliar and terrifying at first. Similarly, those who are unable to form securely attached patterns with their parents, may struggle to find securely attached partners attractive. Instead, they may find another insecurely attached person attractive and relatable, and they may come with the same set of limitations on what it takes to make a relationship work.”
There may be some partners who prefer the lack of closeness in a situationship, since their attachment system gets activated in an unfamiliar way when there is a sense of security and commitment, and this overwhelming activation can cause this person to want to disconnect and keep as much distance while still craving a relationship. This tussle between two very conflicting needs (to stay close while being distant) is at the very crux of how most situationships last for years together.
The impact of situationships on mental and emotional health
It can be stressful to be in a relationship without consistency and stability, especially if you start having an expectation mismatch during the course of the situationship. Dr Singhal lists the psychological impact of being in a situationship as follows:
1. You're uncomfortable bringing up the “where is this relationship going?” talk because of several reasons—you don't want to be seen as desperate or needy, you have had a past history of failed relationships, you're insecurely attached and carry that model in your adult relationships, you have fear of abandonment, etc.
2. It's hard to know what to expect from your partner—this may lead to you feeling insecure or anxious. The lack of discussion of the future or the lack of exclusivity might add to the feelings of insecurity.
3. You might struggle with low self-worth and have a pattern of being attracted to partners who are emotionally unavailable or make you feel you must earn their love.
Our brains are made of neurons and several other good things. And “neurons that fire together, wire together.” In simple terms this means that if you keep repeating something, the neuronal circuit gets stronger since it fires the same way over and over again, and this strengthening can cause breaking out of the habit all the more difficult.
By the time people start thinking of getting into traditional relationships they already have their own rule-book based on their earlier experiences with situationships or polyamory. For example, they are not familiar with concepts like the future because a situationship is present-based. They also cannot identify with trust, stability and consistent behaviour. So, if you're looking to break out of a pattern where you'd like to start dating people more traditionally, it is possible—if you work on the patterns that keep you from forming close bonds.