If you’ve been single at any point during the past ten years, it’s likely you’ve ended up in a situationship. Maybe you didn’t call it that – you just complained to your friends about someone who took 3-5 business days to text you back, or analysed their “hey, wyd” messages until the letters had no meaning.
A situationship is the modern dating term for any scenario where you’re doing more than just meeting up for casual dates, but not yet officially together. Sometimes this is the natural progression from meeting to being together; a liminal space that lasts for a few weeks before someone has the “what are we” conversation.
But sometimes, it’s relationship purgatory.
TikTok users are sharing their back-and-forth texts in situationships at the moment, and the trend is revealing some pretty ugly stuff. We’re talking constant mixed messages and vague dating-but-not affairs spanning over a year.
So what makes a situationship cross over from casual fling to toxic relationship? We asked psychologist Kayla Steele for her take.
When does a situationship become unhealthy?
“A situationship is not inherently unhealthy if both people are on the same page, and there is clear communication, healthy boundaries and mutual respect,” psychologist Kayla Steele tells Refinery29 Australia. Basically, if everyone is on board with being “something, but not something”, all is well and go ahead and enjoy your sexy hook ups.
However, situationships can quickly become unhealthy. “When one person is ignoring or suppressing their needs in order to please or because they fear losing the other person, that’s a red flag,” says Steele.
This kind of toxicity is really caused by, well, you. If we’re not being honest with someone we’re dating, and pretending that everything's “totally chill", "whatever, no strings” and so on, we’re accepting a relationship we actually aren’t happy in.
What do all the mixed signals mean?
That being said, we can also end up in this place of suppressing our needs because we’re being breadcrumbed – given just enough attention to keep us interested, only to then have it taken away. In my experience this looks like someone texting you all night, then going radio silent for a week. Sometimes this can just be the actions of a person who is kind of interested, but not really interested. But it’s worth knowing what manipulation looks like, because breadcrumbing can also be a tactic for keeping you exactly where someone else wants you.
@hells_chelss NOTHIN like being told they aren’t gonna lead ya on after wasting 3 months of your life #datingsucks #denverdating #PlutoTVIsFree #🚩 #🚩🚩🚩 ♬ Sparks - Coldplay
“One of the strongest indicators of manipulation is when you start to question your own reality, including your perception of yourself, your relationships and the world,” says Steele. “This can lead you to change the way you think, feel or behave and can have a profound impact on your sense of self and mental wellbeing."
She says that warning signs include noticing that you’re losing trust in yourself and ignoring or suppressing your own thoughts and feelings, you’re constantly questioning and doubting yourself, and you feel uncharacteristically guilty and like you're walking on eggshells around the other person.
Yes, situationships can be abusive
Even if you’re technically not in an official relationship, you can be the victim of abuse.
“Coercion in a relationship can include isolating you from your support system and turning others against you; monitoring your activity including your relationships, work, finances, social media; denial of your freedom and autonomy including body and sexual autonomy; unrelenting jealousy; using threats of harm to self or others; and verbal, physical, emotional and sexual abuse,” says Steele.
In scrolling the #situationship tag on TikTok, I’ve seen some really alarming messages. There was the proprietary stuff like “your body is mine” through to controlling texts like “who is that guy you’re talking to”.
These are presented without context, of course, but if you’re getting texts like when you're in a situationship and you're feeling guilty, scared or restricted, that situationship isn't just some flaky non-relationship you're in; it could be downright abusive.
At the end of the day, it's important to check in, both with yourself and with a trusted friend and a therapist. If the people you love are concerned about your mental, emotional or physical wellness in a relationship, it's worth considering if they're noticing something you might be missing.
If you or someone you know may be in an abusive relationship, help is available. Call 1800RESPECT or head to their website for useful articles and online assistance.