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Sex + Relationships

5 things I learnt from leaving a “situationship”

The term “situationship” is a pretty recent invention. It refers to the ambiguous romantic phase in which the two parties involved clearly have feelings for each other, are regularly talking, meeting up, having sex… but are in neither a relationship nor a friends-with-benefits arrangement.

Many people like this thrilling “chase”, where tensions are high and life is exciting with all the playful indecision. But at some point, this uncertain stage can become a source of anxiety or toxic attachment. 

I myself had been in a 2-year situationship which, in hindsight, was 1 year 11 months too long. After doing a lot of work to finally get myself out of it, I thought I’d share some personal takeaways from the experience, in case it helps confused souls out there.

Love the person, not the potential

The most “addictive” part of a situationship probably lies in its ambiguity – the potential that someone could be what you want, which may keep you invested in the connection longer than you should. 

When I was stuck in the situationship, I didn’t need anyone to point out all the red flags for me; I was already too familiar with his hot-and-cold texting, avoidance of honest communication, or aversion towards commitment. 

What I needed someone to point out, however, was how I overlooked these concerns because of the sweet, comforting gestures he sometimes made, like buying me food or helping me sort out a problem. Although inconsistent, such gestures are powerful in suggesting that maybe, just maybe, things can work out after all. 

But you deserve better than a life built on hypothetical projections of affection! Take a look at your friendships, your hobbies, or even the TV show you’re currently binging on: you choose them because they, at this very moment, are making your life better; not because they “can potentially” make your life better. Don’t convince yourself to stay by projecting your ideals onto someone and hoping they start to treat you better: not only are you short-changing yourself of the love you deserve, you’re also short-changing the other person of the love they deserve, because they, having to become the ideal potential partner you expect, are not being loved for who they are.

I shouldn’t have to always put my needs on hold

It’s true that healthy relationships can involve compromise. However, this doesn’t mean it’s okay to ignore your own needs 24/7. 

I’m pretty emotional and vocal, whereas my situationship is a more rational and restrained person, so I thought I needed to suppress my feelings in case I came off as too strong. For a while, it actually worked; on the surface things seemed to go well. However, because my need for expression and communication were constantly left unfulfilled, I found myself more and more miserable in the situationship.

If you can only maintain a connection by being someone you’re not, or by stifling your own wants, is the connection really worth maintaining at all? If the sacrifices you’re making are draining you, it’s unlikely that the relationship is sustainable, in which case big changes in your communication or interactions should be made – including calling it quits.

The bad feelings don’t cancel out the good ones – and vice versa

Like any complex human experience, a situationship has both positive and negative sides. For example, you might really enjoy spending time with somebody, but find yourself losing sleep over the lies they told you. 

It’s normal to have contradicting experiences with, and hence perceptions of, another person. That’s why we are more intrigued to see superheroes with character flaws, or supervillains with redemption arcs! But when it comes to the person who holds a special place in our heart, the intrigue often turns into confusion, as we find it hard to process the parts of them that don’t align with our perception. Are they the hero? Or the villain?

One of the most important realisations I had, while I came to terms with the end of the situationship, is that I didn’t need to assign the same label to all of the experiences I had. I couldn’t convince myself that the good times we shared were actually terrible, or that the bad days were somehow good. But one thing was obvious: my unhappiness outweighed everything else, which was enough reason for me to break away.And it was this reason I held on to, whenever I found myself bogged down by nostalgic memories of him. Ultimately, it wasn’t about losing a superhero, or defeating a villain; we are all human, who are equally capable of having good and bad times. Rather than ruminating over their past behaviours, the more important question to ask is this: do you want to spend an even longer time trying to figure them out?

Sometimes, moving on comes before closure

Controversial opinion: closure is overrated.

In the context of a situationship, at least, the vague nature of the connection makes it tricky to draw clear conclusions when it ends. For this very reason, people might find themselves in and out of the same situationship over and over again: attempts to get “closure” just result in even more confusion, arguing, and entanglement. 

Each time I tried leaving my situationship, I found myself caught up in trying to determine what exactly went wrong. But the more I tried to find that closure, the more fixated I became on the negative emotions I experienced, and the more agitated I felt — making it even harder to let go.

So, instead, I filed the case into the “Unsolved” folder in my mind, and allowed myself to live life first: spending more time with family and friends, rediscovering my old hobbies, and meeting new people every now and then. 

Then, one day, I realised that it no longer bothered me whether I solved this mystery of closure or not; I was already leading a new life, with more important and relevant concerns to deal with. Not everything makes sense — and that’s okay. As it turned out, I didn’t need to find a perfect explanation; moving on was, in itself, a very good closure.

A situationship is a valid experience

For a long time, it was difficult for me to accept that what I invested lots of time and energy in didn’t even count as “relationship” or “dating”. But I found some consolation and solidarity in the bitter situationship jokes that proliferate on social media, which means that such an experience must be quite common, and no less valid than an actual breakup. 

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to define your own experience – you’re totally allowed to feel like it was a real relationship. And although the end of a situationship can leave you feeling like you simply wasted this portion of your life, I’m here to assure you that you didn’t. Connecting with and breaking apart from someone are no easy feats, and learning what you want (or don’t want) in a potential relationship means that you’ve gotten to know yourself a lot better.

And, well, at least I got an article out of it!

Situationships aren’t inherently good or bad. For some, they can be well sustained, or even culminate in lasting relationships. But many times, they become problematic because while one person is pinning hope on the vague connection finally becoming clear, the other person is exploiting this vagueness to keep them around, reaping the benefits of a relationship without having to shoulder its responsibilities. 

If you find yourself stuck in (and desperate to get out of) a situationship, you’re definitely not alone. But as scary as it might feel, there are necessary steps for you to take to address your unmet needs: have a serious talk with the other person, voice your concerns, and perhaps allow the situationship to end. Love doesn’t always require a label, but it does call for clear expectations and healthy boundaries, so that we actually get the appreciation and support we deserve. 

Ruijia Huang

Nanyang Tech '23

A Psychology & Linguistics undergraduate who is a little obsessed with lifting and Chinese food.
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