When I turned 30, I became obsessed with time.
I saw the rest of my life as one thick calendar, with each sheet representing another year left on earth.
And that calendar, although already far smaller than I’d like, gets even smaller when I substitute “total years left” for “total healthy years left”.
Once that idea truly took hold, I couldn’t push it out of my mind.
I was shaken immediately out of any blasé idea that I could simply sit back and wait before I dived into all the creative work, travel, friendship and romance that I wanted to suck the marrow out of before the reaper inevitably arrives to escort me out of the party.
I don’t think it’s healthy to become too neurotic about time. But we squander our healthy peak years at our peril. Especially when it comes to love.
So with all that preamble about mortality out of the way, let’s ask the question: is casual dating a waste of your precious remaining time on this earth?
Well, as many a Facebook status likes to say: It’s complicated…
Being In A Not-Quite-Relationship
There is no longer just one type of relationship.
We now have polyamory, monogamy, friends-with-benefits, hook-ups, and everything in between.
But what is the “in-between”? What is the limbo between being in a relationship and also not being in one? Recently it has been called a “situationship”: the moment when you’re in something more than a friendship but less than a relationship.
Maybe you both hang out at the weekends. Or you hook up after work occasionally. Or you flirt at the desk every day and make out when you’re both drunk at parties and sleep off your hangover together cuddling in the same bed.
There is often a bias that causes us to view a situationship as undesirable: a sad place to be, a second-best option, a rejection.
But there are upsides and obvious reasons one would choose this not-quite-a-relationship state of affairs for themselves. It’s flexible. It doesn’t ask you to give up huge chunks of your time. It lets both of you decide to get together only when you need physical intimacy, or casual sex, or just a person to hang out with at the weekend
All well and good…in theory.
The hard part is keeping things that way.
Soon enough one of you is likely to catch feelings. If you’re not careful, a situationship can slip all to easily into dreaded “relationship limbo”, when one party wants casual no-strings fun as well as some benefits of companionship, while the other secretly harbours desires for a committed relationship, or even marriage and a family, living in the fantasy of possibility and not-so-subtly attempting to nudge things in that direction.
So…if you find yourself still stuck and don’t know whether to stay or go, here are three of the big questions to ask yourself:
Question 1 – Is this hurting other important priorities in my life?
You might feel like you’re getting a free lunch.
Now you have someone to call when you feel lonely. It’s not necessarily going somewhere, but at least it makes the weekends more fun when you have someone in bed to eat sushi with, right?
But everything is taking attention from you.
Attention is focus. Attention is opportunity cost. Attention is what you sacrifice and then wonder three years later why you haven’t pushed ahead with any of your other big goals.
And the highest price should always be on our time.
Travel. Saving the world. Doing your best work. Eating at Taiwanese night markets. These are all worthy endeavours you need energy to complete. If a situation with someone, no matter how occasionally gratifying (sexually or otherwise) begins to eat into precious time you want to spend on other important things, you need to cut loose.
But don’t relationships take up time as well??
Yes, but at least with that you know there is a long-term investment in something you both want to grow.
With a casual relationship, you can end up doubling the waste: you may sacrifice time that could be spent on other parts of your life AND stime that might be better spent on actually meeting the person with whom you can build a real relationship .
When we’re healthy and young and able, there are precious windows to do the things we really want to. And they are always slipping away.
If you feel yourself suddenly sliding in your career. Or spending hours you could have enjoyed with friends endlessly dealing with drama, or wondering aloud what he really feels, or you find yourself compromising in other pursuits even though you have no idea where this is going, then you are inflicting self-damage.
You are allowing this to make life harder; romantic situations, long-term or short-term, should make life brighter.
Don’t give in to the temptation to coast with what’s comfortable. Deferring to short-term comfort is the enemy of pursuing what will really make you fulfilled and happy long-term.
Question 2 – Is this demanding emotional attention without emotional investment in return?
Perhaps it’s late-night phone calls where he makes you play therapist and talks about his problems. Or he relies on you to help him out and take care of little things. Or you drive to pick him up, spend the night at your place, and then feel used when he leaves the next morning.
What’s more, you’re not getting any real investment back.
You might be having great sex. Romantic evenings. Deep conversations and laughing until your stomach hurts.
But you’re not moving forward.
You’re on a rollercoaster, and eventually it will come back to where it started. Nothing wrong with that. But don’t confuse a temporary ride with a partner on your journey.
Question 3 – Is someone going to be in pain if this ends?
Pain is another way your attention gets robbed.
If you don’t protect it, someone can easily steal your emotional well-being. And it can take weeks or months to get back.
This is the warning most people will never heed: even if it feels good now, but you know it’s going to hurt later…stop.
If you know you’re going to feel huge emotional withdrawal, agony at wondering what could have been, and months of healing before you’re ready to meet someone new, consider that this whole situation may not be worth the trade-off.
Again, it’s up to you: some people decide it totally is worth it even if it will end.
But know that there’s an emotional price to be paid as well as time. Emotional connection when severed is always going to leave a few cuts and bruises after it gets broken.
If you’re the type of person whose heart needs months of intensive care after separating (or if you KNOW he is), then you owe it to them and yourself to call time before you end up in a haze of depressed tv-watching and junk food to medicate your feelings and an eventual recovery to get back to normal again.
Question 4 – Is the situation vague because I want it to be, or because otherwise I’ll lose this person?
This is where you have to be incredibly honest.
Because the honest 100% no-bullshit truth is that most situationships are not the choice of two people.
Some situationships may be logistical: he lives in another state/country, you’re both career maniacs, you have family requirements that make a relationship inconvenient right now etc.
But most of them (let’s say many) are borne out of necessity. It when someone says to themselves, “If I can’t get everything I need from this person, I’d rather have something than nothing.”
It becomes a form of accepting table scraps. A second-best compromise, one at its worst that is based on the false hope that the other person will eventually and magically change their mind.
This is why our reason matters so much when it comes to doing things that could potentially harm us emotionally, like hook-ups, dating multiple people, or casual one-night stands.
In the right time, with the right clarity of intent and honesty, these things can just be another fun part of the dating experience.
But if accepting a “situationship” amounts to merely a barely hidden hope that it’s just a bump on the road and will blossom into a full-on relationship, despite your would-be partner expressing their explicit sentiment that they don’t intend for that to be the case, then you are setting your self-esteem up like a row bowling pins waiting to be toppled by the crushing bowling ball of reality as it inexorably smashes you with its full force upon realizing the truth.
At the very dark end, this situation can be incredibly damaging to your self-worth. The more time you find yourself wanting someone who keeps you at arms length whilst also being physically intimate, the more you’ll internalise the belief that some part of you isn’t inherently desirable.
When the truth is much more obvious: you just need someone who wants the same thing you do.
And at it’s core, that’s the only question: “What do I want, and is this person going to give it to me?”
If what you want is casual, then go nuts. Again, no judgment. There are times and places where having the fast food version of a relationship makes sense. It might be short-term, but that’s not to say it can’t be fun and gratifying and precisely what you need in a particular moment.
But if casual dating turns out to be junk food for your soul, that slowly wears away at your sense of worth, leaves you emotionally lost, confused and drained of resources to pursue the pleasures of the time you have left, this is your alarm call.
The calendar won’t wait.
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13 Replies to “The Truth About Your “Situationship”: When And Whether To End It”
I needed to hear this right now. I just got out of dating someone for 2 months because I felt things go the casual route than commitment. I was second guessing because I never had the exclusivity talk with him, I basically just told him I’m moving on if things aren’t moving forward… he didn’t stop me so I guess that’s my answer.
That’s a very interesting article Stephen! Thank you for it. Can you tell me how does it apply to single people?? What part of it could adress to people who still haven’t find the one??
I just have had this exact experience and broke up after year of great fun as friends with benefits. It was not enough but it worked in that part of my life as I was sexually deprivated so it boosted my confidence and skills, but in long term I need soul mate.
Wow! Am I glad I read this. I recently got back together with some guy who was telling me all the right things I wanted to hear. We had history together so I thought maybe this time if we tried to make it, we just might. All the time we spent together… there was always something off. Even though he kept telling me he was committed, his actions didn’t show it. I was out of the dating scene for almost 6years before I tried it with him. And during my time off from the dating, I was doing my best to be a better person. Your videos and Matt’s helped me a lot. To understand a lot of things. So when this happened with him, I didn’t know what to call this thing I had with him until now. Situationship covers it right. And I am so glad I have the courage to move away from a toxic relationship that wasn’t giving me anything in return. If I was the naive person I was before, I would have stayed with him. Hoping that things would change. But I am not that person anymore. Thanks to you in part. I am so glad you guys and your team do what you do. Much appreciated
Hate to admit it, but yes. After 10 years, he broke up with me cuz I let myself go physically and financially! After I lost 70 lbs, he was interested again but basically only for sex! Hasn’t said “I love you” in three years, but I still love him! I know. I know. My brain really needs to over ride my heart, but easier said than done. It’s as if you and Mathew are talking directly to me! I know all this. But being widowed at 44, dating only one guy after my husband if 25 years, well…. dating sites are pathetic. They (the men) either want a nurse house maid, or a twenty something for arm candy! And now at 58, it’s not so easy! I still love the jerk who only sees me as a piece of a$$. He still helps me with house fixing stuff and is still so good to my now adult kids! He is handsome, we have a history and he actually has a retirement but just doesn’t have a heart for me anymore! Help!
Kick him to the curb.
I have no idea if I’m going through this or not but, theres this guy that I started liking and he’s told me he likes me aswell. The other day I asked him about where him and I are at.(After us talking and hanging out for about a month). He told me that he doesnt want to rush things and so on(he shows effort and more which makes it difficult if he is serious about me or not)I’m not sure If I should just go with the flow or ask him honestly again. All I know is that I want more than just a casual meeting. I’m really interested in him. Don’t know what to do.
Thank you for this. I’ve just turned 30 and my instinct is to avoid casual so I don’t do it, It’s important to do what works for me, not other people. What’s your advice in terms of filtering out guys like this in the early stages of dating? To do this while maintaining some mystique I mean. I.e. how do I spot a commitment-minded man?
It can be very difficult in a LTR as well. I just broke up with someone after two years as I felt he was coasting around telling me what I wanted to hear. I don’t have time for any more of this but I don’t want to be an ice queen either.
What do I do when been together three years, both 2 older children from previous relationships. Friends (platonic) for 5 years and work together in a NFP.
He says he wants to be with me for life but can’t see us living together for around 5 years because of our kids in school, uni…??? I know he loves me and I love him but don’t know what to do. Will I end up disappointed…
Right guy, wrong time??? HELP PLEASE!!!!! I love you guys
I’ve been in a situationship for 9 years but now its ended .He was very generous, kind , interested in my life and we spent weekends together trips away . All through the situationship there were signs of other women and it was very painful for me but I pushed it aside even though it was not right , and I did not look at him as being that way either, but questioned why ? I began to loose my self worth and anxiety kicked in as my feelings grew stronger for them as time past . I was scared of the more pain that may occur and it’s not healthy to feel like that and knowing he wont change . .. He did not care as he is happy way things are. Happy with his life the way it is having me and chasing women . I now am hurting and feel broken .I gave all my love energy and time on someone who I cant have .
Hi iv seen your videos and they’re incredible and I’d just pray you’d see this and be able to offer me some advice. Iv been dating a guy in the military for 5 months now, at the beginning texts and communication was good we seen each other once a week and everything was fine. He then had a lot of personal issues at home and asked for some space. I respected that but since then he will go like 3 weeks at a time before any communication and then I seen him Tuesday and I said to him like where is this going because I feel more invested then you. He said that statement was true but it’s just bad timing for him. He then told me he’s not interested in anyone else isn’t speaking/seeing Anyone else and Is definitely interested in me. He just doesn’t know when he can give me the next step because of the timing so I sort of thought I got somewhere with him and since then iv heard from him once.. am I wasting my time or should I just be more open to backing off I feel like iv given him so much respect and space and I’m getting upset that I’m being the toxic one wanting more. I’ll add my previous relationship before this was 2 years ago and was very domestically violent really hope you reply
I found myself in a situationship with a timestamp. He’s military, and just wants a relationship with me for the duration of his deployment. He has a girlfriend back home that he’s going to go back to – he even texts her on a regular basis. At first I thought this was great! I had just gotten out of a bad marriage and he was treating me just right. Its been a few months now and we’ve got but a year to go… I’m finally catching feelings and trying my hardest to date around so that I can focus my attention elsewhere. (Or replace him?) I am so aware of the world of pain that is going to come my way. I think he may have caught some feelings too… but in the end I’m positive it’s all going to end as predicted. I think I just need to gather the courage to leave before it goes on any longer… :(
I just don’t know why this article when these “situationships” happen all the time, all over the world. In a perfect world, there would be someone for everyone. Couples wouldn’t fight or break-up or end up hurt. But…it’s not a perfect world. I do not think God wanted a perfect world because he didn’t want to be utterly bored. I’m 53. I’ve learned that life is short. What I think we all must do is to make the best decisions that we can for ourselves. Case in point, I’m divorced twice. Both my exes did whatever it was that they wanted to do. With no help from me. I had a grueling choice. Put up with them or kick them to the curb. The curb it was! Am I happy? No. Not really. I have a live-in boyfriend because he’s chosen not to leave despite me breaking up with him. So, it’s hard. I do care about him as a friend and we help each other out. He’s here hanging around with me, and I’d miss him if he ever did leave, but I don’t have anyone else in my life. I did fall for someone who fell for me while on my last job. But guess what? He’s not available! So there you go. It happens all the time all over the world and it’s a sad thing. I’ve only seen very few couples who are really THAT happy. I suppose they are chosenly blessed!
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