Did Your Situationship Wreck You? Here’s Why They’re So Devastating

written by EMMA GINSBERG
Source: @feyzayildirimphoto | Pexels
Source: @feyzayildirimphoto | Pexels

Situationships are getting a lot of press right now. When Taylor Swift dropped The Tortured Poet’s Department, she shocked her entire fanbase with some of the most heart-wrenching lyrics she’s ever written presumably over a relationship that lasted about a month. Since then, the devastating nature of situationships has been a topic of much conversation on the internet. Sometimes, it’s not the six-year-long relationship that causes you to write 31 songs about your ex-lover, but the 10-year-crush-turned-intense-fling.

So, why exactly are situationships so painful? What is it about these vague yet extremely intimate connections that can drive us totally up the wall? To get to the bottom of why we “still miss the smoke after six weeks of breathin’ clean air,” per The Black Dog, I spoke with relationship coach, clinical psychologist, and attachment theory specialist Dr. Morgan Anderson. If you’ve found yourself down bad crying at the gym recently, consider this your situationship explainer.

Situationships can spark feelings of unworthiness

If you can relate to the lyric “I love you, it’s ruining my life,” you might be wondering what makes situationships so difficult to get over. According to Dr. Morgan, an incomplete relationship can trigger our emotions. “No matter how hard we try to play it cool, there’s a part of us that feels like we’re not being chosen [at the end of a situationship],” Dr. Morgan said. Situationships can activate childhood wounds about not feeling good enough. “This brings up the feeling that if we were good enough, then we would be fully chosen, and it would be a relationship,” said Dr. Morgan.

Situationships are hard to get over because they can make us feel as though we are unworthy of being chosen. Especially if you were seeking a serious relationship with the other person, having a situationship come to an end may impact your self-esteem. However, even if you were not initially super invested in the relationship, the end of an intimate connection with another person can still trigger worthiness wounds. “It might not be as much about the person itself, as much as it’s about the dynamic of not being chosen represents to you as an individual,” Dr. Morgan said.

Situationships can be isolating

If you’ve ever been baffled by the feeling of profound loneliness that comes after the end of a situationship, you’re not alone. You are grieving a connection that never achieved a certain level of social recognition of “official.” This can leave you feeling confused, lonely, and unsupported in your loss. “If you’re feeling sad or you’re grieving the end of the relationship, you can’t really expect a whole lot of empathy from your friends because they won’t understand how significant the relationship was to you, Dr. Morgan said. “It’s the ending of a relationship that was, on the surface, insignificant, but actually may have taken an emotional toll on you.”

You would be hard-pressed to find a Swiftie who didn’t think that most of TTPD was going to be about Joe Alwyn before its release and wasn’t shocked to hear Taylor spitting bars that were clearly about Matty Healy. Not that the Swifties actually know Taylor Swift, but this is illustrative of our broader social attitudes about situationships. We don’t rush immediately to the sides of our friends who go through them, which lends to their isolating nature. “It’s hard to process through something that never was,” Dr. Morgan said. When we don’t reach a certain level of the relationship escalator, it’s harder for us to signal to our support system that we’re struggling.

Situationships can take a toll on your mental health

Beyond the lack of closure and the isolation that the end of a situationship can bring, there is something about these undefined relationships that can make you really and truly down bad. Situationships are gray areas, and that ambiguity can take a serious toll on your mental health. For example, you might feel as if you are mourning a friend in addition to a romantic interest; you might feel depressed or anxious without that connection in your life anymore; you could feel slightly “unhinged” because you are having big feelings about a relationship that never was.

A situationship can expose our own unhealthy relationship patterns in a way that is extremely uncomfortable to face.

Often we find ourselves in situationships when we haven’t unpacked certain things about our own attachment styles. Situationships can expose our own unhealthy relationship patterns in a way that is uncomfortable to face, especially if we thought we were ready for the one. Of course, the end of a situationship can come about entirely because of the bad behavior of the other person. Most of the time, though, the situationship will expose some part of ourselves that gravitates toward emotionally unavailable individuals. According to Dr. Morgan, this is the aspect of these connections that can bring up feelings of worthlessness.

The end of a situationship can prompt internal reflection, which might mean facing some hard truths. It’s possible that you were unconsciously ignoring red flags. You may have connected with someone emotionally unavailable because deep down you knew you weren’t ready for commitment. “It’s making you look at what you really want from a relationship,” Dr. Morgan said. “You have to be very honest with yourself and ask ‘Were there ways I was settling?’ or ‘Were there things that I allowed to go on that should have never been allowed?’”

Having these questions run through your head on repeat is anxiety-inducing. If your mental health has taken a significant dip after a situationship, seek out support. Unpacking the impact that the relationship had on you with another person is the best way to move past those feelings.

Situationships are a fantasy

The thing about situationships that makes them so common is the fact that they are undefined by time. You can have a situationship that lasts three weeks, four months, or (horror of horrors) several years. However, according to Dr. Morgan, there is a type of situationship that can be especially hard to get over, and that’s what she refers to as a “fantasy relationship.” These situationships are very short and emotionally intense (one could say you loved them for only a fortnight). “We put this kind of connection on a pedestal because of how short and intense it was, and so we’re able to imagine all these things about the relationship without ever facing the reality of what it actually would have been like to build a connection with that person,” Dr. Morgan said.

When we have a situationship, our brain tends to fill in the gaps about what that relationship could have been. If we spend a lot of time in that fantasy world, it can make the ensuing breakup much more challenging. “When you’re going through this relationship ending, you’re also breaking up with what you would have wanted, the fantasy, the could-have-been,” Dr. Morgan said. Fantasies can make short-term relationships feel super intoxicating, which is what brings the already unstable dynamics of a situationship to a more heartbreaking level.

So, why is the end of a situationship so emotionally loaded?

There are a lot of reasons why the end of a situationship can sting particularly hard, but chances are, it has to do with at least one of these three things: a lack of closure over an ambiguous end, feeling unsupported in your grief, an exposure of your own unhealthy relationship patterns, or fantasizing about what could have been. Situationships aren’t all bad. Many of them are great learning moments that can show us how we might be settling for less than we deserve. However, feeling totally wrecked over an undefined relationship is never a fun feeling.

As you wade through this breakup, be patient with yourself, seek help from your support system, and don’t forget to acknowledge the work you’re putting into developing a healthy attachment style. Remember: You deserve someone who makes you feel “so high school.”