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Defining and Describing Situationships: An Exploratory Investigation

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Abstract

A romantic trajectory that has received little attention in the literature is “situationships,” which is a colloquial term used in some Western cultures to describe a complex relationship situation. According to Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, experiences of companionate and/or consummate love are often preceded by romantic love. However, situationships may be experiences of romantic love, without increases in commitment. The goal of this study is to describe situationships using a mixed-methods, exploratory approach. The first phase of this study involved 28 participants in one-on-one, semi-structured Zoom interviews regarding their entire relationship history, and then identifying if any of these experiences were situationships. For the second phase, 261 participants completed an online survey regarding their three most recent relationship experiences. The goal of the first phase (qualitative analyses) was to define situationships and describe how these relationships were different from other relationships. The goal of the second phase (quantitative analyses) was to differentiate situationships from non-situationships using empirical data based on results from the first phase of the study. Using reflexive thematic analyses, situationships were defined as romantic relationships with no clarity or label, low levels of commitment, but similar romantic behaviors as established couples by means of affection and sexual behaviors and time spent together. Independent samples t-tests using Bonferroni corrections provided some support for the prescribed definition as there were significant differences regarding relationship quality and similarities regarding affectionate and sexual behaviors between situationships and non-situationships. These results reflect that people in a situationship are, for the most part, emotionally and sexually invested even if they are not in a fully committed relationship.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge Lily Steed, Savannah Remel, and Shahara Ransom for all their hard work on this project.

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No funding was received for conducting this study.

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LT and AP conducted data collection. ML and CL conducted data analyses. ML, AP, and LT wrote the first draft of this manuscript, which was later edited by CL. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Michael R. Langlais.

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Langlais, M., Podberesky, A., Toohey, L. et al. Defining and Describing Situationships: An Exploratory Investigation. Sexuality & Culture 28, 1831–1857 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-024-10210-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-024-10210-6

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