Updated: Nov 12
I did not know there was a name for the nightmare I'd been trapped in for three-plus years. In love with a man who said he loved me, a man who said I was his best friend and "the most amazing woman I've ever known," a man who had sex with me regularly and knew my house well enough to help himself to everything in the fridge, a man who cowrote scripts with me and texted me all day and night, a man who shared his innermost fears and favorite playlists with me and even "allowed" me to cover his bills when his money ran low, but also a man who refused to officially commit or even introduce me to his friends and family, I was in a situationship: more than friends, more than friends with benefits, but, magically, less than an official couple.
Dating apps and hookup culture have made this non-relationship relationship the new normal. Maybe some women enjoy situationships, but I doubt it. Situationships are designed to benefit men, especially those with avoidant attachment issues, low empathy, low self-esteem, narcissistic tendencies, an external locus of validation, and difficulty keeping it in their pants. They get to have all the emotional and sexual benefits of a relationship (and often multiple relationships at once) without any of the responsibility. They get to be all infant, and we get to be all mama, on this one-way road to nowhere.
Because avoidantly attached people tend to attract those with anxious attachment, the second person in the situationship is always confused, with her self-esteem dropping more with every passing day.
ANATOMY OF A SITUATIONSHIP
The situationship starts off normally enough, with the avoidant generally chasing the anxious. Before long, he's proclaiming his love for you, the most perfect woman of all time. This love-bombing feels amazing, and you're hooked. You're done looking for anyone else. He's the one. You're wired for monogamy and commitment, and he knows it. You're also probably convinced, at some level, that everyone who loves you will dump you if you bother them too much, so you don't press too hard to define boundaries - after all, better to be undefined and hopeful than to lose this this guy. You tell yourself it's a relationship. You tell yourself that he thinks so too. But you don't ask, just in case.
Eventually it's clear he comes and goes as he pleases. He doesn't introduce you to anyone as his girlfriend. He treats you like a buddy in public, and still openly checks out other women in front of you. He disappears for chunks of time without communicating, and turns his phone away from you when he texts. On social media, he's liking every hot chick's pics, all day, every day. If you dare to ask about it, he asks if you'd blame any guy for not committing to a stalker like you. Maybe he's right. Maybe this is all your fault. You second guess your intuition. You start to feel even less secure, and, if you're anxious, you cling rather than run.
You know you should leave. Your friends tell you he's trash. But you stay. He gives you hope by saying if you'd only stop doing those few little things that make him unsure about you, he might commit.
At least, that's how it went for me. For three years, until, mercifully, I found the strength to walk away for good. I would not have ended it unless he got another of his situationship women pregnant, two weeks after finally supposedly "committing" to me.
To say this experience was difficult is a gross understatement. As a person in recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, a severe brain-based mental illness that makes regulation of intense negative emotions challenging, this painful situationship almost pushed me out of recovery and back into very risky territory.
While a situationship can be damaging to any woman, it's especially dangerous for those of us recovering from or struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder, for the following five reasons.
BPD MAKES YOU A PRIME TARGET FOR A SITUATIONSHIP ARTIST - Almost everyone with BPD is desperate for love but has dysfunctional attachment, with most of us falling on the anxious side. We have severe abandonment trauma and will cling to people, even those who hurt us, rather than feel the pain of perceived rejection and abandonment or loneliness; in fact, one of the diagnostic criteria for BPD is "desperate attempts to avoid rejection and abandonment, real or imagined." An avoidantly attached person will relish the fact that they can do almost anything to someone with BPD, and we won't walk away. Many a time, I promised myself I'd block him and move on, only to unblock him days later, and beg him to come back. Yes, I realize this is pathetic.
THE BPD'S EXTREME EMOTIONAL REACTIONS TO REJECTION GIVE THE SITUATIONSHIP ARTIST JUSTIFICATION FOR NEVER ACTUALLY COMMITTING - Most Borderlines are triggered by uncertainty, rejection and perceived abandonment. A situationship offers up megadoses of all three, nonstop. Once triggered, many of us with BPD have extreme emotional overreactions, due to overreactivity in the amygdala, and an inability to regulate emotions. These outbursts will confirm for the Situationship Artist that he is right to not commit to such an unstable woman. He won't walk away, though. Your intense feelings about him make him feel alive and special, even when they scare him. He'll stick around because you love him so much, and he needs validation. But now he'll use your own personality as a reason to never truly commit. The borderline will come to believe his lack of commitment is her fault, making her illness worse.
RECOVERY FROM BPD IS IMPOSSIBLE IN A SITUATIONSHIP - It is difficult, but possible, to manage this disorder, through therapy. But all the therapy is no match for the destabilizing brutality of a situationship. If you want to get well, you have to get out.
CONSTANT TRIGGERS WILL LEAVE YOU VULNERABLE TO THE WORST OUTCOMES IMAGINABLE - People with BPD are at much higher risk of self-harm and suicide because their brains feel pain more than is normal. Therapy works, but will never eradicate the disorder. You will need to manage your disorder for the rest of your life, and that means doing everything in your power to avoid triggers that can set you back or even erase the gains you've made. For many of us with emotion regulation issues and attachment trauma, a situationship isn't just painful, leaving it could be the difference between life, and death.
Alisa Valdes is a bestselling author, screenwriter and film producer and an award-winning journalist living with and in blissful recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder. She is available for coaching calls for others living with the disorder. Please visit her coaching page to sign up for a time that works best for you!