It’s that magical time of year when leaves change, holidays approach, and folks scramble to find someone with whom they can weather the colder months. Or, if you were entertaining someone during the summer, you might decide that it’s time to end it before the holidays kick off because you just don’t want to spend all winter with them. These are the kinds of scenarios we’re talking about when we use terms like “cuffing season,” a phrase that describes the casual relationships that get us through the winter. And even though the new coronavirus pandemic has changed how we date, people are still looking for these types of bonds. (Hopefully as safely as possible.)

But since cuffing season typically isn’t about searching for a lifetime commitment, it often involves a specific kind of dating interaction. Enter: The situationship. For the uninitiated, situationships are casual romantic partnerships where everyone involved has kind of agreed (either verbally or through their actions) that this relationship is contingent on the situation. While traditional relationship terms like “significant other” or “spouse” often describe more permanent commitments, a situationship is primarily determined by immediate circumstances. For instance, a summer fling is contingent on summertime starting and ending. And, most often, a situationship continuing hinges on whether each person is interested enough to keep making an effort. You can already see how this gets tricky, right?

It’s not all bad, though. Often, when casually dating, it’s tempting to think many steps ahead and impose expectations on someone you’re just getting to know. Situationships, however, allow you to (hopefully) explore possibilities without overemphasizing a particular destination. Of course, the caveat is that it works best if you talk to your situationship partner or partners to find out if your overall needs and goals align. The talking—the part where we’re transparent about our overall hopes—is where situationships can turn left quickly.

“There’s no right or wrong because relationships—even marriage—are a kind of social construct,” Vernessa Roberts, Psy.D., tells SELF. “So [situationships] can be fine if both partners are okay with it. But what’s happening, at least what I’ve seen, is one person is wanting more, and the other person isn’t. And so that’s where the problem comes about.” That’s also where a situationship sometimes ends.

Dealing with a situationship breakup can be so fraught, so if you’re facing that now and you’re not sure how to process, we have a few tips below that could be helpful:

1. First of all, you’re allowed to call it a break up (or a shakeup).

There’s this pervasive cultural message that labels and titles legitimize relationships, so when situationships end, it’s tempting to try to reassure yourself by saying things like, “We weren’t together anyway.” But labels don’t make relationships real. The people in them do. Your particular situationship could still have involved “a lot of time, energy, and emotion,” Roberts points out. So call it a breakup if it feels like one and process accordingly. Or, if that word feels too intense, call it a shakeup—because it is a disruptive experience, after all. Circumstances that you’ve grown accustomed to are changing, and you’re allowed to have thoughts and feelings about it. On that note…

2. Remember that you’re entitled to every emotion that you’re feeling.

No matter what you decide to call this loss, endings bring up all sorts of feelings, including grief, shame, guilt, disappointment, or even some relief. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing that you’ve had some feelings arise about your situationship breakup. Acknowledge the emotions, Roberts says. She suggests reminding yourself, “It’s okay for me to feel this grief right now, and I’m going to work through it just like I would any other relationship.” There is no one singular way to feel.

3. Lean on support from friends and family (and observe how you talk to them about it).

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easier said than done. If you’re not allowing yourself to feel the emotions you’re having, it’s harder to believe you deserve comfort and support. To be clear: You absolutely do. Not only should you lean on your friends and family, but observe how you’re talking about what happened. If you find yourself saying things like, “It doesn’t matter” or, “We weren’t even together,” then it might be time to get more honest about what you’re feeling. And it’s okay to ask your friends and family members to just listen (i.e., keep their honest opinions to themselves).

4. If you can’t talk about your feelings, write them out.

Maybe being honest with your loved ones isn’t an option because there is “I told you so” energy in the air. That’s fine, but you still need to find ways to process what happened and journaling can help you do that. As SELF previously reported, writing down your negative thoughts can help you investigate your feelings a bit more. For instance, if you’re catastrophizing (“I’m a terrible person and I’ll never find love”), writing down those thoughts and then challenging whether or not it’s true can help you feel a little better. A great place to start: If your predominant thought is that you don’t have a right to feel anything because this wasn’t “real,” investigate what “real” means (and write down moments when, yes, you had a “real” interaction with this person, validating the fact that you’re allowed to also have real feelings about the situationship being over).

5. Know that these feelings might last a while.

It’s tempting to push emotions aside quickly, but it is a loss and you will have to let these feelings work themselves out. One of the most impactful things you can do is give yourself space to heal, Roberts explains, adding that remembering things you liked to do before the breakup can all be helpful. Another effective way to work through setbacks—romantic or otherwise—involves remembering other times you’ve survived difficult experiences. You might even make a list of other breakups, endings, and transitions you weathered to remind yourself that this will pass. Another tip? “Date yourself instead of just finding another [situation] as soon as you can,” Roberts suggests.

6. When it feels right, reflect on the lessons.

In time, when you don’t feel a pit in your stomach or lump in your throat anymore, it might be helpful to think about what you got from the relationship and what you’d want in your next one. “Maybe you learn from that relationship that you weren’t connected to your sense of self or you feel like it got lost along the way,” Roberts says. “Sometimes, the healing and grieving process is about being able to find ourselves again and asking: What do we want ourselves to look like after this healing process? Who do I want to be after this? Maybe it’s the exact same person.”

Source: self.com