The Relationship Experience Vs. A Relationship Is Subtle, But These Are 7 Signs Someone Is Looking For The First

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

In a culture where the very definition of the word “relationship” is far different than it was even 10 years ago, finding someone who wants to be in the same type of relationship as you isn’t always easy. Some people opt for open relationships, friends with benefits, polyamory, and, in some cases, a relationship experience.

A relationship ~experience~ isn’t quite a relationship. From the outside, it looks like a relationship, but on the inside, it's missing some major relationship-related components. Similar to a girlfriend/boyfriend experience (although that occasionally includes a financial transaction), sex and convenience are the basis, as opposed to what drives a real relationship: trust, respect, honesty, and expectations.

While there’s nothing wrong with someone wanting the relationship experience, as opposed to the whole enchilada, if you’re someone who wants the real deal, then dating someone who only wants the experience just isn’t going to work. It’s going to create far too much turmoil for you and, if you hang on hoping the person you’re dating will change their mind and actually want to commit, it can end in even more heartbreak.

Here are seven signs the person you’re dating wants “the relationship experience,” instead of the actual relationship.

1. They Like The Idea Of A Relationship

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Like a lot of things in life, the theory or the idea of something can feel better than the real thing — at least for some people. The real thing involves time, effort, and even allowing yourself to be vulnerable — none of which are necessarily easy. Some people either don't want to put in the time and effort or, in some cases, are either unwilling or unable to be vulnerable.

“Sometimes the idea of being in a relationship has more value to us than compatibility in the relationship, equity in the relationship, or just plain happiness,” behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and the creator of Your Happiness Hypothesis Method, Clarissa Silva, tells Bustle.

But the problem is, if you're with someone who just likes the idea of you and the idea of the relationship, then you're bound to get hurt. Ideas are lovely, but if your life is a reality and your reality is someone else's idea, then that's no good.

According to Silva, a relationship experience can create an illusion for the person who wants the real deal. While illusions can be great if you're, say, at a magic show, in real life where real feelings are involved, it's likely to be a disaster.

2. They Don’t Want To Be Alone

When someone doesn’t want to be alone, they’ll go to great lengths to avoid it. Very great lengths. In having the relationship experience, without the actual relationship, the person who fears being alone gets to fill the "loneliness void," as Silva calls it, with an actual person and the idea of a relationship.

While some people have no interest in having a life partner and are very much content in being alone, others can't do it. But just because someone can't be alone, it doesn't mean they necessarily want a real relationship either. It means they're emotionally unavailable, but may not realize it. If they don't realize it, then you can't really expect yourself to realize it about them either.

"Childhood may affect one's emotional availability as an adult because there could have been trauma or an attachment disorder towards one or both parents," Cali Estes, PhD., therapist and founder of The Addictions Academy, tells Bustle.

Although it may seem like an easy fix to suggest to your pseudo-partner they get therapy, if someone isn't all in, then that's not the result you're going to get.

3. You Feel Like An Accessory

Although many people might relish in the notion of walking into the room with the best-looking person on their arm or even being the best-looking person on the arm of another, if that's what your relationship has to stand on, it's going to fall apart fast.

“If you find that you’re an accessory or an arm charm, the relationship is fulfilling the euphoric need of a partner,” Silva says.

Again this goes back to fantasy versus reality. In reality, we're with people whom we see all of, people whom we want to know inside and out, and people that offer to our lives more than just pretty face. In fantasy, it's all about the superficial, what looks good, and how things appear to others. It also aids in avoiding the "loneliness void."

"In addition to having that accessory, they’re no longer dining alone, they have a plus one at events, they’re able to avoid the social pressure of being alone, but not really quell their loneliness entirely," Silva says.

Basically, they get everything they want and need while you get the shaft. Or, if you want to try to put a positive spin on it, you get exactly what they get: just the experience, as opposed to the real relationship.

4. Sex Lacks An Emotional Interest

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When it comes to sex and love, both can exist without the other — whether or not we want that to be the case. Some people can love without sex, while others can have sex without love. But if you're in — or want to be in — a relationship that has it all, then the love and sex should be intertwined. For someone looking for just the relationship experience, the intertwinement isn't necessary.

"When [someone is] satisfied with just a 'relationship experience' there isn’t a particularly strong emotional interest in the person," Silva says. "The depth of the relationship is sexual."

If you have sex with someone, especially someone you love and there's not emotions involved from their end, you can feel it and it hurts like hell. But the problem is, if it's because they just want a relationship experience and the issue doesn't run deeper than that, you can exactly remedy it.

"It is great to feel attractive and desired by your partner," Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, relationship therapist and founder of online relationship community, Relationup, tells Bustle. "But if that's the only time they show any love, you might begin to feel objectified and that your connection is more sexual and less emotional or intellectual than you want it to be."

Again, you have to accept it or walk away.

5. They Have Some Unresolved Issues

Sure, we all have our baggage, but some of us have more than others. Some of us have unbearable pasts that stand in our way with having any sort of healthy relationships — not just romantic ones. While that may be a hard pill to swallow for someone who wants more than a relationship experience, for those who have such a past, it's only the experience they may be able to offer through no fault of their own.

"The past can be too painful to function in an actual relationship," Silva says. "Most past relationship failures are related to some unresolved pain caused by someone else that may cause someone to want to avoid actual relationships altogether."

Unexpressed pain and emotions are some of the key reasons that keep some people completely content with a superficial relationship. It's basically self-preservation and you can't fault someone for wanting to protect themselves, even if it's a disappointment for you.

"You have no control over the events that have come to shape who they are," licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow, PhD. "All you can do is change how they experience life with you. So stop fighting against the past."

It's important to remember that if this is the case, that they're only in it for the experience, that it's not on you or even about you. It's about their issues.

6. They're Just Not "There"

While no everyone can be "there" at all times, a partner who wants to be in a real relationship, as opposed to just an experience should be more "there" than not.

Someone who only wants a relationship experience "is not concerned with having to synthesize emotion, deal with emotion, address your needs, or even address jealousy," Silva says.

It's at this point that your instinct is likely to kick in and open your eyes to something you probably don't want to see, but need to see.

"Consciously and unconsciously, you may pick up on subtle signs that cumulatively tell you that your partner may not be committed," Milrad says. "You find yourself wondering if you'll be together long-term or thinking, at times, that they may not be as into you as you are into them."

You can hang on all you want in the hopes of whatever is standing in the way blowing over, but when it comes to fantasy versus reality, they're worlds apart — which means you and your pseudo-partner are worlds apart. Listen to your gut, your instinct, or whatever you want to call it, and do what's going to be best for you and your heart. You don't owe them anything; especially your time.

7. They Won't Change

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Try as you might to change this person who only wants a relationship experience, it's just not going to happen.

"People don’t change," Silva says. "People’s reality shapes who they are and what they want. Those circumstances don’t change for the person if they are content in the idealized relationship version they’ve created. If the relationship started off with the avoidance of being in an actual relationship, it will most likely end in you hoping it will change... Don’t ascribe unrealistic expectations to people."

Ultimately, someone's need or want to live the illusion that is a relationship experience instead of a real relationship, is a personality trait that has been shaped by many factors. Certain parts of a person's personality can't be changed and this is one of them.

"You will never change personality traits," Klapow says, "because by definition they are unchangeable."

You also can't change someone who may not even realize that what they want is entirely different from what you want: an idealized, superficial version of reality. It's not as though people are usually cognizant that they'd prefer the experience over a real relationship.

As much at it might be painful to realize that someone only wants a relationship experience with you and nothing more, once you see the signs clearly you need to do what's right for you. Some people are content to live in the illusion of their partners, while others won't stand for it. You need to decide what person you are and what person you want to be.