Have you ever heard of backburner relationships? Well, it’s time to learn something new today because knowledge is power!
In this article, we’ll break down what these kinds of relationships are and why people have and keep them around. We’ll also tackle signs wherein you might be in one much to your unawareness and how to confront them.
But first, what are backburner relationships?
Let’s define what backburners are first. Psychology Today states that backburners are “people with whom we maintain contact in the hope of someday pursuing a romantic or sexual encounter.”
From there, The Pleasant Relationship defines a backburner relationship as “when a person who already has a primary or committed partner builds a bond with a potential mate as a backup in case the actual partner leaves them.”
Marriage.com shares the psychology behind backburner relationships, which is that “you aren’t placing your eggs in one basket.” In other words, backburner relationships are formed based on the psychological basis of “what if’s” and “maybe one day, you never know”.
The possible backburner is not just someone whom you think about once in a blue moon, but you actually talk to them regardless of your status. It can be an ex, an old crush, or a friend. It’s also common to occur as social media is prevalent in this day and age. But let it be known that you aren’t in the backburner zone if your past partners would pop up randomly occasionally. It’s if you choose to act on their sudden reappearance and interact with them again.
Moreover, having backburner relationships means you don’t fully commit to your current (mostly exclusive) relationship. But from another perspective, you may be completely unaware that you’re in a backburner relationship. That you’re only a backup option. Or you may be aware of it yet still go along with it. Then from another lens, you’d feel neglected if your partner isn’t giving you the deeper level of commitment that you’re giving.
Quite complex, but mainly, backburner relationships have the potential to become harmful to those involved. It also questions one’s morals and ethics. Plus, all that emotional distress and lack of communication are not good for anyone.
Why Do People Keep Backburner Relationships?
Now that you know the main gist of this kind of relationship from the previous section, let’s go into detail about why they’re being kept around.
1 It’s low maintenance.
When something is low maintenance, it doesn’t need a lot of attention and time. No matter how long you leave it unattended, it’ll remain unbothered. There’s no emotional investment here too!
Backburner relationships usually exist without any expectation of being fulfilled, rooted in the “what if’s” or any pondering on the future so neither party would actually put in the effort. After all, there is no given future for them nor fear of falling out in backburner relationships.
2 They want to avoid real commitment in their current relationship.
Let’s be real: commitment is scary.
But you know what’s scarier? A person who dates someone when they aren’t ready and resorts to having backburner relationships.
Having a backburner relationship on the side is like a barrier to giving your full commitment to someone. That you aren’t ready for such responsibility, trust, and everything else that comes along with an actual, exclusive relationship. They also don’t want the other emotions that come along because it can always change. Personal uncertainty further pushes them to keep those backburner relationships since their minds aren’t ready for such emotional investment. In other words, it’s a them problem if they don’t want to commit.
3 It’s like relationship insurance to them.
You know how a lot of people value health insurance because, in case of sudden emergencies, their usually pricey medical bills are covered with it? Yet as much as possible, people stray away from potential harm.
Well, it’s a similar case with backburner relationships.
For a lot of people, they feel reassured to have such a relationship on the side when their main one doesn’t work out. They don’t want to fall vulnerable and alone that easily. However, those kinds of people tend to abuse this “insurance.” They’re more likely to treat their current significant other negatively. Because if you think about it, they have someone to fall back on right away.
And when worse comes to worst (aka a breakup), their backburner relationship is still burning brightly and ready to take its place.
4 They’re afraid.
Relationships fail, and it’s a normal part of life. And it also happens quite often.
So for those in relationships, they fear that there can come a day when their relationship can fall apart. Due to that, they need options. And by options, those would be backburner relationships. That would mean that their mind wouldn’t be fully connected with their current partner. Almost as if they don’t trust the longevity and quality of their relationship, waiting for something bad to happen. This also makes them think “spares” them any pain when the relationship doesn’t work out and makes it easier for them to move on.
So in their perspective, having backburner relationships gives them the safety that there’s a door open for a possible relationship to blossom.
5 But for some, these relationships increase their confidence.
Is two (or more) really better than one? Not in this case.
When someone has and keeps backburner relationships, it’s almost like an ego and confidence boost for them. That’s because they think that they’re capable of bagging more relationships at the same time regardless of looks, personality, etc.
Another situation is if the person on the other end is a constant presence to them, especially online. A person they had an interest in before, wherein they’d check up on them and catch up on life. Or maybe compliment their posts. Due to this, it gives the taken person some kind of gateway to message them.
Having that attention gives them a stronger urge to keep it, alongside the attention of your partner to make them feel better about themselves.
Signs That You’re In A Backburner Relationship
Look out for these crucial signs of you possibly being in a backburner relationship.
1 They talk to you, but not often.
Communication is key in a relationship, but that’s not the case in backburner relationships.
In other words, it’ll take forever for them to give you a call or text you back. They can even disappear like poof! Then when you ask them what’s up, they’ll feed excuses on why they’re late in replying. Even if there can be cases they’re true, it’s all about the pattern and its consistency. Think about it: someone whom you’re committed to would be honest and take the time to talk to you.
But in this case, they’re only talking to you when it’s convenient for them. Even their excuses are already made up and planned ahead of time.
2 You’re their backup plan every time.
If you notice any last-minute or spontaneous outings made by them often, that’s a huge sign that you were never their first choice. Those who initiate backburner relationships have other plans placed before you, not making you a priority. It would stress you out as you’re a secondary person in their life, not someone they’re serious with. You can never have any proper plans with them because every aspect of their life is already prepared beforehand, only being there when things don’t work out.
And at the same time, they can also cancel your plans too for other “more important” plans!
3 They’re only there when they need you the most.
As mentioned earlier, you’re at the lowest part of your partner’s priorities when in backburner relationships. They would place other commitments and relationships over you. They’re also unavailable most of the time, making them unresponsive, especially during the weekends and other peak times. So it’s a big help to notice the time they talk and message you.
And then when something unexpected and beyond their control happens, they can only rely on you to help them out. And boy, you’d think they’re back to stay. But if you stay around a little longer, you can piece together their real intentions.
Another scenario that can occur here is when they disagree with their partner and vent to you.
4 They’re not fully invested in the relationship.
This is a tip that deep down within yourself would know and feel.
Imagine if you had a major life milestone, yet they never showed up or acknowledged it. Or perhaps when you try to have deep talks about each other, they barely share details about their life or only share minimal details. Although we shouldn’t pressure people to open up, there’s a certain degree to it. They only show and express what’s on the surface, and that’s it.
Let’s add another situation: they never publicly bring you out for dates. Like isn’t it normal and common to want and show off your partner? It’s a way to spend time and bond with each other after all. And to cap things off, they’re never ready to be official with you. They’ll say that time is not right or that they are prepared yet when they never intended to be with you exclusively.
Observing all these situations, they all have emotional intimacy in them. And since emotional intimacy is avoided in backburner relationships, your committed relationship may actually not be one.
5 They give you mixed feelings.
Now, this sign is frustrating AF! One moment as you’re talking to them, they’re flirty and affectionate. Then the next, they’re completely cold and distant to you. And before you know it, they’ll message you again all sweet hours or days later. Or maybe you’d flirt with them then they’d flat-out ignore you!
It’s a constant push-and-pull pattern when it comes to them or in backburner relationships as a whole. That’s because they want to take control of the relationship, not you. So in advance, forgive yourself if you let such a pattern pass because you thought it wasn’t going to snowball into something bigger and emotionally draining.
6 You can’t read them.
The person initiating backburner relationships doesn’t open up to you emotionally. Since these kinds of relationships stray away from any emotional bonding, you would struggle to understand what’s going on with them. And when you ask them what’s up, they’d ignore the question and focus on other things instead. Emotional bonding is important in a relationship, so if they can’t give that, you may need to try to analyze within the blurry lines.
7 They can also lead you on.
The person you’re with can talk of the future and the what-ifs, but they never really act on it. Backburner relationships can only focus on the now, never concretely making plans despite their daydreaming. You may want to pursue those plans and dreams with them, but that would never be the case.
Due to that, you wouldn’t know where you stand in your relationship. And also, they could cancel those plans last minute if they’re related to vacations or outdoor social gatherings!
8 They’re always hiding their phone from you.
Okay, so we have the right to our own privacy. We don’t bother or mind each other’s business. However, whenever their phone vibrates with notifications and you’re nearby, they get finicky and shove their phone into their pocket. Or when they answer a text or a call, then you enter the scene, there’s a change in demeanor, and they tell you that they handled “work matters.”
When really, they could be talking to someone in secret. With backburner relationships, there’s a lack of transparency between you and your person. That questions the trust and communication you both have with each other.
9 Your gut feeling is leaning toward the bad side too.
Just like in the previous section, listening to your gut feelings towards the person you’re in this kind of relationship can go a long way. Those are your internal guardian angels! Your intuition can pick up on emotional distance, dishonesty, and inconsistent behavior when your memories feel fuzzy. And as we said earlier, it probably is if you feel like there’s something wrong or off.
10 Everything occurs on their terms only.
One major theme mentioned in the previous points that we can sum up here is the need for control. Your partner would want to be the only one taking charge of the relationship. They’ll plan how the date goes and talk to you when they deem it necessary. It’s as if there’s no balance in this relationship. Alongside this, you would also have the tendency to constantly check on them since they’re constantly unavailable and on the move.
And if they tend to cancel last minute, you may just need to reevaluate your overall relationship. Because although you still have a say in some aspects, they are still eager to take charge of everything else.
Tips On Handling and Confronting Backburner Relationships
In this section, we gathered a few key tips on how to go around the trickiness and challenges of backburner relationships.
1 Reflect on yourself.
So wow, you found out that you’re in a backburner relationship.
Or perhaps you’re aware that you’re in one and unsure what to do.
With that, start with yourself. Think about how being in such a relationship has impacted you emotionally and mentally. The pain, deceit, confusion, and heartbreak, acknowledge every emotion that comes to the surface. Take your time here before pondering on how you’d confront and communicate with your partner.
2 Know your worth.
Being in the backburner, or being placed aside like an option ready to be chosen, isn’t the best place to be. Waiting around for someone to come around even if the chances are slim to none. This tip can vary from case to case, but backburner relationships reveal how one can easily (and painfully) settle for the bare minimum. Wherein you only settle for less than what you deserve, just as long as it’s with that one specific person. It’s almost as if you rely on their breadcrumbs of attention.
But that shouldn’t be the case; you must be aware that you deserve a healthy relationship and/or a love that is strong and real. Easier said than done, but don’t let someone who’s barely there dictate how you go around love and relationships.
3 Find the right time to talk to them.
Time is crucial in everything we do. So it’s important to set a time and date when you’re both available and calm. This is a conversation best done in person, and if your partner isn’t complying, that’s on them. Stand your ground that you need to talk uninterrupted and privately.
4 Remain calm.
You’ll feel frustrated when your partner isn’t present, especially during this time.
That’s the thing with backburner relationships, wherein they don’t make enough time for you. Only turning towards you when it’s convenient. So when they finally come around, and they can talk, do your best to stay calm and collected. That way, you’ll express yourself better and address your concerns.
5 Seek proper clarity.
Now that you’re physically together, there’s no more beating around the bush! Let them know that you’re aware of the actual relationship you’re in. Make use of “I” statements, such as “I don’t feel valued enough.” or “I feel like I’m your plaything.” Focus on your emotions rather than accusing them so they can see where you’re coming from. Share your thoughts about what you’re looking for in a relationship.
Asking them open-ended questions helps to get to know them better, like “What do you really want from this relationship?” And also, be specific. Tell them about certain instances that raised concerns with you throughout your backburner relationship.
6 Observe and listen to them actively.
This type of conversation regarding backburner relationships should go both ways, wherein you must also listen to them after you speak your mind. That way, you can understand their perspective and intentions more. Also, observe their body language as the topic of your backburner relationships continues. Pay close attention to their reaction and willingness to express their side of the story. Communication is especially crucial here as you confront them.
7 Consider your options and set boundaries.
From the previous tip, check if their intentions with you in the relationship align with yours. Is it worth keeping or not? And while you do that, express your expectations with them and also set boundaries to avoid further confusion. Be honest about your needs even more.
8 Make a decision.
From hearing their side about this relationship, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to continue with it. If some aspects between the two of you align, you may want to keep it. However, if your emotional well-being is at risk, distancing or breaking up from the set-up is the best thing to do. Especially if you weren’t aware that you were in a backburner relationship, that accounts for some sense of betrayal and lack of transparency.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still curious and eager to learn more about backburner relationships? Keep reading this section for some answered queries about them.
1 Are backburner relationships the same as benching?
Yes, backburner relationships and benching have similar ideas. For the latter, Urban Dictionary defines it as “dating someone you think is nice and who has potential, but you’re not crazy about them.” Instead, you put them on your “maybe” pile and “bench” them to keep exploring. They both involve someone as a secondary role in their lives, with whom they set vague intentions and commitments with.
2 Do backburner relationships count as cheating?
It can be a case-by-case scenario. However, in terms of emotions, if your emotional intimacy with your backburner relationship is stronger than your main relationship, it can count as emotional cheating because there’s deceit and dishonesty involved.
3 Can backburner relationships occur among single people?
Yes. You can have this kind of relationship as a potential partner while embarking on other priorities or paths in life.
4 Is it possible for one to have multiple backburner relationships at the same time?
Yes. Sometimes, it can be intentional or unintentional. However, this can cause more ethical and emotional complications over time. One emotion can be jealousy as there’s a lack of transparency if emotions are strong in the relationship.
5 Do backburner relationships exist in casual and serious relationships?
Yes. Keeping another person as a backup in case your current setup fails isn’t limited to any type of relationship.
Backburner relationships can take a toll on the person put aside, waiting for that one person to look their way. Because of that, we’d invite any ounce of attention and let ourselves fall for their tricks. We let them be an option whenever they’re finally ready. But there’s more to life than this situation and more people we have yet to meet and will love us in full. Let’s never let ourselves settle for the bare minimum, and stand our ground in hopes of finding the right partner that aligns with our expectations.