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You’re Always Her “Backup Guy.” Here’s What to Do About It


You’re Always Her “Backup Guy.” Here’s What to Do About It

At one point or another, backburner relationships have happened in our lives. Whether we were the ones holding others on the backburner or someone else had us back there (with or without knowledge), we’ve all had an experience in this gray relationship area. And it sucks.

backburner intro

That awkward limbo area where you’re not sure if the relationship is ever going to go anywhere is just awful. What’s even worse about these types of relationships is that they’re perfectly normal and common human behavior according to this study.

A backburner, as defined by the study, is “a person to whom one is not presently committed, and with whom one maintains some degree of communication, in order to keep or establish the possibility of future romantic and/or sexual involvement.”

What makes these backburner relationships different than say an old flame you daydream about once in a while is the actual act of reaching out and communicating interest to him/her. 

If these types of relationships are so common, though, do these people ever realize that they’re just backburners?

Yes and no.

So, how can you tell if you’re on a backburner?

Just compare your partner to the investment model of relationships, developed by social psychologist Caryl Rusbult in the 1980s.

What this model says is that people who have invested more resources into a relationship (e.g. time, money, and energy) will be more committed to it and will likely see other potential mate as unattractive.

And, as it’s been found in the study, the two most used forms of communication with backburners were text messaging and Facebook (no surprise there, really). These two forms of communication are ideal because it allows communication with little cost, and they are relatively private. So, if those are your only forms of chatting, you might have something to worry about.

If all of that research and data wasn’t enough to depress you, here’s another blow: “People in relationships still kept in touch with backburners online at nearly the same rates as single people.”

This second study is still in its preliminary phase, so it’s not really sure why this is, but lead study author, Jayson Dibble, thinks that it’s not really new information. As he put it, “The behavior of keeping people waiting in the wings, keeping your options open, is nothing new. In the old days it was called keeping people in your little black book.”

So, while having romantic options as backburner relationships isn’t anything new, it still doesn’t explain away the fact that to be on the burner position sucks. So, if you’ve got multiple relationships just a little warm, it might be time to invest in one seriously because chances are those backburners aren’t going to just wait around for you forever. And Dibble says that you’ll get a disappointed feeling when you see a backburner’s relationship status change on Facebook because it means your options are dwindling.

If you’ve found that you’re definitely in a backburner relationship, you have a few options for how to handle the situation:

•    Accept that you’re in a relationship of convenience and not real emotion.
This is a great option for someone who isn’t really looking for love, but enjoys having someone around to spend time with every once in a while.
•  Try to escape out of this awkward limbo and move into actual dating territory.
So, this is definitely an option that is going to take serious time, commitment, and risk on your part. There are no guarantees with this one because she’s the one calling the shots at the moment – BUT, when you take all of the research above into account it’s definitely not impossible. Why? Backburner relationships are all about keeping open options for a better potential mate to come along. So, if you can prove to her (subtly and smoothly, of course) that you’re her best bet for a really happy relationship out of everyone she has in her life, then you’ll successfully move yourself out of that awkward space and into a real relationship.
•    Get off that burner altogether and seek out a girl who will put your relationship first.
If you’re serious about finding someone to be with (and you’re not inanely into her), then this is your best bet for getting what you want. It’s not always easy, but sometimes it’s for the best to find someone who will invest their time and energy into you.

And if you’re one of the people who just love to have backburner relationships, well, get it together!



1. Do you currently have any relationships on the backburner?

2. How have you handled finding out that you were someone else’s backburner?

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