A few nights ago, my friend M* and I were chatting and got onto the topic of men. (Cue agitated groaning here, ‘ugh- men.’) She started describing her scenario to me… Cute guy, some platonic conversation, the odd hint of flirtation or saucy talk, and then… GHOSTING. It was apparent to me what was going on as soon as she laid her cards on the table… she was in a back-burner relationship.
What is a back-burner relationship one might ask? I first heard the term in a guest lecture presented by Michelle Drouin on her research with Jayson Dibble… and their definition follows along these lines:
“People we’re into, but not currently involved with. So we keep in contact with them for the possibility of someday connecting sexually/romantically.
But you see… I have a little bit of a different interpretation of what a having back-burner or being the back-burner is based upon my own experience. Most “back-burner” relationships that I have been apart of walk the fine line of being friends with benefits without actually entering that zone. That’s why I would even go as far to say that this type of relationship expands beyond general and platonic contact… and can includes small fulfillments of sexual, romantic and emotional needs. Because sometimes… people just have that urge to feed their ego beyond making sure they have options for when their current relationship or pursuit falls through! 🤷🏼♀️
Thus, here are a few signs you’re his emotional back-burner with a good-old Shanelle Connell spin on things!
1. Conversation becomes a Katy Perry song
You know… “You’re hot than you’re cold, you’re yes than you’re no…” You get the picture! If you’re on the short end of the back-burner stick, chances are you’re confused out of your mind was to why he randomly texts you expecting full attention and then other times are super inconvenient for him and he has some lame excuse. Like… are you into me on a more serious wavelength? Or am I just here incase things fall through with your current boo, romantic interests, or to keep you entertained while you enjoy the single life? Sorry to break it to you ladies, if he’s “forgetting to reply” more than he’s responding to his own “hello”… he’s got you on text, ghost, and repeat mode and you’re his back-burner.
2. Emotional investment is zero
Unless it’s benefitting his emotional fountain that is… Typically, being the back-burner girl means as soon as you lay your feelings out for all to see, he retreats faster than the road-runner! However… when the tables are turned and he needs some emotional support, ego boosting, or a ‘friend’ to confide in? He makes sure you know that you were his ‘first choice’ to tell and that you are ‘someone he trusts’. Why? Because he wants you to feel special and like there is some sort of connection there… That way he can keep coming back for you when he needed a replenishing! Even though all your problems and emotional needs bore him to death- he tries to keep you in his reach. But he DEFINITELY does not want you thinking he has your back like a boyfriend would! After all… you’re just the back-up plan, remember? 😏
3. He’s committed to being uncommitted
Specifically uncommitted to you. I remember in grade 10 I had this guy friend and literally everyone thought we were dating. And for a little over a month, I sure thought it was heading there ! We’d flirtatiously text every day, we’d hang out in class all the time, and we’d even make plans to hang out outside of school sometimes. But then one day he somehow slipped out (oh so nonchalantly) that he had a girlfriend into one of our conversations. Sorry… WHAT?! And yet, even after that, he continued to treat me like a girlfriend and his best friend for a full year. And I said to him… “I really think you need to tell Taelynn* that you aren’t completely satisfied with your relationship and have been flirting hard with another girl… or you need to stop doing this to me.” And guess what? He didn’t follow through on either of my suggestions.
Sometimes he has absolutely NO PLANS of exiting his current relationship, or his single lifestyle. But he sure has plans to keep you on the hook for as long as you keep taking the bait of “maybe one day.” The joys of being a back-burner!
4. You’re his ‘best-friend’ but not his girlfriend
Similar to the point above, you never seem to make it into girlfriend territory. He always has some excuse why it’s not right for you to be together! It could be due to timing, a current relationship, or him needing to ‘figure out his life’. But no matter what the reason is… he makes it known that he doesn’t want to lose you and always wants you in his life! And then after 6 glasses of champagne 🥂 to mask the emotional suffering and confusion you’re experiencing… you suddenly find yourself writing to Cosmopolitan Magazine asking, “Why won’t my best guy friend admit he has feelings for me?” You see… knowing you’re always going to be around makes you too boring to be the girlfriend… but way too perfect to be his back-burner buddy for life!
5. Ya’ll get textual, but you won’t get sexual
Aka… the classic 2 AM text of “Hey are you up?” so he can ask you to describe everything you’d like to be doing together right now. But heaven for bid if you two ever hang out, he makes sure his body and your body stay as far away from each other as possible. Why? Because he doesn’t want you to think he’s committed in a tangible way. In his mind, it’s safe to flirt and get sexy through words on a screen… but as soon as he dives into real life touch, now he has some sort of legitimate connection to you that he has to be accountable for. And after all… why would he want to be accountable to you if he actually has no interest in being together seriously or casually? He probably already has his FWB go-to and doesn’t want to complicate life with another one.
BONUS SIGN – You live in a different city, province/state, country!
Chances are if you live anywhere else besides where he lives… you’re an emotional back-burner. You’re his perfect choice because there is an extremely slim chance he’ll ever have to commit to you. He can have his cake and eat it too! 🍰 When there is no inclination as to when you’ll meet, visit, and start falling in love… my advice would be to softly exit that relationship and start living your best life by being nobody’s second or third choice!
Remember, you are a work of art in the image of God! And if you don’t believe in God, you still have so much worth that you need to honour! And believe me… being at his beck and call is not honouring yourself in any way, shape or form. If you’re wondering about my friend M*? Well… she took my advice and lost that guys number because she knows the love she has to offer is worthy of so much more than being a Hollaback Girl. 😘 Why? Because she remembered that she was made for love… and so are you!
Any names with a * have been changed to protect personal identities. Any names without a stars have been used with consent and permission.