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How back burner relationships can keep you hanging on



Have you ever chatted with someone who gave you hints that a romance could be possible, even though they’re already in a relationship? Or perhaps you’ve seen your ex come back into your life despite already being involved with someone else? If so, you could be in what’s known as a “back burner relationship.”

The British miniseries One Day, based on the book of the same name by David Nicholls, has become one of the most popular shows on Netflix since its arrival on the streaming platform on February 8. It tells the story, over two decades, of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, two young people who meet at university. Although they consider themselves friends, Emma and Dexter come to realize that the ties that bind them are far more ambiguous than they appear.

Dating experts see this fictional relationship as an example of what’s commonly known as a “back burner relationship.” This rather enigmatic concept was first mentioned in a study published in the scientific journal Computers in Human Behavior. The paper’s authors explain that they use the term “back burner” relationships “to describe a desired potential or continuing romantic/sexual partner with whom one communicates, but to whom one is not exclusively committed.”

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Impact on self-confidence

Social networks may have a lot to do with this phenomenon. These days, it’s extremely easy to keep in touch with someone you’ve lost sight of for years, or maybe never even met in real life. Relationships formed on the internet have become commonplace, so much so that it’s no longer unusual to hear that a couple met on Instagram or Tinder.

Nevertheless, digital love doesn’t always follow the same rules as “real world” love. Some internet users in relationships deliberately keep things vague with the people they chat to online, whether about their romantic status and/or their real intentions. Relationships that are kept on the back burner form part of this, keeping the other person hanging on for a possible happy ending that might come one day.

This kind of waiting game and endless anticipation is often difficult for the person experiencing it. “‘Back burner relationships’ can cause emotional distress to those involved, leading to the partner on the receiving end feeling neglected, insecure, or used,” explains psychologist, Jade Thomas, speaking to Glamour UK. What’s more, the prospect of a romantic relationship with the person who’s putting you on the back burner can prevent you from meeting a partner who’s much more available.

To avoid finding yourself in this kind of situation, it’s important to talk openly with your partner about your expectations right from the start of your flirtation. Favour relationships based on mutual respect and commitment. Nobody likes to be kept waiting, except perhaps the characters in Netflix romantic comedies.

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