This is all well and good when you’re talking about shoes, but not so much when you’re treating people as moving parts in your closet—or your metaphorical gear, as the latest dating trend would say. Sidelined dating, or putting someone on the sidelines for a while while you search for other, more desirable prospects (or in case someone better comes along) may seem like a way to maximize your chances of finding the right match in the midst of a plethora of options. But in reality, it can be confusing and painful for everyone involved, including the person making the sidelines.
What is the dating bench and why do people do it?
Named for the sports practice of taking a player out of a game and relegating them to the sidelines for a period of time, dating banking similarly involves putting aside a person or people you’re dating in favor of others. “In a dating context, the people who get benched tend to fall on the ‘B’ team on someone’s dating list: they’re the endorsers,” says clinical psychologist Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD.
Instead of breaking up with a person they feel is not quite his person, the bank chooses to keep them in the mix by simply “shipping” or deprioritizing them for now. That usually seems to slow communication down and just check in periodically to keep the connection alive and the person at least minimally interested. His position on the bench appointment list becomes tenuous relative to the others.
“Typically, the person doing the sidelining still likes the person they’re putting aside and would be interested in being in a relationship with them,” says Dr. Romanoff. After all, they are not completely ending things. But at the same time, their feelings for this person aren’t strong enough to overcome the feeling that there are other fish in the sea, or that another current or potential partner might be a better fit for them, adds Dr. Romanoff.
This is a common sentiment brought on by the overwhelming number of perceived options on dating apps, says Dr. Romanoff. For example, if you are trying to juggle several potential partners (and the idea extra waiting in the wings), you might be tempted to leave one or two on the bench while you figure things out.
“Many people use dating to manage their fears of being alone, as validation or as a distraction, and they are not always honest with themselves and others.” —Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, clinical psychologist
There’s also a contingent of people for whom dating isn’t so much about finding a partner as it is about satisfying some other internal need, adds Dr. Romanoff. “Many people use dating to manage their fears of being alone, as validation or as a distraction, and they aren’t always honest with themselves and others about the fact that they’re not really looking for a partner,” he says. As a result, they might bench people from time to time just to keep them in the mix as options to fill previous needs.
It’s also possible that some bankers don’t have a clear idea of who exactly they’re looking to date, and keep multiple people on the bench while they figure it out, or have too high expectations of a partner that no one person seems capable of fulfilling. Cue: an endless cycle of people in the dugout and waiting for a better person to come
3 signs that the person you are dating is leaving you on the bench
1. They communicate very infrequently
Radio silence punctuated by random texts, calls and invites is a key indicator that you’re being left out, says relationship expert Jess Carbino, PhD, a former Tinder and Bumble sociologist. This isn’t to say you have to be in touch 24/7 with someone you’re dating, but anyone who is genuinely interested in you will make an effort to connect, says Dr. Carbino.
And to be clear, that doesn’t just mean responding to your queries. If someone is completely interested in dating you, they’ll meet with you at least halfway to make plans, adds Dr. Carbino.
2. You constantly feel rejected
If this person doesn’t reciprocate your care in a way that you’re satisfied with, therapist Claudia de Llano, LMFT, says it’s a sign you could be dealing with a bank. This might seem like short, lackluster answers to the texts; dodging his attempts to make plans; or just a lack of constant attention and affection. “If you have this internal feeling of being rejected, that’s a red flag and you want to challenge it,” she says.
3. Your interactions are not considerate or respectful
When you’re someone’s priority on dates, they’ll be considerate of your time and feelings, says Dr. Carbino. “If the person is interested in you and to what extent that can be a strong signal, and if you feel like there’s limited investment or the relationship is tenuous, that’s a problem,” she says.
Why is banking hurtful and manipulative behavior?
Dating benching involves a certain level of dishonesty that sets it apart from regular benching in a sports game. Think about it: If you’re a second-string player on a sports team, you’re very aware of your status, and when you’re on the bench, both you and the team are on the same page about it. Whereas, when a partner (or potential partner) benches you, you probably don’t know they’re prioritizing other people over you, and if they did, you probably wouldn’t be totally okay with it.
Healthy dating requires us to be honest and open, and banking is not honest or open, de Llano says. “There’s a subversive quality that’s manipulative even if you don’t intend to manipulate.”
“There is a subversive quality (to the bench) that is manipulative even if you don’t intend to manipulate.” —Claudia de Llano, LMFT, therapist
A person who is on the bench can hope and stay for a while without realizing that they are being cheated. “If you really like the other person, you’re more likely to join them on this merry-go-round because of the hope of potential in the relationship and her as a partner,” says Dr. Romanoff. In the meantime, that hope may be completely unfounded as the bench secretly looks for other options.
In that dynamic, the lack of information given to the bench creates room for mixed feelings, says Dr. Carbino. “There is a non-mutual understanding in which one person often has a stronger degree of feelings towards the other person,” he says, “which makes banking itself unethical.”
Keeping someone in the hot seat requires periodic proposals of interest, and these sporadic signals can be confusing and misleading to their recipients. A person in the dock may start to think that he is only worthy of small or intermittent displays of affection. “(Being benched) can really affect someone’s sense of security, confidence and self-esteem,” says de Llano, “and (can trigger issues) around not feeling wanted and desirable and confident.”
The banker himself is also not immune to the negative consequences. Not only is it a potentially stressful and time-consuming process to handle the complexities of multiple relationships at once, but also, Dr. Romanoff points out, banking can obscure your own dating goals by stretching certain partners past their due date and preventing you from finding someone you’re willing to give your full attention to. “People are not place cards, and ultimately treating others this way creates more drama and pain than accepting that you may not be dating someone you’re interested in right now,” he says.
How to date without leaving people on the sidelines
Naturally, part of finding out what you want in terms of romance involves dating different people and experiencing different relationships. But both Dr. Romanoff and de Llano say that dating without getting into the deceitful dynamic of banking requires complete honesty, both with yourself and with others, about what you want. In fact want.
You don’t have to call every potential SO on your list every week to offer a status update as if you were on love islandBut experts say being clear about your feelings and expectations is key to avoiding pain and disappointment on both ends.
“Get into the practice of ending relationships that you don’t see going anywhere instead of keeping people as backup.”—Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, clinical psychologist
Instead of collecting hearts on a shelf (or a bench), learn to be honest and explicit about how you see the progress of any relationship. If you can’t see a future with someone (or don’t want one with them), tell them so, suggests Dr. Romanoff, and let them go their own way. “Get into the practice of ending relationships you don’t see going anywhere instead of keeping people around for backup just so you don’t end up alone,” she says.
What to do if you think you’re being benched
If you notice a pattern of behavior in a relationship that doesn’t align with your expectations of how you want to be treated, or if you find yourself confused and hurt, it’s important to address those feelings. “We tend to ignore messages of (bad) behavior to protect ourselves when we’re involved with and interested in someone, but it’s really important to trust ourselves,” says de Llano.
If you’re curious about the actions or intentions of a current or potential partner and suspect you may be benching them, there’s only one way to know for sure: ask them if they envision the same future with you that you do with them.
In this way, you are claiming your power in the relationship and getting the information you need to decide what exactly it is. you want and act accordingly. “If you decide to stay in a relationship that is ambiguous or less invested than you want, that’s your prerogative,” says Dr. Carbino, “but at least you have the tools and information you need to make an informed decision for yourself.”