Benching in Dating: What to Do When You've Been Sidelined
If you watch or play sports, you know that benching means keeping a player off the field or court as a back-up option, in case your first or second choice of player is unable to play. This analogy has been extended to the dating world, to describe a dating trend where people keep potential partners as backup options.
“Benching means keeping a backup player on the sidelines, not letting them participate in the live action of one’s life, but letting them think they are a part of it because they get a better seat than those in the bleachers,” says Claudia de Llano, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “The Seven Destinies of Love.”
Also sometimes known as cushioning and breadcrumbing, benching is basically the equivalent of stringing someone along. The person is not not interested, they’re just not interested enough to commit to anything and are playing the field, so to speak.
“Benching has become very common with the use of dating apps, as people tend to be overwhelmed with choice and are often juggling multiple partners,” says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University.
This article discusses how to recognize whether you’re being benched by someone, what being benched feels like, and what to do if you realize you’re being benched.
How to Know If You're Being Benched
These are some signs that can help you recognize someone is benching you:
Inconsistent communication: One of the classic signs of benching is that the person will be inconsistent in their contact, communication, and efforts to make plans with you, says Dr. Romanoff.
Uncertainty: If the person you are dating is vague about their next contact with you, their upcoming schedule, and their level of interest in seeing you again, then it’s possible you’re being benched, says de Llano. Their behavior can leave you feeling uncertain of their interest and motives.
Last-minute plans: When the person does reach out, they may try to make plans with you at the last minute, usually because something else has fallen through and they have a gap in their schedule they want to fill.
Casual sex: The person may engage in casual sex with you, either regularly or occasionally, without any hint of emotional commitment.
Emotional fallback: The person may use you as a source of emotional support when they’re going through something difficult and need comfort. Though being there for them can make you feel valued and needed, it’s important to note whether the support is reciprocated, or only one-way.
One-sidedness: Your interest, communication, and interactions with the person can feel one-sided.
If you feel like you're on the outside of their life, looking in, you are probably being benched.
Reasons Why People Bench Others
These are some of the potential reasons why someone may bench you, according to Dr. Romanoff.
Fear of Being Alone
Some people use dating to manage their fears of being alone, for validation and as a distraction. People who bench others are more likely to have a strong fear of being alone and use partners as a way to bolster their ego and sense of self. They’re not always honest with themselves or their partners about their motives.
People may be unrealistic in their expectations around partners. The slightest inconvenience, turn off, or conflict might cause them to bench their partner.
Use of Online Dating Apps
A 2020 study notes that social media and dating apps enable benching because they make it easy for someone to be in touch with multiple partners simultaneously and give all of them breadcrumbs of affection with minimal effort. Sending an occasional text, meme, or post is an easy way to string someone along.
Changes in Dating Behavior
With the rise of online dating apps and the way the experience is gamified, people now shop for partners like they are shopping for clothes online.
The person may have a lot going on in their work and personal life, and may not be emotionally available enough to participate in a committed relationship.
The person may feel overwhelmed by dating and may be incapable of focusing on a relationship, so they may bench the person in the meantime.
Mental Health Issues
The person may have a narcissistic personality, attachment disorder, egocentric personality, self-esteem issues, or other emotional issues.
Lack of Empathy
Some people might bench others out of a lack of awareness or empathy for another’s experience, says de Llano.
Related:Social Anxiety and Depression Linked to Dating App Usage, Study Finds
Is Benching the Same as Ghosting?
Benching is not quite the same as ghosting, because while benching means stringing someone along, ghosting someone means abruptly ending a relationship without any information or explanation.
Essentially, benching means coming and going from someone’s life at will; whereas, ghosting means disappearing from their life altogether, de Llano clarifies.
With benching, the person doing the benching likes the person they are putting aside and would be interested in potentially having a relationship with them; however, the person also has other options to choose from and is more interested in other potential partners, Dr. Sabrina explains. “They may circle back to someone they’ve benched if things don’t work out.
While both tactics can be extremely confusing and hurtful, benching can be worse than ghosting because the person is giving you hope and stringing you along for longer periods of time, rather than cutting you loose and allowing you to move on, says Dr. Romanoff.
What Does Getting Benched Feel Like?
We asked the experts what getting benched can feel like and they said it can be a confusing and hurtful experience:
Confusion: The experience can feel like a confusing rollercoaster because sometimes you get a partner who is available and present and at other times they are absent, says Dr. Romanoff.
Self-doubt: Being benched can be a very hurtful experience for some, causing feelings of confusion, self-doubt, and questioning one’s self-worth and value, says de Llano. “It can impact your self-esteem as well as your ability to date confidently and find a partner worthy of your love.”
Self-blame: People may internalize the other person’s behavior and assume the way they are being treated is a reflection of their value as a person or something they’re doing wrong, says Dr. Romanoff. “Instead of identifying the other person as an unworthy partner who isn’t treating them as they deserve to be treated, they assume the blame and believe they are less worthy.”
A 2020 study notes that people who have been benched reported feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, and helplessness.
What to Do If Someone Is Benching You
These are some steps you can take if you think someone is benching you.
If you think you’re being benched, you should communicate with the other person honestly to see if it’s worth continuing a relationship with them, says Dr. Romanoff.
De Llano says you can be direct and say: “Hey, I’m feeling like I’m on the sidelines at the moment, how do you feel about me and what are you looking for?”
Open communication will never scare away or ruin a relationship with someone who is interested in you—it will only clarify where each person stands and save you a lot of confusion, time, and effort of holding onto a relationship that will never give you what you want, says Dr. Romanoff. “Be brave and don’t be afraid to communicate, even if it means not getting the answer you want.”
Set Boundaries to Protect Yourself
In a situation like this, it’s important to remember your worth and stand up for it. “You need to speak up for yourself and assert your needs and wants,” says de Llano.
You can protect yourself by setting boundaries with the person. Let them know what you’re looking for and that you’re only interested in continuing your engagement if they’re on the same page.
For instance you could say, “At this point in my life, I’m looking for an exclusive relationship/a relationship that has the potential to turn serious. If you’re looking for something similar, I’d love to see where this goes. Otherwise, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”
However, if their benching behavior continues, let them know the relationship isn’t working for you anymore and you would like to end it.
Will They Ever Commit to Me If They Benched Me?
There is no one-size-fits-all rule to dating, and anything can happen, says Dr. Romanoff. “However, being benched isn’t a strong foundation for a relationship and the person will likely continue to keep you as a backup until they find someone they think is ‘better.’”
You deserve to be with someone who is willing to put you first, rather than treating you like an option.
How to Date Around Without Hurting People's Feelings
If you happen to be dating multiple partners, here are some steps you can take to avoid benching people or hurting their feelings:
Be honest: Let people know what you are looking for and what your intentions are, says de Llano. “You may not always be able to avoid hurting someone but you can avoid manipulating them and being dishonest.”
Avoid stringing someone along: If you notice yourself benching someone or not wanting to see them again, Dr. Romanoff recommends taking that as a sign that they’re not the person for you. “Get into the habit of ending relationships you don’t see going anywhere, instead of keeping people as backups so you don’t end up alone.”
Focus on your needs: In the long run, it’s better to focus on yourself and hold out for your ideal partner rather than keeping people that you don’t truly see a future with around as a distraction, says Dr. Romanoff.
People are not place cards and treating others this way creates more drama and hurt than accepting you might not be dating anyone you’re interested in at the moment.