Originally published on Thought Catalog
A back shelf relationship is when you have that guy or girl lurking in your background for sometimes years. Maybe you’ve never actually had a full on committed relationship with this person, but they’re always somewhere on your roster, somewhere in the background. It’s your fallback guy/girl. When a relationship ends, and you need comfort you might run to that person or rekindle a flame. You might consider even giving a relationship with them a real shot. But can it ever really work? Can your back shelf relationship become a long lasting legitimate relationship? Can it even become a marriage?
4 Reasons We Hold on to Back Shelf Relationships
- We don’t want to be completely alone. We want to feel like there is always someone on the bench or roster that we have a possibility of a future with.
- The back shelf guy/gal is comfortable. We’ve been knowing them for years now. While there may be some big reason we won’t go ahead and commit to a real relationship, we aren’t ready to say goodbye to the comfort. It’s more than just dating, it’s friendship, loyalty, familiarity.
- We may be in love with the back shelf guy/gal. While there may be logical reasons why it could never work, we may still be battling that reality or even in denial. We decide to just keep dating other people, hoping eventually something changes and we can legitimately turn the back shelf relationship into something real.
- It’s something to do / it keeps us out of trouble. Maybe we are quite aware that nothing will ever surmount with the backup guy/girl but for now it’s something to do. Dating is a legit hassle. Meeting new people, going on bad dates, and dealing with the bullshit gets exhausting. Sometimes you just want to see a movie, grab a bite or you need a date to an event. The back shelf guy/gal is great for this. You can take them to your cousins wedding without them thinking it means something. Also having their companionship to fall back on might prevent you from staying in a bad relationship just for companionship.
So what’s the big deal? Sounds great right?
4 Dangers in Back Shelf Relationships
There’s four big dangers in keeping a back shelf relationship.
- Rarely do both people maintain the same emotional status throughout. In year one you might be hoping the back shelf relationship evolves into something real. By year two maybe you are over it and enjoying it for what it is, but maybe they are now feeling attached and hopeful. This can go back and forth for years.
- You Put the Back Shelf Relationship on a Pedestal. The truth is the back-shelf relationship has never really been a real relationship. You’ve never really truly dated in an exclusive committed way and had to manage the challenges that occur in a real relationship. As a result it’s real easy to think that this friendship or friendship with benefits would be superior to all the BS relationships you’ve left in the past. Maybe it would be? The truth is you don’t actually know.
- You Aren’t Fully Emotionally Available. Because you may have periods of wondering or hoping the back shelf relationship becomes something real, and because you put the back shelf relationship on a pedestal, you aren’t trying new relationships with an open mind. Subconsciously you might be comparing every new prospect to your fall back guy/gal. Or when things get tough in a new relationship you might be a little less willing to work through things. In this way, you might be stifling your own relationship efforts.
- Time is being wasted. If there is some lurking big reason why it really won’t ever work with you and Mr./Ms. Back Shelf, then spending too much time booed up with them is a waste of time. It’s time you could be out meeting or pursuing new prospects. And if there is some possibility of Mr./Ms. Back Shelf being “the one” then you are both wasting time living in limbo. It’s time to sh*t or get off the pot! Someone needs to make a grand gesture to jump start this thing into something real.
A Final Caution on Back Shelf Relationships
Have you ever noticed that whenever you are in a relationship and things are going well, your back shelf guy/gal might be a little jealous or overly interested in how things are going? Or maybe you’ve been the jealous one? Maybe you don’t want them in that way but you’re getting a little nervous that they won’t come back to you this time….or vise versa. What if this time, it works out, they get married and they never come back to you? Are you ready for that? Are they ready for that? If this happens to you, I strongly advise the following:
Don’t look backwards! Don’t climb back down the hill.
Your back shelf guy/gal has had years to profess their love and commit to you. But they didn’t If they are proclaiming love now, it’s probably not truly love, it’s fear. They may think they love you, but really they are afraid of finally once and for all losing you. Whatever reasons they had over the years for not pursing a real relationship with you are still there. And yes, maybe they really do love you. Maybe they always have loved you. But those reasons haven’t gone away, they’ve been temporarily shoved under a carpet and ignored. Don’t look backwards; don’t climb back down the hill. If you have an opportunity to have something real with someone new, pursue it with 100% emotional availability.
It’s hard to walk away. The longer the back shelf relationship has been going on, the harder it is to end it. But remember, Love is Not a Marriage. It takes more than just love to have a successful, healthy relationship or marriage. And if marriage or long term companionship and family is what you ultimately seek, and someone new comes along that returns your love, wants the same things and can practically offer them, don’t look backwards. Moving forward may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, but also one of the most rewarding. Good luck!
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