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Psychologists warn 'benching' is worse than ghosting

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Psychologists warn 'benching' is worse than ghosting
March 20, 2024
Nahal Garakani - LA Post

A new term has come into the dating lexicon recently - "benching." While the label was coined in 2023, this psychologically toxic behavior has actually been happening behind the scenes for years. Benching refers to when someone keeps a romantic interest on the back burner, continuously leading them on with just enough breadcrumbs of flirtation and future potential to keep them hooked. The person doing the benching has made up their mind that you aren't their number one priority or choice, but won't fully let you go either in case their other dating prospects don't pan out.

You've essentially been friend-zoned as a safety net rather than a true romantic partner. Perhaps they enjoy your company and the ego boost of having you as an ever-available option whenever it's convenient for them. Or maybe it's rooted in their own fears of being alone or abandoned. Whatever the reason, benching leaves you in a constant state of limbo - stuck hoping this bench-warmer will eventually commit, but realistically serving as an understudy who may never get called up to the main event.

Dating experts and psychologists warn benching can be even more damaging than ghosting. When someone ghosts you by suddenly cutting off all communication, it's unpleasant but normally allows you to rip off the bandaid and move forward. In contrast, benching prolongs the emotional turmoil by giving you just enough affection and future-relationship bait to prevent full closure. It keeps you hanging on every last text, phone call, and outing that only occurs on their timetable.

"Benching creates a toxic dynamic of anxiety, low self-esteem, and addiction to intermittent reinforcement," says dating coach Suzanne Muir-Black. "The bencher pulls you in with just enough crumbs of interest to keep you emotionally invested and hoping for more, while really putting in minimal effort themselves. It prevents you from healing and moving on to find someone who reciprocates fully."

The warning signs of benching can be subtle but persistent. If someone consistently only makes last-minute plans with you whenever their other options have fallen through, that's a red flag. So is frequent hot and cold behavior where sometimes they're very attentive, other times you don't hear from them for days or weeks at a time. A constant feeling that you're lower on their priority list than they are on yours is another telltale sign.

"A client knows they're being benched when the relationship always feels one-sided and centered on the other person's needs and schedule," notes psychologist Dr. Holly Palance. "The bencher may rely heavily on you for emotional support as a confidante, even talking about the other relationships they're juggling, but never follow through on actually deepening the commitment."

If you recognize these patterns in your own situationship, experts advise having an open and honest conversation to get clarity. If the benching persists after that, it's time to walk away and remove yourself from their roster before your self-worth is eroded further. Staying hooked on someone who sees you as a plan B, C, or D is a recipe for eventual heartbreak.

"Benching often stems from the bencher's own intimacy or abandonment issues, not your self-worth," says Dr. Palance. "As hard as it feels being taken off the playing field, staying on the bench for emotional scraps isn't the answer either. Have the courage to take your ball and go play a game you can actually win."

In today's dating landscape, where apps provide a constant stream of new faces, benching someone you're just moderately interested in can start to feel like a default habit for serial daters who suffer from FOMO - the fear of missing out on someone potentially better. Yet keeping a person perpetually waiting in the wings while continuously swiping isn't a game to be cavalier about. The psychological impacts of being benched grind away at self-confidence, breed unhealthy obsession and ultimately contaminate someone's ability to move on to a healthier relationship fit.

So the next time someone sends you a sporadic flirty text after weeks of silence, ask yourself if you're simply being kept on deck rather than valued as a true partner. No one deserves being permanently benched - either play to win or reclaim your energy for bigger games ahead.

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