It’s not always easy to tell when someone’s keeping you on the back burner. Do they have a lot going on? Are they just bad at texting? Or are they stringing you along while they weigh their other options? You may never know for sure, but there are a few signs a person isn’t invested or fully interested — and recognizing them can save you a lot of wasted energy.
“Being on the back burner means that you’re in someone’s life as a second (or third) choice,” Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. They maintain a relationship by communicating with you just often enough to keep you interested, but don’t show signs of fully committing. And this could be for a variety of reasons, including having you on standby should their current relationship fall through.
While it may not seem fair, “some people are fine being in a back burner relationship and accept that they aren’t someone’s priority,” Bennett says. This might be the case if you’re just casually hooking up, or taking things slow. And as long as you’re both clear about that, then it’s perfectly OK.
“However, if it bothers you, then you need to speak up about your feelings,” Bennett says. “In addition, it’s important to set boundaries. Usually, this means not giving time, attention, and emotional investment to people who aren’t willing to give you equal amounts in return.” Read on below for a few signs you may be on the back burner, according to experts, as well as what you can do about it.
1. They Take Forever To Text Back
Everyone gets busy, so you can’t always expect someone to text back immediately, or maintain an ongoing conversation. But you don’t want to wait days for a response, either.
“Most people are with their phones all of the time,” Bennett says. “If you know the other person is free but you don’t get timely replies to your texts, it’s a sign that you could be on the back burner.”
Typically, if someone’s interested in developing a relationship, they’ll find the time to communicate — no matter how busy they get. So if they aren’t giving you the time of day, and you don’t like how it feels, it’s completely fair to move on.
2. They Never Make Solid Plans
If you’re on someone’s back burner, you might notice that they’re all talk when it comes to making plans. They might go on and on about vacation ideas, or claim they really want to see you. But if they aren’t setting solid dates, you have every right to wonder what’s up.
With back burner relationships, Bennett says, it’s not uncommon for the person to resist making solid plans. They might say they aren’t sure of their schedule. But in reality, they’re just stalling as they wait to hear back from other people, first.
3. They Text At The Last Minute
If you only receive texts from this person at 11 p.m. on a Friday night, it can feel as if you weren’t their first choice for the evening. And you may very well be right.
One way to tell, Bennett says, is if they admit to feeling bored. While some people may find themselves with unexpected downtime and choose to reach out, it could be a sign they’re turning to you because they didn’t have anything else going on.
In these moments, it’s best to consider what you want. It can be exciting to finally hear from a person you’ve been interested in. But if the level of attention they’re giving you isn’t adequate, it’s OK to look out for your best interests, say no, and move on.
4. They Don’t Call When They Say They Will
If someone keeps promising to call at a certain time, but never lights up your phone, take it as a sign. When you’re on someone’s back burner, they’ll be flaky like this on a regular basis, Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a licensed clinical psychologist based in New York, tells Bustle.
And when it comes to setting the foundation for a solid relationship, that’s not what you want. “If you’re on the ‘front burner’ or the top of someone’s mind,” Lopez Witmer says, “they are most likely going to contact you when they say they will and be as consistent as possible in communicating with you because they want to see you and have made it a priority to do so.”
5. They Reappear When They Need Something
It’s possible you’ve ended up as this person’s go-to when they’re in need of help or attention, Bennett says. If they were truly interested in being your partner, you’d hear from them all the time, “not just when it’s convenient or beneficial for them,” he says.
Of course, you can still help them if they need something. But if you’re worried they aren’t viewing you as a potential partner, feel free to speak up. You can always ask where things are headed, and confirm if you’re on the same page.
6. Their Weekends Are Booked Solid
Unless this person works on the weekends, it might feel strange that they’re only available at very specific times, like a random Monday night. And you should listen to your gut.
“People generally use weekends for socializing and time off from a typical work week,” Witmer Lopez says, “so if the person you are dating doesn’t want to make plans with you then, you may start to wonder who else they’re prioritizing on those valuable weekends.”
It might very well mean they have a primary relationship that they’re investing more into, such as an actual partner, or someone they’re dating more seriously.
7. Everything Happens On Their Terms
A relationship should feel balanced most of the time, with both people making plans, and giving and taking equally. With back burner relationships, though, things can feel very one-sided.
“If the person only wants to spend time with you at the last minute or is only available to you based on their schedule, this is a sign that the person does not think of you as a priority,” psychotherapists Lin Anderson, LMHC, M.A., Ed.M and Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, tell Bustle.
To gather more info, consider your history. Has everything always been on their terms? If so, every plan you made likely fit into their schedule, with little acknowledgement of your calendar.
8. They Don’t Invite You To Important Events
After a few months, it’s only natural to expect the relationship to progress beyond casual hangouts and texts. So consider it a sign if they don’t include you in social, couple-y activities, like parties or work events, Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed psychologist and board-certified neurotherapist, tells Bustle.
You might notice that they “consult you when they are making plans,” Jackson says, and that you only hear about these things after the fact.
If it keeps happening, tell them you’d love to be invited, and see what they say. It could be they just didn’t know what you wanted, and it might even start an important conversation about your relationship.
9. You Don’t Like How You Feel
Sometimes, it isn’t about “figuring out” if you’re on someone’s back burner, but simply paying attention to how you feel. “The truth is you deserve to be accepted, respected, and loved for who you are,” Anderson and Sternlicht say. “Ask yourself, ‘am I happy in this relationship?’ [or] ‘Is this how I want to spend the rest of my life?'”
While the relationship may eventually progress to where you’d like it to be, it isn’t necessary to wait around while someone makes a decision. Express what you’re looking for, and be honest about your feelings. But if they don’t make any changes, or show signs of prioritizing you, it may be best to move on.
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