Understanding Benching, Dating at Its Most Frustrating

Understanding Benching, Dating at Its Most Frustrating
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Every team roster lists more players than can be on the field at once because they may be useful to them at some point—they sit on the bench until needed. When it comes to “benching,” dating is no different. You’re on the sidelines, and for whatever reason, your would-be partner neither dumps nor commits to you.

It’s a perfect sports metaphor, because just like in a game, you’re on the team, but you’re sitting on the bench, waiting to see if you get called to play in the game. They want to keep their options open, both with you and the rest of your “teammates.”

Saul, 35, is no stranger to the art of benching—like an athletic coach, he does it to ensure he always has a backup for social engagements or lonely evenings.

“I hate to even admit it, but I always have at least two or three girls in my DMs that I rotate through based on occasions and what I feel like,” he explained. “I don’t feel bad about it because I’ve never committed to anyone. It’s not like I’m cheating on them or leading them on.”

What is benching?

Most people are familiar with ghosting—when you are talking to someone and then suddenly they disappear. Benching is similar, except the connection slowly dissolves over time instead of the sudden disappearance that takes place in ghosting.

“It is hard to speculate, as so many different variables should be considered when defining benching,” said Christopher Jones, clinical psychologist and sex therapist. “Sometimes benching just naturally happens as you either lose connection or interest in the person or you just gradually drift, which is common in many relationships.”

According to Jones, sometimes benching takes place because the person begins to talk to another individual. As their interest in the other individual begins to increase, they devote more time to communicating with them and less time communicating with the former interest. Sometimes it’s hard to tell someone you’re not interested anymore and you don’t want to be rude and automatically block the person. It’s much easier to gradually talk to them less over time. This sometimes is the cause of benching.

On the other hand, some people are what’s known as serial daters, or individuals who derive enjoyment from seeking out exciting new dating experiences. For them, maintaining a “bench” of potential dates provides options for new experiences without them having to go out and meet new people every time.

Signs you’re being benched

If you are having significantly less contact and communication with the person and you are certain they’re not dealing with significant life events (which could explain reduced communication), then you are probably being benched.

“You’ll know you’re being benched if someone you’re seeing seems enthusiastic and interested but fails to ever make concrete plans,” said Brad Browning, relationship expert and author of “The Ex Factor.” “A bencher often disappears for weeks at a time and then pops up again as though no time has passed.”

“They might make weeknight (as opposed to weekend) dates with you, dates only with other friends there or lunch dates,” said Lauren O’Connell, licensed marriage and family therapist. “They are dating other people and definitely haven’t agreed to be monogamous with you. Maybe they don’t take you on dates at all, but they do booty-call you and text you. Just when you think they’ve ghosted you, you get a text.”

Is benching even that bad?

According to Jones, there really is no right or wrong answer—it depends entirely on the situation and the terms set between two people. If you’re not interested in a person, then you are doing a disservice to yourself and to them if you still act as though you are. If you are worried that they may take the rejection really hard, then benching could be a possible (if not questionably unethical) solution.

Nevertheless, if you are just gradually stringing the person along for the sake of your own gratification or to have a safety net when another relationship doesn’t work out, that’s when benching becomes bad. If you get the sense that the other person wants to move the relationship forward and you’re dangling a carrot just to keep stringing them along, you may want to consider formally cutting ties.

I think I’m being benched. What should I do?

Jones suggests being upfront. Ask them if they are still interested or tell them you’ve noticed that you are talking less and give them a way out. You could say something like, “If you’re no longer interested, please let me know, so that we can both move on.”

You should also be aware of what is going on in the person’s life in case the lack of communication is caused by something serious. This could be a good opportunity to connect with them in a greater way. You can say something like, “I noticed that you’ve been really busy lately; is there anything that I can do to help make things easier for you?”

Riding the pine

If you honestly see a future with someone and you fear you’re being benched, don’t hesitate to call them out. Don’t go in guns blazing, but have an open and frank discussion about how you’re feeling. It could be the wake-up call that they need to start taking the relationship seriously. In any case, they’re already keeping you on the bench—so you really have nothing to lose.

Keep in mind that benching is not necessarily a bad thing if it’s done without any negative intentions. If, like Saul, you’re keeping your options open and don’t let things venture into relationship territory, you’re likely in the clear—but if you suspect one of the people you’ve been seeing has developed unrequited love, it’s time to pull the plug.

“Benching is one of the negative outcomes of casual dating,” said Browning. “It’s perfectly fine and even healthy to date multiple people at once, but it becomes a problem when you’re hiding your true intentions and stringing someone along without any intention of getting to know them. That’s when casual dating becomes benching.”

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

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