Backburner Relationship: What It Means & 25 Signs You’re Just a Backup Lover

Sometimes, we date people with cruel intentions. If you think you’re in a backburner relationship, here are all the signs you need to figure out the truth.

backup relationship lover

If you’re a smart person, then you probably know about the benefits of having a backup plan. After all, things don’t always go as planned, so it’s nice to have a Plan B on hand. But some people take that a bit too far, and that’s where backburner relationships come in.

While backup plans are always great to have, they can be a little cruel when it comes to relationships. Especially if you’re the one being treated as the backup.

No one wants to spend their time creating a huge emotional investment in something that is purely made of thin air.

However, when friends tell you that the person you’re dating is just stringing you along and keeping you on the back burner, you don’t really want to believe it.

The truth is, most of us are blinded by the fact that we really do like this person, so we’re willing to gratefully pick up the crumbs they’re leaving for us. [Read: 22 early warning signs of a bad boyfriend]

So what is a backburner relationship really?

To define it, a “back burner relationship” is a term used to describe a situation in which one person in a romantic partnership keeps another person in their life as a potential backup or reserve option, often while actively pursuing or maintaining a primary relationship with someone else.

It implies that the person on the “back burner” is not the top priority and is kept in the background, available for attention or affection when needed or when the primary relationship faces difficulties.

This type of relationship can be emotionally harmful to the individual placed on the back burner, as it can lead to feelings of insecurity, neglect, and unfulfilled emotional needs.

It’s important to note that maintaining a back burner relationship without the knowledge or consent of all parties involved can be unethical and damaging to trust within the primary relationship.

Open communication, transparency, and respect for all parties’ feelings and boundaries are essential in navigating such situations and ensuring the emotional well-being of everyone involved.

The backup signs you’re in a backburner relationship

But while you won’t listen to your friends, you may have wondered if you really are in a backburner relationship. If you want to know for yourself, read up on these signs to know if you’re a backup lover and see just how far down you are on their dating and commitment leaderboard.

1. More than friends, but…

So you hang out a lot and they call you all the time. You tell each other all about your days, frequently go out for dinners that you might call dates, and maybe you’ve even met their family!

It feels like you do all those things that couples do, but there’s never a sense of commitment from them. What’s going on? [Read: He won’t commit but he won’t let go – what should you do now?]

2. On their terms

You ask them to define your relationship *in the most subtle way you can* and all they say is “I’m not ready.”

The thing is, someone who keeps you as a backup lover only wants things on their own terms. They don’t have any regard for how you feel about it. So, if they just want to have you around and hold hands with you, or even have sex with you, they will do all that without ever considering you their partner. [Read: How a guy can manipulate and control their girlfriends]

3. It’s only words

They text you, Snapchat you, and go through all of the social media motions of showing their interest in you. But they never really make time to hang out with you. [Read: The single’s guide to flirt on Instagram and how couples end up cheating]

Your almost-boo never really does the things they say they’ll do, like take you to dinner or be available when you ask them to hang out. Chances are, they’re just trolling because they’re bored and you’re an easy target.

4. Facebook official… NOT

Much like the first two signs, someone who just wants you for a backburner relationship doesn’t really want to define the relationship with you or with the public, for that matter. So even if you are romantically involved, they will not change their Facebook relationship status or post you on Instagram.

These days, your social media status is the gold standard of relationship definition. So, if this person refuses to change it from “Single” to “In a Relationship” with you, then they just don’t want any commitment with you. [Read: Mixed signals from a guy – the guide to interpret his intentions]

5. Last-minute tango

The thing with being in a backburner relationship is that they know you’re always available for them. You may often drop everything on your plate when they call you up for a last-minute date, and they know that. [Read: Booty call – the definition and 26 sexy tips to casually hook up with a friend]

Therefore, when their other dates have backed out on them, or the ex they clearly still have feelings for doesn’t want to get back with them, they can rely on calling you last minute. After all, the reservations have already been made and they’ve already spritzed on their priciest perfume/cologne.

6. Convenience in store

The person you’re seeing comes in and out of your life at their own convenience. One minute they’ll call you up just for reassurance that you have feelings for them, but they will not share their feelings for you.

Then, they’ll disappear and be unavailable for a while, not answering your calls or texting you back. That is until they want something from you again. [Read: What is benching? 17 signs you’re being strung along right now]

7. Can’t move on

If you’ve already broken up, being in a backburner relationship means that they still keep you around despite officially being over. It goes without saying that this makes you feel in total limbo as to what you really mean to them.

After breaking up with you, they still call you up and talk to you like they used to do when you were together. Only now, they’re out on the prowl for a new partner. And they’re telling you all about the new person they’re seeing. [Read: Letting go of your ex – 15 ways to make it easier]

8. Holiday cheer for one

You spend your holidays alone. Each time you try to hint that maybe the two of you could spend the holidays together, they always say they have other plans in mind.

Worse, you prepare that humongous Thanksgiving turkey, only to be stood up. Guess what – their Plan A is having dinner with their family, or they’re drinking Eggnog on a date with someone else.

9. “Let’s see”

After going out for a while, it’s safe to say that you’ve developed some serious feelings. But whenever you make any move to talk about any future with them, you always hear “Let’s see,” along with phrases like, “Let’s just enjoy the moment,” “Let’s see where this goes,” or “We never know what will happen…”

They know what they want for the future, just you’re not involved in the picture! [Read: Complicated relationship – what it is and the best ways to fix it or get out of it]

10. Ticking time bomb

You find yourself counting the hours and days to when they will ask you out again, come over, communicate, or just be ready to be in a real relationship with you. You ask yourself, “What’s going on?” and you wonder if you’re just wasting time.

When you start thinking about this, you probably are wasting time. Let’s face it, one of these days, they’ll find someone they really like more than you.

11. “So you’re their…?”

In a backburner relationship, your partner will have you tucked in an isolated compartment in their life, so not only does their family have no idea you exist, but their friends don’t even know you either.

You never go out with their friends, and they never introduced you to anyone close to them. So when you both happen to bump into their close office colleague, the guy just gives you a confused look as your supposed “partner” introduces you as their “friend.” [Read: Low-key secret relationship – what it is and the reasons and signs you’re in one]

12. Pet problem

A person who’s put you on the back burner won’t share any responsibility with you at all, let alone a pet. While psychologists say that shared responsibilities and shared material things, such as sharing debts or a place to live, are signs of closeness in a romantic relationship, anything other than that is trouble for you.

If they shudder at the thought of owning a dog with you, even if you both love dogs, that’s a pretty obvious sign they don’t want to get any closer to you than they already are. [Read: Adopting a pet? The true signs you’re ready to get a pet together]

13. Marriage proposal

But not quite the marriage proposal you might be expecting. When they tell you, “If we’re not married by the time we’re 40, let’s just marry each other,” don’t get your hopes up. Although it sounds like something out of a romantic and twisted young adult novel, it’s really not as wonderful as you think it is.

What they’re telling you is exactly this: they have a few years or so to look for someone they’d really want to commit to, and if all else fails, you’ll be there for them. How convenient. [Read: 21 big signs he will never marry you and you’re just his maybe girl]

14. Walls up

When your friends call you out for still having this person in your life who doesn’t want to commit to you, you defend them.

You make excuses to your friends for how they treat you by saying, “They’re not ready and I’m not ready either. We’re just enjoying each other and the moment,” and go on and on explaining why it’s all okay.

The thing is, you’re not only defending their avoidant behavior, but you’re trying to make sense of it all to yourself. Deep inside, you know something’s not right. [Read: 18 emotions you should never feel in a healthy relationship]

15. They’re awkward when you flirt

It’s totally fine for them to send over the occasional flirty or sexual comment your way. But when you do the same, they clam up. They shut down, and that makes you feel like you did something wrong. [Read: 30 signs of a one-sided relationship and how to fix it before it ends]

But you didn’t do anything wrong! They just think that it’s okay to flirt with you on their terms and when they want to. The problem in their eyes only arises when you flirt back, and the relationship looks like it actually has some life in it.

16. Your life is spent waiting for their text

You have feelings for them, so of course, you want to talk to them! But sometimes, they take longer than forever to text you back. [Read: When a girl doesn’t text back – 39 reasons and what you need to do next]

This is a surefire sign that you’re only in a backburner relationship—you’re not a priority in their life, and leaving your texts unread for days on end is their way of telling you.

17. Call me maybe?

Similarly, they’ll also leave you waiting for their call. Even if they tell you that they’ll call at a specific time, they rarely do. [Read: Should I call him? 15 real answers you need to make up your mind]

Why is that? Because you’re on the back burner. If something – or someone – better comes along, your lover has no problem with discarding you because that’s your whole purpose in their life.

18. You aren’t the only one

The thing about backburner relationships is that there’s no guaranteed exclusivity. In fact, someone can choose to have multiple backup partners lined up at once.

If you think that you’re just there for convenience and nothing else, then there’s a real possibility that you’re not the only person they’re dating. So, if you have suspicions that they’re dating other people, don’t write them off immediately. Trust your gut.

19. Disappearing-reappearing act

You can’t depend on this person to always be there. It seems that they like to disappear on you, only to reappear at random.

Is it random, though? If you really think about it, do they always come back into your life when they need something?

If so, they don’t see you as a real romantic partner, just a dispenser for sex, money, or whatever else they come running to you for.

20. You aren’t happy

This is the biggest and most unfortunate sign that you’re in a backburner relationship. If the way your lover treats you just doesn’t make you happy, then something is clearly remiss here.

The early days of dating should be fun, exhilarating, and nerve-wracking in all of its brilliance! It shouldn’t be full of anxiety, late nights waiting for them to call you back, and constant self-doubt.

What’s the point of a backburner relationship?

If you’re recognizing the signs of a backburner relationship in your own situation, you might be feeling a few sorts of ways. One might be confusion. After all, who could be so cruel as to play with people’s emotions like this?

Well, there are a number of reasons why backburner relationships appeal to some people more than an actual commitment. Who knows, maybe one of these reasons is the cause of your partner’s behavior.

1. Insurance

To get the things you really want in life, you have to take risks. But some people will do absolutely anything it takes to avoid risk-taking.

That might even include stringing along a person that you think is nice just in case you never meet that breathtaking, soul-consuming love of your life. [Read: Fear of rejection – 56 signs, causes, and ways to overcome and get over it]

2. Low maintenance

Some people are just downright lazy. While putting off your washing until the last minute is fine, being lazy in a relationship just isn’t okay.

And yet, there are people out there who put their romantic relationships on the back burner because it’s just easier. You don’t have to take them on dates, or even text them back for that matter, and they’re still there when you want them.

It’s far less work than a healthy, committed relationship, but it comes at the cost of the other person’s feelings. [Read: Lazy boyfriend – 20 signs, why guys get lazy in love, and how to help him change]

3. Avoid emotional commitment

If you’ve done the whole emotionally invested, fully committed relationship thing before and got hurt from it, it can make you want to never do that again. [Read: Am I emotionally unavailable? 32 signs you are and the fastest ways to fix it]

In response, it can make you seek physical yet emotionally-withdrawn relationships, like that of a backburner relationship. But while it protects your heart from being broken again, it’s the coward’s way out. There is always the risk of being hurt in love—that’s what makes it so worth it in the end.

4. Great for the ego

For the egocentrics out there, backburner relationships are great ways to add fuel to the fire. Think about it, you do none of the work, and yet you have someone begging for your time and attention. How would that not make you feel desirable?

Is it a great way to treat someone? Absolutely not. Does it make you feel pretty damn good about yourself? Unfortunately for some, yes. [Read: Super self-obsessed – 22 secret signs you’re dating an egomaniac]

5. Easy to dispose

Maybe you like to travel. Or you like to try new things. Or maybe you’re just concerned with getting that body count as high as it can go. For whatever reason, you don’t want to be tied down for the long term, but you admit that being doted on is nice.

So, your alternative? Backburner relationships. They’re there when you want them, and because there was no emotional connection and life changes made *at least on your end*, it’s much easier to end the relationship when you want as well.

You’re in a backburner relationship – What’s next?

So there you have it—an open-your-eyes lowdown on the signs that you are, sadly, just a backup lover.

While the hopeless romantic in you is still holding out hope that they will one day come around, sweep you up in their arms, and shout out to the world that you’re theirs, the reality is this: it may never happen.

If the things above check out with your significant other, then you know for sure that you are not on top of their list.

So, what you do next really depends on you. Are you happy with seeing this person for a bit of no-strings-attached fun for the next month or so? Then keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you’re really hoping that they’ll change their mind for you, just know that they won’t. You’re special, so don’t waste your time hoping that they’ll open their eyes and see that.

Instead, ditch them and find someone who will see just how special you are from day one.

[Read: 20 types of lovers and relationships you’ll come across in the dating world]

And now, it’s up to you whether to stay and keep hoping to someday be the frontrunner instead of a backup babe, or up and run away as fast as you can. The choice is up to you.

Liked what you just read? Follow us on Instagram Facebook Twitter Pinterest and we promise, we’ll be your lucky charm to a beautiful love life. And while you’re at it, check out MIRL, a cool new social networking app that connects experts and seekers!

Preeti Tewari Serai
Preeti Serai
Preeti, the founder of LovePanky, is an eternal optimist and believer in the beauty of love and life. With an exhaustive experience in love, relationships, and ...