They say that love can be a game, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily want to play it. There are few things quite as painful as a breakup, but seeing signs your ex is keeping you around as a backup can hurt even worse.
To protect your heart and mentally move forward, let’s showcase 10 signs your ex is keeping you as a backup.
Is my ex being friendly or do they want me back?
The end of a relationship can feel bitter and sensitive, to say the least.
Yet, for some reason, your ex is still hanging around. Maybe they are calling you or maybe they are sending text messages. These seemingly innocent actions can make it incredibly tough to understand where your ex is at in the relationship.
The simple truth is that exes rarely reconnect for a real relationship.
A study developed by Kevin Thompson revealed that nearly 70% of exes did not get back together at all. A further 15% of respondents reunited with their ex only to break things off again within a year.
If our ex is hitting up our phone and the numbers prove that it isn’t for a relationship, does that mean we are being led on? If so, what are the signs that our ex is just keeping us around as a backup option?
1) You’ve become an emotional sponge
“If you’re not authentically experiencing, expressing, and learning from your emotions, then that erodes trust, security, intimacy, and closeness.”
In a healthy relationship, we find that both parties will communicate openly and honestly. Both groups will feel respected and compelled to share their thoughts and opinions, because why not?
Unfortunately, when an ex is leading you on, then you will end up turning into more of an emotional sponge than an active participant.
Emotional sponges are there to absorb the thoughts and feelings of their partner without offering any sentiment of their own.
A healthy relationship features two-way conversations based on respect and trust. If your ex is using you as an outlet without ever offering the same opportunity back, you might be a backup option and source of emotional support.
2) More mixed signals than a bad antenna
“The most confused you will ever get is when you try to convince your heart and spirit of something your mind knows is a lie,”
says author Shannon Alder.
Mixed signals often coincide directly with an indecisive ex, the kind of person that can’t decide if they are ready to move on or even capable of doing so. In either event, these mixed thoughts will manifest as mixed signals within the relationship.
Maybe our ex feels bad that they hurt us, maybe they can’t figure out how to completely cut away from the relationship. In either situation, sending mixed signals may feel good to the ex, but it isn’t healthy!
The team at GQ argues that we should listen for mixed signals while understanding that everyone behaves differently.
In our experience, the easiest way to cut through the fog of mixed messaging is to see how their actions and words align. If we are always hearing about the date we should go on but they never actually take that step, we might be a backup.
3) Always asking for ‘one more’ favor
According to Herbert Simon, quoted for a piece on love and decision making, a thorough understanding of human rationality requires an understanding of the role that emotions play in the process.
Put simpler, Dr. Simon understands that emotions directly influence the choices that we make. That’s a whole heck of a lot of words to say,
“Love makes us do stupid stuff sometimes.”
When an ex continues to lead us on, they’ll do so by occasionally asking for one more favor. If you are still in love with your ex, then you are still influenced by that love and might even help them with their problems.
The unfortunate side of this problem is that it is one-way traffic! People who are being led on are rarely given the same favors, grace, and opportunities.
If you find that your ex is sending all sorts of casual requests your way for help, maybe reconsider what your goal is in the relationship.
Are you looking to become this person’s platonic friend who takes care of their problems?
4) You are intimate but only in limited ways
While we appreciate being considered a source of intimacy, we tend to think that relationships should involve more than just physical touch.
A surefire sign that you are being strung along as a backup is a relationship that is entirely one-sided and focused solely on the ex’s likes.
If a couple breaks up but remains on good enough terms to maintain a social relationship, they may meet up for coffee or chat every once and a while online.
When this transitions into a relationship built upon sexual intimacy, however, a line has been crossed.
Whenever we find ourselves falling towards a Friends With Benefits style of relationship, it’s easy to notice that the emotional attachment is no longer there.
Unless that is what you are looking for, you are being led on.
5) They are keeping your relationship secret
For the longest time, making a relationship “Facebook Official” was the biggest hurdle couples had to overcome when making their love life public.
While we can talk all day about when the right time to go public in a relationship is, it is easier to understand why a relationship is being kept a secret.
If your ex has trouble slapping a label on the relationship, that is one strike. If your romantic interest refuses to take the relationship public, even if you are already romantically involved again, then the ship has surely sailed.
No matter what their social media status says, being kept in the dark is a sign that you have become a benchwarmer in their love life.
Take pride in the one that you love and never settle for someone that would hide you!
6) You only get called for last-minute plans
The thing about being a backup is that it becomes easy to know when you are the ‘last-minute replacement’. When we found that our ex was only calling us for last-minute plans, it became pretty apparent that we were far from their first choice.
If you find yourself always getting that last-minute text or phone call, there is a chance that you are being kept around as a failsafe for when their other contacts fall through.
If your ex is serious about getting together again, you’ll likely know of plans together sooner than the day of the event.
According to Psychology Today, other signs of becoming the last-minute replacement include platonic communications limited to just once or twice per week.
7) Holidays become a lonely experience
Spending big holidays together is a sure sign that a relationship is solidifying.
On the other side of that coin, if your ‘ex’ or partner doesn’t want to spend time with you on these special days, that might be a sign that you are a backup.
While some individuals look at holidays as a way to celebrate immediate family, other couples look at it as a way to grow together in their new family dynamic. Unfortunately, someone leading us on won’t take us around for Christmas Dinner!
The last thing that an ex who is dragging us along will want to do is make the relationship any more ‘official’ than it has to be.
If you find yourself chronically alone on the holidays, even when your partner is supposedly available, consider what that means between the two of you.
In the absolute worst-case scenario, you’ll know you are being led on by an ex when they stand you up on a major holiday. Well, guess that just means more Christmas Turkey for us!
8) One-way traffic during conversations
Every healthy relationship will feature clear and open channels of communication. If we can’t discuss our feelings, thoughts, and emotions with our loved one, then who are they really to us?
A sure sign that your ex may be using you as a backburner option is one-way traffic during conversations, no matter what the topic is.
If your spouse or former spouse loves to speak and hear themselves talk but rarely has time to listen to your concerns, consider what that may mean.
Our favorite part about building a relationship is sharing everything with our loved one. Some would argue that not listening leads to viewing a partner as less-than-equal, demanding a type of attention that they aren’t willing to return.
Outside of regular conversation, if life’s other actions feature similar types of one-way traffic, you might want to reconsider what you are doing with the relationship.
9) They rely on you for benefits, not love
We’ve seen relationships that continue to struggle along due to benefits found between partners, rather than any shared level of love.
In a situation where a boyfriend needs a place to live or a car to drive, they might string along their partner to keep receiving that aid. Finances also play a major role in how and when a relationship may come to an end.
Even if you care deeply for your ex or significant other, you shouldn’t solely become a resource for them to use and plunder.
If your boyfriend or girlfriend is consistently turning to you for financial support or assistance in life without ever offering it back, you should consider recalibrating your outlook on the relationship.
To fall in love is not to be used, it is to be joined by a partner in life. Give and give back, and the rest will come along!
10) They won’t define the relationship
While only a tiny fraction of split couples will ever truly reunite for a long-term relationship, there are plenty of people stuck in an unlabeled and undefined limbo.
Following the potential end of a relationship, both parties should have a clear idea of where they stand with one another.
Unfortunately, breaking up isn’t as simple or clean as that.
Any time your significant other struggles to put a label on the relationship that you have, raise a red flag and pay close attention to it. Answers like “Let’s see” or “I don’t like labels” are both warnings that maybe you aren’t as exclusive as you might hope.
Every person in a relationship deserves clarity about what they are to the other person. If your special person won’t grant you that clarity, it may be time for a tough conversation.
What to do when YOU are the backup?
There is a startling moment for many people where they realize that their ex is using them.
Understanding that you are the backup option can be as powerful as it is painful, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use both feelings to make progress. Understand and know your value and refuse to back down from what matters most to you.
Your love, time, and life are all valuable.
If your ex/significant other is exhibiting a few of the ten warning signs listed above, take time to take stock of the relationship. Ask hard questions and figure out what you are worth!
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