We’ve heard of ghosting, but there’s another dating trend leaving people feeling unclear about where they stand in a could-be romance. This is BENCHING.
There’s a new dating tactic in town and if you’ve been out there chasing love, you’ve probably encountered this sneaky, but effective scheme. It’s called “benching.”
Since it was first written about by New York Magazine writer Jason Chen, many have said benching is the new form of ghosting—when someone you are dating suddenly stops all contact… texting, calling, emails, dates. And poof—they’re out so fast that you may think that the connection was all just a mirage, an illusion, a ghost.
It is my suspicion that with ghosting getting so much attention that it reached the ranks of pop culture phenomena, daters had to come up with a new, sneakier form to throw off potential mates.
For those who have gotten a taste of what the bench feels like, you are filled with questions, shock, and confusion. “What just happened?” you ask. For those who are not quite sure if you’ve been benched, I will explain what it is and feels like.
Whether or not you’ve been benched or done the benching, let’s take a closer look through the eyes of a psychologist specializing in dating and relationships, shall we?
A Common Scenario…
You connected online and he/she messaged you a few times with the usual get-to-know you questions and responses. You go on a first date; there seems to be chemistry. You laugh at his/her jokes. He/she fits several of the key traits on your “list” and things end with a goodnight kiss that makes your knees a little weak. You text each other afterwards expressing that you had a great time and that you’d like to do it again soon.
In the days that follow, “Good morning,” “How did your weekend go?,” and “How was your soccer game?” texts are the regular. You feel attended to and that something may be different about this one.
A week goes by and and he/she initiates a plan to get together again. Schedules don’t exactly line up, so a date is picked for another week out. You reserve that date in your busy calendar. As the day approaches, you feel excited about seeing each other again and what it will be like. You continue to text each other daily sweet-nothings and the excitement builds.
Then, the day before, there is suddenly a work event that your date needs to attend and asks to reschedule for later that week. You oblige as work is important. A couple hours before your next planned date, you get a text stating he/she is coming down with “something” and needs to reschedule again. They apologize up and down, and while upset, you muster up some compassion and send well wishes.
The texts continue to roll in with some regular consistency, but plans to see each other do not reach fruition. You start to replay everything in your mind and think, “Is he/she ever going to go out with me again?” and “We seem to have great chemistry and match up well, what went wrong?”
To the untrained eye, benching looks like…
- You keep missing each other
- Your schedules aren’t “syncing up”
- Busy work schedule and after-work commitments
- Travel plans are getting in the way of making that next date
- Semi-frequent texts that remind you of the attraction and potential connection
- Dates cancelled for “good reasons” such as feeling sick and last-minute work events
….but nothing ever goes further than that, because you’ve been benched.
Players (daters) who warm up with the rest of the team in hopes to get some play time. However, they are intentionally removed from the game and kept from playing in the game. They sit waiting on the bench, just in case another player gets injured, quits the game, or the coach loses interest. The coach continues to encourage the benched player, making sure they are ready to get in the game if the coach so decides. The player is left waiting, hoping that the next time their coach looks their way, it will be their time to play.
A Psychologist’s Analysis:
After several years of hearing clients ask, “What happened?,” I’ve come to some conclusions from compiling and analyzing the themes involved in this confusing, frustrating dating experience we now call “benching.”
Here is my analysis…
- If “timing is off,” so is the level of interest and time he/she has made available to finding love.
- Daily, thoughtful, sweet texting without consistent, quality, face-to-face time is not real dating.
- FOMO (Fear of missing out) is playing a major role in their dating process—it keeps him/her from being able to commit to pursuing one person.
- Poor (or inflated) self-worth = poor treatment of others (Eh-hem… Ever heard of dating karma?).
- Having someone on the bench allows he/she to avoid the feelings of vulnerability that follow when going all in with the person they want to date.
- Benching someone also allows him/her to escape feelings of vulnerability of not having a backup-just-in-case option.
- If they are playing the “game,” but not facing vulnerability of commitment (even if clumsily grappling with it), a healthy relationship will never develop—trust me.
- Benching reflects ambivalence about being in a relationship is undoubtedly high.
- Dating when benching is involved = filling social time and meeting immediate companionship/sexual needs without real intimacy. It does not = real dating.
Why Does it Work?
I’ve come to realize that all behavior is a product of reinforcement, either through rewards or punishment. What I see when it comes to benching is the bencher has a track record of connecting with you or asking you out on a date, just in time to reinforce the behavior and give you hope again. “See, he/she does like me!”
The same is true for slot-machine makers, who know that a gambler will keep pulling down the lever because the gambler believes that eventually, they will hit something good. This reinforces the gambler to not give up on the game—just as it reinforces the benched to just keep hoping the bencher will finally put them in the game.
What to Do?
As the saying goes…accepting better than nothing, gets you better than nothing.
Setting your boundaries around what you are willing to accept in the early stages of dating will pay dividends in what kind of relationship you will be getting yourself into for the long-term. If it’s not working now, the likelihood of it suddenly working later is a bet you may not want to place.
Follow the Golden Rule (aka Dating Karma) – do onto others as you would like done to you. That means if you don’t enjoy being benched, don’t do any benching of your own. If you are not interested, address it with kindness and honesty, then move on.
Consistency – I firmly believe that people show you who they are in their behavior, not their words. If they say they want to see you, but do not take steps to make that happen in a reasonable amount of time, they are telling you they don’t want or have time to see you. Consistency between words and actions is key.
Two strikes and you’re out, not three – think about a time that you’ve ever given someone three chances, did it pay off? Likely not. Those who want the chance to see you, will make the time and effort. Listen to what they are showing you and simply release and move on if they are not putting you in the game.
Benching may be a fad in the dating world, but it doesn’t have to be the theme of your dating experience. If you’ve noticed a pattern of benching those you date, hopefully this piece has opened your eyes to what may be underlying your dating behaviors.
For those who have been benched, recognizing patterns and listening to your intuition will help you determine whether your date isn’t putting you in the game the way you are with them.