The Other Significant Other

Or, the plight of the other lover

Last summer I dated an overlapper. An overlapper is a person who is unskilled in the art of breaking up with someone before dating someone else.

Overlappers are everywhere. You probably know one or two. Maybe you are one yourself. Signs include frequent under-the-table texting, surprise weekend trips where they’ll be “off the grid”, and low cell-phone battery life, which leads to their phones “dying” at 9:00 pm every other night. These symptoms are often misdiagnosed as forgetfulness and/or busy-ness, but when occurring together they indicate a textbook case of overlapperitis (also known as overlapperhea and overlapperalysis depending on local dialect).

What happens when you date an overlapper is that there is a period of time when you are that person’s other significant other. Which means that they still have another significant other whom they are going out to dinner with and presumably kissing, but they are “definitely planning” on breaking up with them. Once they do, you will become their plain-old, regular significant other, which if we’re being honest doesn’t have the same ring to it.

When I explained my predicament to my friends, they said, “Matt, it sounds like you’re dating a cheater. You probably shouldn’t do that.” Hey guys, I replied. Don’t jump to conclusions. She isn’t a cheater, she’s an overlapper. “A what.” They said, not really asking but judging. An overlapper, I said. An overlapper isn’t a cheater because he or she plans on eventually breaking up with one of their others. “Her others?” they said, slowly, now with squinted eyes. Yeah, one of her significant others. She’ll break up with one of her others, so that we’ll only have one another. Eventually, her other other will then have to find another. Is it really that hard to understand? I looked around the table. They sipped their drinks.

The process is so complicated and hard to explain that you start feeling bad for your overlapping other. They’re trying, you tell yourself. It’s hard being such an advanced lover amidst the pedestrian masses. And it’s a constant struggle finding the perfect, most considerate moment to tear off the band-aid. They can’t break up during Thanksgiving week, because that wouldn’t be in the spirit of the holiday. Then there’s Christmas, which is followed by New Years, which is almost a month before Valentine’s Day, and everybody knows that you can’t break up with somebody within a month before or after Valentine’s Day. That would be too mean. With all this annoying planning to do, it must be hard being an other significant other’s other — aka an overlapping lover, slash breaker-upper. They want what’s best, but they’re paralyzed by their manners.

As their other other, you have a better perspective on their condition, so it’s your job to help them get better. (Unless this person has an older brother, or an understanding younger mother, in which case they should probably chip in too.) Treatment options include at-home therapy sessions, where you talk about things like the “idea” of the original other and the difficulty of leaving a three-year relationship; assisted self-medication, where you get drunk with them and forget about the significance of the reality of what you’re actually doing; and silent Netflix binge-watching, where you re-watch House of Cards episodes until your retinas fry, in hopes that one or both of you deny the original other’s existence. None of these options work.

After a couple months, my friends took me out to brunch and said, “Hey Matt, your quote-unquote girlfriend is cheating on you. You should dump her.” No guys, I shook my head, she’s not cheating on me. “And why is that,” they said. Because she says she’s not having sex with her original significant other. “Right,” they said. She’s only having sex with me, so technically she’s only cheating on him. “Right,” they said, clearly still not getting my point. What she’s doing with me is overlapping. We discussed this. “But how can you trust her?” This question cuts right to the bone. Because she wouldn’t lie to me. Because of course not. “Right” they said.

Listen, if I had my druthers, my significant other would have broken up with her original other originally, when we, my significant other and I, first became lovers. But life isn’t meant to be easy. And it also isn’t fair. So you put up with the existence of the other significant other, aka your STD-sharing Eskimo brother, until one day you cut the bullshit and realize that your friends were right all along. There is no such thing as an overlapper, and no one should ever be someone else’s other significant other. Even if you wear a rubber.

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