Does Your Partner Have You on the Back Burner?
If you’re the burner or the one getting burned, here are a few tips to help put out the fires
We all know what “the back burner” is — the place where we hoard stuff that we’re lukewarm or undecided about.
I’m so indecisive, my back burner is filled with a constant backlog of rotating items — and they’re starting to pile up and spill over.
Which apartment to move into, which friend to see this weekend, which bill takes priority this month, which job offer to pursue — but most recently, which guy should I commit to?
My romantic life has gobbled up so much of my mental capacity lately that it has earned its own separate back burner. And, I’m in the unique situation of being both the person on the back burner and the person back burner-ing someone else — at the same time.
Here are a few things I’ve picked up from being in this messed up situation.
But first, a little perspective
My best friend is a genius and excellent at making analogies to explain my emotional turmoil to myself. My most recent word vomit text message to her about my situation read something like this:
It’s like I’m in a dilapidated jalopy with a broken windshield and no rear-view mirror, driving blindfolded in a snowstorm with two dudes in the backseat and I can’t decide which one to kick out to keep the car from crashing, and then I spill hot coffee in my lap and the heater is broken and then a Yeti jumps in front of the car and I crash anyways.
Translated, roughly: “I like two guys and either relationship has the potential to end horribly because all of my relationships do and I can’t pick which one I like more so what do I do help me please.”
My best friend had a little bit of a different take on my situation after I divulged a few more details:
You’re a cozy little cottage and your two lovers are standing outside. One of them gets to come inside because he respects your house rules. The other is a lunatic that occasionally comes by to scream at your house and break your windows and track dirt through your halls. The choice is obvious. Choose the good tenant.
When I still wasn’t buying it, she tried a different angle:
You’re standing with each of your feet on two different icebergs that are drifting apart, and you can’t decide which iceberg is the best and safest option. What if you pick one, but it ends up sinking when you put your full weight onto it? But if you stay put, you’ll definitely drown, because the icebergs will drift so far apart and you’ll fall into the gap between.
If you’re the one doing the back burner-ing
The reason the back burner exists is because of indecision. And, of being presented with two options that are both good for different reasons, but you can’t have both — not at the same time.
So one takes precedence and one goes on the back burner. And maybe at some point, they’ll switch positions.
The decision is never easy, and you might change your mind and switch back burner options many times (me). But you can’t keep swapping options forever.
Sometimes you just have to choose what looks like the best option to you at the time, and take a little leap of faith. You have to take a chance, or else you’ll drown in your indecision. You’ll fall into the iceberg gap.
If the universe is sending you equal signs to pursue both opposing things, it’s time to tell the universe to shut up for a second and let you think.
In the case of choosing a romantic partner, I picture the life I want to build, and I ask myself how they fit into it and how they contribute to it.
Can they help me create the life I want to have? When I come home at the end of the worst day I’ve ever had, do I want them to be there, or would I rather be alone?
A word of back burner-ing caution
If you reject one romantic interest or put them on the back burner and try to go back to them later, there’s a pretty good chance they won’t be there when you return.
So you have to consider — is the person you’re rejecting one you’re willing to lose and never have another chance at again?
If an option is on your back burner — it’s on your back burner for a reason. Don’t try to justify that away. If it was really the option you wanted, it would be priority number one, front and center.
But it’s not — so remember that when your internal rationalizations try to talk you into something that you don’t really want.
If you’re the one on the back burner
First, let’s talk about how to recognize if you’re on someone’s back burner:
- If they’ve said they care about you, but they also want to “see what else is out there.”
- They aren’t willing to commit to you, but they don’t like the idea of you seeing other people.
- Your plans together are either last minute or constantly rescheduled — or blown off altogether.
- You’re always being bumped down on the priority list and never given the number one slot.
- They give you just enough attention to keep you on the line, but they rarely (if ever) reel you in.
- You’ve been dating for a decently long time and they haven’t tried to integrate you into their life (re: meeting their friends or family, inviting you to their place, et cetera).
If any of these red flags apply to you, are your pants feeling toasty? Because you might be on the back burner.
But don’t worry, you’re in good company.
How to not get burned
As a current back burneree (a word I’ve made up), I’ve learned a few things about dealing with it and getting through it.
At the beginning, you might think you’re okay with parking it on the back burner until your partner figures out what they want and makes a decision — and maybe you will be okay there for a while. Some people have more patience than I do.
But at the end of the day, nobody likes to feel like they’re the second choice. Nobody wants to be sloppy seconds. Nobody wants to sit on the back burner until their pants are on fire.
So here’s what you do:
Lay out their options for them, and express your feelings and your intentions clearly. You want to be with them and you’re committed. And their choice is either to commit to you, or to be okay with you both seeing other people.
In romance, there are really only those two choices. You’re either together, or you’re not. If you’re “sort of” together — you’re not together. One or the other (or both) of you is on the back burner.
Stop, drop, and roll — and save yourself
If you’ve given your partner ample time and opportunity to take you off the back burner and they still haven’t, then the only way you get off the back burner is if you take yourself off. And sometimes, that’s the only thing you can do.
Don’t sit there and get burned for someone who couldn’t make you their top priority.
It’s time to move on and find someone willing to commit to you — because you deserve better than someone who makes you take the backseat to everything else in their life. You deserve to ride shotgun.
You deserve to be on their favorite burner (because, come on, everyone has a favorite burner).