I Was Crushed When I Discovered I Was His “Third Tier” Girl

I put myself in the position where it could happen.

Elle Silver
Jan 21 · 10 min read
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Photo by Thgusstavo Santana.

I was third-tiered by a man I was dating and let me tell you: it was crushing. What do I mean when I say I was “third-tiered”?

First, let me explain what the tier system is in dating. People organize their love interests on tiers. We all do this even if we don’t do it consciously.

The first tier is saved for those people who we really like. We want to see them exclusively — even marry them.

Then there’s the second tier. This is the status we give to someone we have serious feelings for but aren’t into committing to forever.

Last comes the third tier — the status I was given by a man I was dating. Third-tier status goes to those whom we’ll see for fun, but not much else. These aren’t people we want to date exclusively. We have a “take it or leave it” attitude. Some people call third-tier lovers “friends with benefits.”

Sure, it’s great to have someone you can call at the last minute to come over to Netflix and chill every so once in a while. But if you find yourself placed in third-tier status and you don’t know this and you’ve been put there by someone you actually like, this can hurt. It can even be crushing.

I should know: that’s how it felt for me when I was third-tiered.

Is there anything wrong with the dating “tier system”?

There’s nothing wrong with this tier system on its face as long as everyone is on the same page. If you have decided that someone is just a “friend with benefits,” this is fine as long as they know this and are okay with it.

As long as they’re not hoping you’re going to change your mind and suddenly make them first-tier, then it’s no problem to see someone casually. The problem is, people often aren’t upfront about third-tiering the people they date. That’s when it hurts.

If you don’t know you’re third-tier in someone’s life, it can be crushing to discover this. That’s how it felt when I found out.

He didn’t third-tier me at first.

The man who third-tiered me was named Shane. We met when I was just coming out of my divorce. I was vulnerable and learning the dating ropes again. I was in the perfect position to be third-tiered.

Shane and I matched on Tinder. He seemed to be very into me at first. He was the one who requested we move our conversation from chat on the app to an actual phone call.

Wow, he was moving quickly. We’d just matched that morning. Already he wanted to talk on the phone? I could go for weeks just texting with men on Tinder, never ever having a real-life conversation.

I wouldn’t even exchange phone numbers with most of my matches. Here I was, already giving out my digits to a man I’d just matched with that morning. Sharing phone numbers is serious business. What if you give your number to someone who ends up becoming a stalker?

It’s best to avoid this situation altogether by only giving out your number to people you know very well. I rarely give out my phone number to strangers. Shane was a stranger.

Little did I know, I had nothing to fear with Shane. He’d never stalk me. He’d just third-tier me.

But like I said, at first, he came on strong. It didn’t feel weird giving him my number so quickly. Though we didn’t know one another, he didn’t feel like a stranger anyway. I felt like I knew him even though we hadn’t even spoken on the phone yet.

I was projecting a lot of myself onto Shane. He’d grown up near where I had. He was into a lot of the same music. I kept wondering if we’d crossed paths before at some backyard gig. That was my fantasy.

He had been in a punk band in his twenties and still had that rebellious edge. He hadn’t graduated high school. He was basically my “bad boy” dreamboat — the kind who had always rejected a nerdy geek like me in my adolescence.

I’d always done well in school and was emotionally awkward as a young adult. I’d always wanted one of those stylish rebels to like me . Of course, they never did.

I went off to college, graduated, then went about dating men who were “appropriate” for me. Meaning they were from “good” families, had gone to “good” schools, and now had “good” jobs.

They were the type of men who would make “good” husbands and “good” fathers. I ended up marrying one of them, a fellow nerd with an Ivy League education. He had a close-knit family and I’d imagined we’d have a perfect life together. Still, my marriage ended up a disaster.

So sue me if I had the fantasy of going back in time. I’d go back to standing in front of the two doors I’d stood before at the end of high school. One door led to the life that my parents had always wanted for me. The other led to an unknown world of rebellion where I would be cool, confident, and the main squeeze of a “bad boy.”

Some fantasy, huh? I’d gone through the door that had led me to marry the “nice” guy, but my marriage had still fallen apart. So why not turn back the hands of time to experiment dating one of the bad boys I’d always pined after? Why not go through the other door?

Now an older, divorced woman, I thought I’d be able to get a guy like Shane to like me. Look at how he was pursuing me. Here we were, already talking on the phone only minutes after matching on a dating app.

He said he was so eager to speak to me because I looked just like a woman he’d been in love with back in his youth. He was also enamored with the past. “You could be her sister,” he said and related how much he was dying to meet me.

It was morning when we spoke on the phone. He asked to meet me later in the day. Of course, I said yes. A few hours later found me sitting in a coffeehouse across from him.

He was just as cute in real life with his Levi’s rolled up once at the cuff and his black Vans and black T-shirt and unruly hair and beard. He drove a 1970 Plymouth Duster that he worked on himself. I swooned. I was hot for this guy.

The problem was, just like in high school, this sort of man would never fall for someone like me. He was coming on strong now but I would only ever reach “third-tier” status with him.

He ended up just wanting to “Netflix and chill.”

But sure, at first, he seemed like he was interested. When we finished our coffees, he asked if I wanted to meet up again.

“When?” I said.

“Tonight?”

Great. We made plans to meet up for dinner but, at the last minute, he called and said his car wasn’t working and asked if I could just come over.

Um, okay.

Since he seemed to be so into me, I let him lead. Yeah, maybe I should have offered to drive us to dinner in my car, but instead, I went along with what he wanted. This would, of course, be my downfall.

What did I know? I was up for having new experiences post-divorce. I wanted to find myself again. I went ahead and did what he asked.

Part of me was nervous about going over to some guy’s place I didn’t know very well, but he said we’d just watch a movie. That’s exactly what we did. We chilled and watched a movie on Netflix.

Little did I know, this would be all we ever did together.

I found out he had a “main girl” he dated.

The next time Shane and I met up was a few days later. It was the same arrangement as the previous evening. He didn’t bother inviting me out to dinner again. He called to ask me over to watch another movie.

This became our habit. He never called with much advance notice. When he called, he wanted to meet now. That was okay by me, at least at first.

I liked watching movies with Shane. But then I started to notice a new trend. He began calling later and later in the evening with requests to meet. At one point, he called at 11 pm to see if I wanted to come over.

I was driving home from hanging out with a friend of mine. Shane asked if I could stop by. I made a U-turn and headed over to his place. Still, it bugged me that he had phoned so late.

The time before he had called me at 10 pm and the time before that had been at 9. I was getting sick of all these last-minute invitations, especially for late-night meetings. A voice inside me told me that something was up and that when I discovered what it was, I wouldn’t like it.

But I remained optimistic. I decided I would try to change this trend. I called Shane early one evening, hoping we could get a bite to eat together later in the week.

He said that was fine. He’d take me out for tacos or a burger if I wanted. I told him I looked forward to that, but then asked what he was up to at the moment. I wasn’t necessarily interested in hanging out. I was just making small talk.

“I’m on my way out to dinner with a friend,” he said.

I can’t deny I felt stung. He’d only ever once asked me to go out to eat with him and then had canceled. He’d never extended the invitation again.

I asked him what restaurant he was off to. He told me the name. It was a very nice restaurant I knew of. In fact, it seemed like too nice of a restaurant to be going to with your buddy.

Maybe deep down inside I already knew he wasn’t going to this restaurant with one of his dude friends. I asked who he was meeting up with.

“The main girl I date.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I had no idea how to answer. The main girl? So what did that make me?

Third-tier, it seemed.

Why it shouldn’t have surprised me.

I had no idea Shane was dating someone else, but I also wondered why it shocked me so much. I already had a hunch he wasn’t treating me as nicely as he would have had he really been interested in me.

I’d been married before and had been in many relationships. I knew what it was to have a man really like me.

When my ex-husband was courting me, he asked me out on a Wednesday for a date on Saturday night. We met first in restaurants where he wined and dined me.

I’m not saying it’s necessary for a man to spend a ton of money on a woman, but he should be trying to impress her a little. Shane had never done that. Instead, he called me last minute, expecting me to be free to watch movies at his place.

But apparently, he was trying to impress this other woman: the “main girl” he dated. He’d made a reservation in advance at a nice restaurant and was spending his hard-earned cash on her.

Me? If it was a Saturday night, I’d get called at 10 pm to see if I was “around.” This was my fault. I’d been too easy from the get-go, always agreeing to meet Shane on his terms, at his times, no matter how late he called.

I’d permitted this dynamic to develop. Coupled with how easy it was to meet people on apps, of course he was seeing other people. I was probably just one of many other women Shane was dating. Even the “main girl” he was dating wasn’t first-tier. She wasn’t even second-tier because he wasn’t dating her exclusively either.

She was third-tier just like the rest of us were. Or just like I was. But still, the “main girl” he was dating was above me in status. Maybe I was actually fourth-tier for Shane. I couldn’t say. But one thing was sure: I didn’t want to see him again.

Why do people third-tier the people they date?

Whereas it hurt to be third-tiered by Shane, I can see what he got out of treating me this way. How convenient it must have been to have someone on hand to fulfill his every need whenever he was in the mood. How good it must have felt to get the ego boost he desired. It’s lonely to watch movies by yourself. I kept him company. I was cool to have around, but only casually.

That’s fine if I would have been okay with that. I’m not going to say that I haven’t had times in my life when I have. Maybe I wasn’t so into a guy either. I was okay with being his friend with benefits because he was mine, too.

You can’t be third-tiered if you’re not looking for anything serious.

But with Shane, I didn’t feel that way. For some messed-up reason, I wanted more from this guy. That’s the way the world typically works. Usually, the person being third-tiered doesn’t know it, and they wouldn’t like it if they knew.

I didn’t like it. It crushed me.

How do I now safeguard against getting third-tiered?

After my experience with Shane, I decided to get smarter about dating. If I really like a man, I refuse to go to his place too early on and I never say yes to a last-minute date. I make him work a little if he wants to see me.

I’m not trying to say that a man has to invite me out to eat in fancy restaurants but he should be offering more than late-night meetings at his pad.

That’s why it’s also important to have “the talk” sooner than later with your love interest about where you stand with each other — especially if you feel like you’re not as important in their lives as you’d like to be. If they’re not willing to make you front and center, then they’re not worth your time.

Before they third-tier you, you should make them a big fat zero and erase them from your life altogether.

The Virago

Women who write about surviving and thriving while being female

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Elle Silver

Written by

Former Playboy writer. Professional over-sharer. L.A.-based. More about me: my.bio/theformerlymrs Support: ko-fi.com/ellesilver

The Virago

We are a community of strong women who share our personal stories about how we’ve survived and thrived in our lives. We share our messages to heal and help others learn from our experiences

Elle Silver

Written by

Former Playboy writer. Professional over-sharer. L.A.-based. More about me: my.bio/theformerlymrs Support: ko-fi.com/ellesilver

The Virago

We are a community of strong women who share our personal stories about how we’ve survived and thrived in our lives. We share our messages to heal and help others learn from our experiences

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