It probably starts innocently. One day you notice a name popping up on your girlfriend's phone, texting her something funny. It's no big deal, you think. But then you see the same guy's name pop up a few more times. He's texting her. He's tagging her in funny meme posts on Instagram. He's commenting on her Facebook statuses.
Who is this guy, you want to know? You try to play it cool when asking her. Oh, he's a friend of a friend. Or a coworker. He knows she's in a relationship. It's perfectly innocent.
Of course, it may be innocent. Or it may be cushioning.
What the hell is cushioning? Well, thanks to The Tab's Babe blog, we now know. It's a relatively recent dating term to describe a trend that's blossoming in our hyper-connected, social media-obsessed culture.
Like "ghosting," "haunting" and "benching," cushioning might sound a little silly, but it describes something that definitely does happen — and could be happening in your relationship right now.
In essence, the cushioner is flirting with other people — just in case they find themselves single in the not too distant future. They're trying to set up something to "cushion" their fall if the relationship does indeed fall apart. Sort of a pre-emptive rebound relationship cultivation.
The cushioner won't actually cross the line and hook-up with the cushionee while they're still in the relationship, but by fostering an unhealthily flirtatious relationship when still very much dating someone else, they are undermining the very fabric of their current relationship.
If you're in an open relationship, of course, this doesn't really apply. Go out there and have all the fun sex and flirting you want!
But if you're in a monogamous relationship that you're uncertain of enough to start thinking about next steps (and acting, even if in a low-key way), cushioning is absolutely not the way to go about it.
Sure, most of us will engage in some degree of flirtation with other people while in relationships, and if you and your partner are understanding about this kind of thing, it can be normal and even healthy for the relationship. But taking things to another level and actively flirting with people in the hopes that they'll be available should your current relationship fail is a bad, bad strategy. Let's take a look at the different ways cushioning could burn you:
- Depending on your partner, it could create serious trust issues. For many people, even friendly or funny texting with someone else will represent a crossed line that could lead to fights and mistrust.
- Stringing someone else along artificially in the hopes that they'll be able to cushion your fall after the breakup is potentially cruel to that person. They might be expecting things to progress only to ultimately realize that your feelings for them were never serious.
- If you're constantly thinking of the possibility of getting with this other person, you might slip up, cross a serious line and cheat on your partner — whether that's sexting, kissing, hooking up, or having an actual affair.
- Even if you don't cheat, that kind of thinking will probably prove toxic to the relationship anyway and could prevent you from really ever investing in the relationship.
To some degree, this trend (and the fact that we now have a term for it) is a product of our current hyper-connectedness as much as anything. Social media and smartphone ownership means, if you want, hundreds of sexy people are only a few button taps away at all times.
You can reconnect with old flames, flirt with new acquaintances, and even set up an online dating profile and hope your significant other doesn't find out. If you need to get your digital flirt on, you have more options than ever before.
And if you're starting to worry about the stability of the relationship for any reason, it's understandable that attention from other people might be comforting, and it's possible that it could just feel like normal friendliness at first.
But are you actually guilty of cushioning? Let's take a look at some signs:
- You find yourself messaging this person or these people a lot
- You find yourself hiding your correspondences from your significant other
- You find yourself fantasizing about them sexually
- You find yourself fantasizing about dating them after your current relationship ends
If you answered yes to at least two of these, you're probably smack-dab in the midst of a cushioning situation!
It's not the end of the world, but the right thing to do would be to cut down on your communication with these other people (possibly cutting it off entirely) and focus on your relationship. Is there a reason you're reaching out and looking for attention outside of it? Are there things you're not getting from your partner? Is something that's stopped happening or started happening making you feel like the end is coming?
At the end of the day, healthy relationships hinge on open and honest communication first and foremost. Instead of planting seeds for rebound relationships, talk to your partner and address the issue at hand. Or, if you realize that things aren't going to last, maybe it's time to call it quits in your current relationship and fully move on. But doing this "cushioning" thing is a bad idea no matter how you slice it.