Recently a girlfriend of mine lost who she thought was “the love of her life.” After a year of casual dating and never defining the relationship, she saw a few weeks after ending it he was Facebook official with some other girl — and from what I hear, he’s happier than ever. Once upon a time I too thought I was in a fully reciprocated relationship, but it turned out that my two years of bliss were really just a charity case provided by him hoping I’d be the one to end it so he’d feel less guilty. She and I were simply placeholders. When you’re in it, it’s impossible to see the reality of what position you’ve put yourself in. We could have benefited from being alerted to potential red flags of placehoder-dom. So I caution you to read on and see if any of the below inspires some deep thought and a curiosity for the truth in your current situation. Why should we be someone’s short-lived entertainment while we sit naively dreaming up an unrealistic future? The best way to move on quickly is to get out before it’s too late.
1. You like them more than they like you.
The beginning of a relationship is always the best. It’s the time when you start to define your feelings and they are literally coming at you all at once. The scary part comes when you want to shout your feelings from the rooftops in the form of three epic words. Some people have an easier time putting it all out there, while others like to hold out until they’re sure they’ll hear it back. You can sit and play the waiting game to avoid being hurt, but your intuition is often right. If you’re waiting longer than normal to say it or hear them say it, maybe it’s time to throw in the towel. You can’t make anyone love you, and if they can’t express their feelings at all it’s probable you are in this alone.
2. Holidays are lost in translation.
They have no problem bringing up their Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. They love their aunt’s gravy and grandma is such a firecracker during Christmas Eve dinner, but where are you seated in all this fun? Every time you chat about the holidays you try to find the perfect moment to hint about you joining them this year. That moment never seems to come and it is certainly not being instigated by them. Maybe you invite them to be with you and yours, but they always have something better to do. Even if their family lives out of state they’d rather keep up the tradition of staying in and watching a Star Wars marathon. Including you would mean you’ve become a semi-permanent fixture in their life, but that might be too daunting for them. You are being left out for a reason.
3. His friends act like Switzerland.
My best and worst relationships have lived and died based on their friend’s opinion of me. If they thought I was a bitch, our relationship was destined for doom. You want to impress the friends and in turn they will tell you everything you need to know about who you’re dating. If you’re out with him and his buds and they avoid you and all conversations about the two of you dating, it’s likely because he doesn’t talk about you much, or that there is nothing to tell you. It may not have much to do with you at all, but if you’re always getting neutral party answers then you should probably just fend for yourself and how you want to navigate these waters.
4. You’re always at an arms distance.
At first his guarded nature seems adorable and you’re hopeful that your presence in his life will eventually break down his carefully built walls. You open yourself up assuming it will make him comfortable enough to show you all his scars, but all that patient knocking on his door will inevitably turn into angry bashing. Patience may be a virtue, but when it comes to the emotionally unavailable bringing up the “big picture” conversations will always be a game of walking on eggshells.You can’t control everything and no amount of anger or compassion is going to open them up. Save that fighting effort for someone you won’t have to use it on.
5. Family is off limits.
Are you tired of hearing about family members popping into town and never getting an invite? You think maybe it’s too soon to meet the folks, but don’t you think you deserve to at least meet a 2nd cousin? A step-sibling? They tell you they can’t hang out for the weekend because of said family, but that doesn’t stop you from believing that he’ll call last minute to invite you to brunch. Maybe he just needs a chance to tell them about you first! If it comes to the point where you are inviting him to meet your fam and he’s not even close to puling that trigger, you really have to decide what it’s worth to you. Why should you be the well-kept secret and them your constant fodder?
6. You are never present in social media.
Want to tag them in all the pictures so all your instagram friends know you two might possibly be an item? Would you like to finally be FB official? I’m sure you would, but they couldn’t be more vehement about saying no to such nonsense. They don’t want people knowing about their private business because anyone that matters already knows, right? Sure that’s what they’ll tell you, but you being internet present gives other ladies in waiting the wrong impression. Hard for them to look like a cheater when the only proof of your existence is a mutual friendship.
7. When they’re out without you it’s always you that texts first.
You’re in this too deep when you can barely handle them being out without you. You know they need their alone time, because hanging out 24/7 is totes irrational, but it doesn’t mean that this has to be fun for you. A drunk text or voicemail will at least prove that they too were thinking about you, but that never happens. In fact you probably get a text the next evening from them letting you know he had a wild night and is still on #strugglestreet. Doesn’t matter if you text him mid-outing trying to say something nonchalant like, “Come over, I’m wearing something you will like (winky face).” — you’re just saying, “I miss you, where are you? Please talk to me, so I know you care.” You put yourself through the emotional ringer all night and in the end you’ll get no reply or a vague “K.” Fuck you and your “K’s.”
8. They only put in extra effort when you’ve thrown a fit.
When you’ve been carefully walking the tight rope of this undefined love affair, you’re bound to get a little more than aggressive when things don’t go your way. You’re trying to play it all cool, but enough is enough. You’re tired of him always hanging out with his friends, not putting you first, and you’re exhausted having given all this amazing girlfriend material effort. You’ll throw a war-like tantrum and wait for his response. If he doesn’t have anything else going on, he’ll give you just enough effort to walk you down from that ledge. You’ll consider this a step in the right direction and tell your friends, “We’re totally in a good place right now. He wants to work things out.” Thing is, you’ve been on this merry-go-round for a while, but you can’t find the strength to get off. He never really changes, and I guess you don’t either.
9. They are not about PDA.
There is nothing like having your hand grabbed and warmed by the person you’ve come to love. It is the simplest physical act, but it says so much. It’s not for everyone or people of the sweaty hand variety, but a quick clutch under the dinner table or a helping hand when you’re crossing the street can say all the difference between a connection that is meant to last or someone who doesn’t give a shit. A hand on the back at a party, a cute make out sesh in the corner or a peck in front of his bros is not asking for much. If you’ve come to get used to the nonexistence of this kind of foreplay because of their inability, not yours, then something really has to give. You can’t be expected give them everything in private, if they can’t be bothered to show you the same decency in public.
10. He refuses to commit.
This needs no explanation. If you feel wholeheartedly you want to commit yourself to this person and there is no telltale sign they want to do the same then you need to get out or accept that you are a placeholder. They will not change their mind eventually. They will not realize their mistake in leading you on. They will find someone “better” and leave you without guilt. After all, they were upfront about their feelings on commitment and monogamy, but it was you that chose to stay. Heath Ledger said it best, “Never let anyone make you feel like you don’t deserve what you want.”