What is benching? And why do people do it?
- Have you ever carried on dating someone you were ambivalent about?
- Ever strung someone along because you’d rather have someone than no one?
- If the answer is yes, then you may be guilty of ‘benching’
What is benching?
Benching – coined by New York Magazine writer Jason Chen – is when you start dating someone new and feel pretty ambivalent about them. Sure, you think they’re nice – nice enough for you to keep messaging them – but you’re not gushing to your friends about them or going giddy every time they like your Instagram posts.
You’re not really interested in pursuing a relationship with them – not at the moment, anyway – but you keep just enough contact “to pique [their] interest and dangle the carrot of a possible relationship without ever actually following through with plans.” Sort of like keeping them on a subs bench, hence the term: benching.
Arguably, benching is even worse than ghosting. At least with ghosting, you know the other person definitely isn’t interested anymore. With benching, you’re essentially sitting around waiting for them to make their mind up.
While the term benching was coined in 2016, the act of ‘leading someone on’ has been around much longer. But benching is differentiated from this by its hallmark trait of communicating – often digitally – in dribs and drabs, and rarely committing to meeting up in person.
Why do people bench?
It’s unsurprising that benching is gaining traction. Given the advent of the internet and the rise of dating apps, when it comes to choosing a partner, we’re faced with more choice than ever. In a world where your next date is just a swipe away, it’s no wonder people are more willing to hold out for the perfect partner and happy to ‘bench’ anyone that doesn’t meet their high standards.
Relationship expert David Bennett tells Medical Daily that he believes benching itself is not a modern phenomenon, but technology has made it easier to bench. “Modern technology has made benching worse only because it has given men and women both the ability to expand their dating options significantly,” he says.
Speaking to Metro, dating experts Selina and Vicki from Project Love corroborate this. “We have more dating choice than ever before, but it’s actually more of a hindrance than a help as too much choice overwhelms us and makes it harder to make a decision,” they explain. “We keep our options open because we don’t want to risk making the wrong choice. Even when we do choose and commit to a date, in the back of our mind is the notion that someone better could be out there.”
Is there hope for you if you’re being benched?
A relationship that involves benching is really only heading one way. Being realistic, the bencher is never going to have a lightbulb moment and realise that the benchee is everything they’ve ever wanted and more. If you’re sitting on someone’s sub bench, it’s only a matter of time before you’re out of their life completely. As Chen puts it: “if we’re to be honest, benching is just the slow kiss-off. Know that if it’s happening to you, you’re getting dumped, even if the bencher doesn’t know it yet.”
“No successful relationship was ever born from a situation in which one person strung the other along until – in a moment of epiphany – he realised everything glorious and noble and luminescent was in front of him all along,” he says.
It’s harsh but true. Sure, some relationships are slow burners, and it may take a little while for your partner to realise that they do really like you. But if the person you’re talking to isn’t really making an effort to work out if they can see a future with you and instead chooses to string you along with the odd text message here and there, it’s likely you’ll never manage to make things work with them.
In any case, you shouldn’t be expected to do things at their pace – if you’re ready for a relationship with them and they’re not, there’s no reason why you should sit around for months and months waiting for them to make up their mind if you’ve already told them how you feel.
What do you do if you suspect you’re being benched?
So – you’ve been having an on-and-off conversation with someone on Facebook for the past two months. Every time you ask to meet up they say they’re busy – or if you suggest something a little more spontaneous they’ll reply the next day saying “sorry, my phone died!” Initially, you bought it. But now you’re wondering – am I being benched?
It can be hard to break out of the cycle of being benched. According to Lizette Borelli on Medical Daily, you can become “biochemically addicted” to receiving texts from a bencher, given the rush of dopamine you’ll feel when they message you. “The unpredictability of a bencher, such as sending an unsolicited text, will increase the benchee’s dopamine levels, leading them to become more “addicted” to communication with this person,” Borelli explains.
But experts Selina and Vicki tell Metro that you need to deal with the situation head on. “If you suspect that you’re being benched, then suggest a coffee date as quickly as you can. If they can’t commit to that, then don’t take the bait the next time they get in touch. Move on to someone who can.”
Their advice raises an important point – remember you have agency. If you feel as though you’re sitting around waiting to be ghosted or dumped – don’t put yourself through that. Have a frank conversation with the bencher and if that still gets you nowhere, cut your losses and move on.