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Cushioning: What It Means and 4 Signs

cushioning woman on a cushion, white background

There’s a veritable laundry list of bad dating behaviors in the world. We’ve got ghosting — where they disappear without a trace.

There’s benching, which happens when we find ourselves as a backup plan to their preferred options.

Orbiting happens when they keep checking up on us on social media without actually being a part of our lives. Now, we have to deal with cushioning, too!

What Does “Cushioning” Mean?

So, what does “cushioning” mean exactly? In dating and relationship terms, cushioning is when someone is in a committed relationships but actively keeps their options open by connecting with other potential future partners.

Instead of being fully committed, they’re arranging a backup plan just in case things don’t work out. It’s a common relationship behavior that skirts the line of cheating.

At first, it makes sense. Before the relationship moves into exclusive territory, it’s a good idea to keep our options open.

But once we update that relationship status, keeping other options close becomes problematic. Even if it doesn’t technically qualify as cheating, I think we can all agree that it’s certainly bad behavior.

4 Signs of Cushioning

There are some signs that cushioning is happening in a relationship.

While we might not want to think that our significant other has one foot out the door, it’s important to know where we stand in the relationship so that we can decide how much energy we want to invest.

I’m not saying that people who cushion also cheat, but I am saying that the line between the two is a thin one. Here are some signs someone is engaging in cushioning behavior:

1. They Have Social Media Conversations They Don’t Mention

The thing about cushioning is it’s not something that is generally disclosed to a partner. While nothing untoward is technically happening, they probably aren’t going to mention that they’ve kept in touch with people they would consider dating.

In fact, they are likely having social media contact with this person(s) and not mentioning it.

They might be chatting away on social media but glossing over it. They act like it’s not a big deal, but they continue to communicate with people they have dated or would date if they could.

They might minimize what they’re doing, but it’s a sign that they aren’t fully committed or secure in the relationship.

2. They Have a Friend List Filled with Potentials

I’ll give an easy example here. I once dated someone with a friend list full of other eligible, mostly single women. Most of the comments, likes, and interactions on his page were from women.

While he wasn’t seeing most of them in real life, he was certainly keeping tabs on them and maintaining those relationships. It was clear that if it didn’t work out with me, he had a whole list of options ready to take my place.

The friend list is often a clue. I’m not generally a suspicious or jealous person. I don’t go seeking out this information. Sometimes, it’s so obvious that we can’t help but notice.

When this happens, we’re likely seeing a red flag that would be easy to dismiss if we’ve never dealt with cushioning before.

3. They Develop a Secret Crush

Here’s another true story. I dated someone who developed a secret crush — only it wasn’t as secret as he seemed to think it was.

When he talked about this other woman, his voice took on a tone he used to have when he spoke about me and about our relationship. In fact, he started mentioning her often. I don’t think he realized that his crush was as obvious as it was.

This doesn’t have to be problematic. Even in committed relationships, crushes can happen. The problem is that he continued the conversations with her even beyond when he likely realized he had an attraction and possibly feelings for her.

The grass started looking greener, and if he’d been committed to our relationship, he would have stopped investing in that “friendship.” Instead, he started the cushioning behavior that contributed to the end of our relationship.

4. They Keep Collecting New “Friends”

Even if they delete their online dating profiles, they might still collect new attractive single friends. It could be a sign that they aren’t as invested in us as we are in them.

Their relationship status might let everyone know that they’re in an exclusive relationship, but their behavior hints that they might be open to making some changes if a better option comes along.

While it’s painful to think we aren’t their number one choice, cushioning is likely more about them and their insecurity than it is about us.

The sad reality is that there will always be partners who get their egos stroked by people wanting them. One admirer might not be enough for their fragile self-esteem.

Seeking external validation might be a way to help them feel worthy both in the relationship and out of it. While it certainly isn’t a cool thing for them to do, it’s more reflective of how they see themselves.

It’s likely also an engrained habit that won’t be easy for them to break.

beautiful woman sitting on a cushion, plant in the background

Cushioning: What To Do About It

Open communication is important for any healthy relationship. It might be time to let our significant other know that we feel disappointed when we realize they aren’t as committed and invested as we are in the relationship.

We might also feel insecure about the relationship itself because it looks like they’re lining up options outside of it. Talking this out will certainly be uncomfortable, but it might provide more clarity about why this is happening.

It’s possible that they don’t realize this is wrong or how it makes us feel. It’s also possible that they don’t think the relationship will last but are afraid to openly talk about it.

It might even be a matter of insecurity because they’re afraid that we can easily find someone else. Whatever the reason, it’s important to let them know that we know the cushioning is happening and we aren’t okay with it.

And if we’re the ones doing it? It might be time to shut that down and really learn to love the one we’re with.

The Truly Charming