Couples Are Just As Likely To Have "Back Burner" Relationships As Single People, Which Is Depressing

This just in: The notorious little black book is more present than we think. A study published in Computers in Human Behavior cites the "back burner" relationship as the new way to keep your romantic options open, while also noting that couples are just as likely to have "back burner" relationships as single men and women. For the purposes of the study, the term "back burner" refers to "a person to whom one is not presently committed, and with whom one maintains some degree of communication, in order to keep or establish the possibility of future romantic and/or sexual involvement" (i.e. a back-up should your relationship fall through).

Before conducting his research, the study's lead author Jayson Dibble figured that men and women in committed relationships would have less of a need for these back-up options since love often discourages couples from pursuing other romantic interests (this was proven in this 2007 study, and also, duh). Interestingly, this was not the case. Dibble, along with his research partner Michelle Drouin, found no correlation between commitment and "back burner" relationships. The two did discover, however, that men reported having more back burners than women. Dibble and Drouin also found that, just as social media and new technology offer even greater pathways to cheating, they seem to facilitate "back burner" relationships as well. Of the 374 participants studied, 45 percent reported communicating with back burners via text message, while 37 percent reported talking with them over Facebook. In other words, it looks like Facebook and text messaging provide more private avenues to communicate with potential romantic interests. They also supply a quick way to keep in touch that doesn't involve having to pick up the phone, making it that much easier to secure a relationship on the side.

What we can seemingly conclude from Dibble and Drouin's study is that both couples and single individuals like to keep their options open, and use social media and/or text messaging to do so. Before jumping to conclusions, however, it's important to consider the sample population selected for the study, which consisted of undergraduate students. Considering that college is a time in your life when you're looking to explore your romantic options rather than settle down, it could very well be possible that these findings are not generalizable to the entire American population at large.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if Dibble and Drouin followed the same students' dating behavior over the next 10 years, and whether they saw a decline in their number of back burner relationships. Perhaps long-term or married couples are just as likely to want a few alternatives. After all, a recent survey from concluded that half of married women have a back-up husband in mind. In this survey, many women confessed that this man was either an ex or an old friend who had professed his love for her. There is the sense, then, that with age comes an accumulation of exes and romances that have never been fully dissolved.

Whether college students or adults are more prone to back burners, however, it's still troubling that committed individuals are looking outside their relationship for other romantic options. Although Dibble and Drouin's study found no correlation between back burner activity and one's investment in a relationship, the mere fact that couples have back burners at all seems to suggest that they're not entirely fulfilled by their current romantic situation. More studies need to be done, therefore, in order to determine if back burners are part of human nature (i.e. our animalistic desire to select the best mate), or simply the result of an unhappy relationship.

Either way, I would encourage couples to seek fulfillment from within their own relationships rather than spend their time preparing for the worst. In other words, throw away the little black book, and take some time to evaluate the status of your current romantic life independent of any back burners. If you finally decide it's time to move on, you have my permission to dig up your little black book from the trash.

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