Q. The majority of my ex-girlfriends have had “fallback men” lined up in the latter stages of our failed relationships. I have never had a fallback woman lined up. I am currently in a timeout phase with my girlfriend. Should I start lining up women up now, because I am sure my current girlfriend has men lined up behind me?
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A. No, I don’t suggest you keep fallback women lined up. Instead, you should resolve the situation with your girlfriend.
There are many reasons why people line up others as fallback partners. Often they fear being alone or fear what it means to be alone, especially if they derive their personal worth from being partnered up or buy into the erroneous view that couplehood enhances their value.
Sometimes, people hate not having someone to care for or to take care of them. If such people see singlehood on the horizon, they make doubly sure there is somebody else on deck.
Breakups are difficult even if you are the one initiating the split. In many ways, a breakup is a loss or a failure. You might feel guilty. Sometimes you like the person even if you don’t wish to remain romantically together permanently.
So, when suspecting there might be a breakup soon, it feels much better to be swept up in the excitement of a new person rather than tolerating feelings of sadness, loneliness or guilt.
But it is healthier to spend time figuring out why the relationship didn’t work, what you might do differently next time, whether the relationship was worth saving or how you might choose a more suitable partner.
The key is the quality of the relationship. Maybe it is worth saving and maybe it isn’t.
All relationships go through bleak periods and rough patches. That doesn’t mean it is a bad relationship. But it’s hard to evaluate that if there is always a fallback person who, by definition, presents a rosier picture. With a new person, the negatives have not yet presented themselves.
It’s a shame you have encountered so many past girlfriends who had fallback guys. If someone has a constant rotation of brief, unsatisfactory relationships, they might unknowingly be the problem.
Your perception that all women have fallback guys isn’t true. But it seems to have been your experience, which understandably makes you feel lousy. If you know your partner has someone waiting in the wings, it’s hard to be motivated to work on your relationship, or to be enthusiastic about it.
Basically, two wrongs don’t make a right. If both of you want the relationship to continue, then neither of you should have a fallback. If one of you doesn’t care whether the relationship works, then get out now, so both of you can find somebody more suitable.
In general, having a fallback person does not portend good things for the current relationship.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: It is better to resolve a relationship than to have someone lined up waiting in the wings in case the relationship doesn’t work out.
Any ideas, suggestions in this column are not intended as a substitute for consulting your physician or mental health professional. All matters regarding emotional and mental health should be supervised by a personal professional. The author shall not be responsible or liable for any loss, injury or damage arising from any information or suggestion in this column.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her most recent book is “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life” (Rodale). For more information, please visit www.drgailsaltz.com.
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