One of the most bewildering, harmful, destructive, agonizing and goddamn infuriating things that can happen at the end of a relationship—whether casual or serious—is when someone leaves without saying goodbye or giving an honest explanation as to why it is over.
The reason for this is that once the cut has been made, the person on the other end of the severed rope can then find themselves “noosed” on it—hanging on to fragments, hoping they may offer an answer to the torturous million-and-one “What went wrong?” or “What did I do?” puzzling questions racing around in their heads.
Consider what Mr. Big did to Carrie in Sex and The City episode after episode. Okay, they eventually got their happy ending, after many years of heartache and turmoil on Carrie’s part—but frankly, that was fiction, and the reality is the chance of it all turning out like a happy dream is not likely to be a high one.
Effectively, benching happens when someone repeatedly leaves you on a bench to wait around hoping they may choose to play you again. (Similar to what happens in sports games.) They might want you, but they aren’t quite sure if you are good enough, and there may be someone who they think is better right now. Or they are afraid of love, and they get emotionally scared, so they leave you in a position where they can pick you back up and use you when their interest spikes—or more plausibly in the dating world: when their ego needs a boost.
So basically, benching is like being haunted by a ghost in heat. They want you—and then they don’t. Then apparently, they want you again, so they flirt with you (again), and this time, you think it’s for keeps…
Relationships can be confusing and complicated. And when someone is unsure if they want to commit, they may leave you carelessly on a bench—sitting, waiting, pondering and second-guessing if they are going to stay or go. (Or if they do go, leaving you wondering when and if they will return.)
If someone is emotionally immature or unavailable (or if they don’t hold your relationship in high regard), they may think they can slither in and out of the dynamic unnoticed and without uttering a word of explanation. They do this to avoid conversations that make them feel awkward and vulnerable, hoping that any pain, blame or shame will not be tossed in their direction. Because as soon as this type of conversation starts, in all likelihood, they will disrespectfully sit you back on that out-of-reach bench, and sneak away, receiving yet another reprieve from being open, honest and upfront about their feelings or future plans.
And thus, they will saunter off without a backwards glance and without any clue as to whether they will come back.
When they leave, everything that has been left unspoken—and all the intense emotions that have risen—will rest heavily on your shoulders, potentially keeping you feeling low and anchored. Not only might you feel as though you aren’t deemed worthy of being kept in the loop of the status of the relationship, you will have the added trauma of single-handedly trying to work out the “whys, whats and whens” of it all.
No one should be callously cut-loose and left to try to figure out what is going on in someone else’s mind (and potentially their heart) when a relationship abruptly ends—to be the one left to discern what’s gone wrong, causing a connection to be seemingly perfect one minute, and then to disintegrate and appear unsalvageable the next.
Essentially, benching is leaving the door slightly ajar—just in case—but also keeping other options wide open to see if anything better comes around. It is nothing short of a guaranteed constant mind-f*ck for the person waiting on “the bench.”
To vanish into thin air—time after time, without talking things over—is cruel and cold and sends a strong signal that the relationship was unimportant and insignificant. This blow hits harder when the love word has been kicked around or if future plans have been shared.
It is not benching when there have been sincere and heartfelt goodbyes or a tender, thoughtful and kind closure if a relationship goes through ups and downs and many make ups and break ups. Rather, it is when there is no au revoir, but just hanging around, hoping and pulling everything to pieces.
Many might say: “Pull yourself together and move on, like the person who keeps leaving has.” And yes, I agree (to a degree), as it’s essential that we all take responsibility for the part we play and that we value ourselves. But when it comes to matters of the heart it isn’t quite so simple. The heart often continues to long for whatever it misses or doesn’t understand.
The one who benches you may excuse their behavior in their own mind—believing that, to them, it seems blindly obvious why they put you on hold and come and go, fooling themselves that you must know too—but what might seem clear to one person could be a mass of chaos and confusion to another.
They may be afraid to hurt your feelings if they tell you their own. They may just not want to be thought badly of, and their ego might be jumping in to warn them that if they speak their truth, they will be terribly judged or berated—particularly if you are feeling rejected or abandoned, as all kinds of accusatory words can get thrown around when emotions are flying in the air.
When the bencher repeatedly leaves, then you may be extra sensitive when hearing intimate details about yourself or why the relationship you held in high regard is one-sided. This can make the bencher feel justified in sneaking quietly out the back door, rather than having a confrontation with potentially conflicting, volatile scenes.
While someone is placing you on the bench, they may seemingly cut ties, burn bridges, block your number or social media accounts, not return calls or texts and lock all doors to prevent any means of you contacting them, while they take to the rolling road holding all the power, control and keys. When you are already experiencing the pain of their disappearance, these passive backhanded acts of emotional violence can leave you devastated by their deliberate show of indifference and lack of basic, decent courtesy.
If they are hurt or busy—or some other random scenario your mind has conjured up to convince you they care—you would hear about it. If someone is clearly not interested, try not to chase. Don’t pester, and don’t keep contacting them to see if they have changed their mind—they haven’t. If they had, and they wanted you now, they would come for you by now. It really is that simple. They see your missed calls, they know how you feel, and they know exactly what they are doing—so leave them to play their game of hide and seek alone.
You deserve someone who wants you, who shows it and who stays. Be good to yourself, if someone is unresponsive and game playing, gather your dignity and stop making excuses for them. I know it’s tempting to think that secretly they want you, and they want you to chase them and prove you care—but although their behavior is foolish, when they manipulate you so often, to them, you are the fool. And you know deep down you aren’t. You just care.
Or alternatively, date with no attachments.
Either way, no one else should determine your worth, so don’t offer that opportunity—particularly to those who don’t have the capacity to evaluate it.
“Every movie we see, every story we’re told implores us to wait for it, the third act twist, the unexpected declaration of love, the exception to the rule…but sometimes we’re so focused on finding our happy ending, we don’t learn how to read the signs. How to tell from the ones who want us and the ones who don’t, the ones who will stay and the ones who will leave. And maybe a happy ending doesn’t include a guy, maybe…it’s you, on your own, picking up the pieces and starting over, freeing yourself up for something better in the future. Maybe the happy ending is…just…moving on. Or maybe the happy ending is this, knowing after all the unreturned phone calls, broken hearts, through the blunders and misread signals, through all the pain and embarrassment you never gave up hope.” ~ from the film, He’s Just Not That Into You