How to Bench a Boyfriend or Girlfriend

photo via UCLA’s bench tales

To “bench” someone, romantically speaking, is to put them in relationship limbo without telling them. Let’s say you have a sneaky feeling that you might want to break up with your partner soon, but you’re not 100 percent sure, and in the meantime you don’t want to screw things up just in case you’re wrong. A grownup might confess these feelings of uncertainty, but that would lead to a Big Talk — and all that melodramatic over-analyzing is precisely what you’re trying to avoid right now. So you bench your partner and kind of hang out in relationship stasis, marking time until you’ve made up your mind whether to stay or go. During this period, there are 8 basic rules you should follow:

  1. Don’t introduce your partner to any more friends or family members, especially by attending a family reunion together — nothing sends a mixed message like dumping someone the day after your sibling asks them to be bridesmaid/groomsman.
  2. Likewise, don’t commit to any double dates more than a week hence, don’t book that nonrefundable vacation to Australia, and whatever you do, don’t get a pet together!
  3. Don’t leave any large items of personal property at your partner’s house (in extreme cases, you may actually start to clandestinely retrieve particularly valuable/sentimental items of property from your partner’s house, just in case–but only do so if you’re sure you won’t be caught, otherwise you will be exposed as the lily-livered, half-assed boyf/girlf you are).
  4. Don’t try out any new and daring sexual acts that might lead your partner to later accuse you: “I can’t believe you’re dumping me right after I agreed to use chocolate body paint on you!”
  5. You cannot use the benching period as an excuse to actually break the rules of the relationship (e.g. by sleeping with someone else). The most you can do is just withdraw a little, otherwise what you’re doing is no longer officially referred to as benching, it is just plain cheating.
  6. 6. Do not let this benching period drag on for too long, or else it will become humiliatingly obvious to your partner (and perhaps, even worse, to all your mutual friends). At that point you will have crossed over into a passive-aggressive breakup, and there’s no dignity in that.
  7. At the end of the benching period, should you decide you two are meant to be after all, then don’t come out with guns blazing, roses blooming, fancy dinner reservations made, and surprise gifts bought — ease back into things or else your partner will be thrown for a loop and may become suspicious. Besides, after a period of benching you may have to convince them you’re meant to be together, and it’s best to do this gradually and naturally.
  8. If you’ve decided to end it, then you should do so quickly, directly, and cleanly.

More on the above can be found in our book, “Buh Bye: The Ultimate Guide to Dumping and Getting Dumped”

This column also appeared in print in Metro