Backup girlfriend/boyfriend ok?
October 27, 2007 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Is it moral to have a backup girlfriend or boyfriend and telling that backup of your plan?

A friend an I got in an argument over this and I was wondering if I was in the wrong. I said that if you are in a relationship, having a backup girlfriend or boyfriend was "maybe" ok if you don't tell anyone about it, but once you tell that backup of your plan you are being very wrong and causing a great disservice to your current girlfriend/boyfriend. Would it make a difference if the current relationship is one that is in a stage that both partners say "I love you" to each other?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total)
This is a joke right?

If it's not, I guess that depends on what your morals are. To me that would be highly wrong and even more so if the current relationship is one where the SO's are trading I love yous.

A backup boyfriend or girlfriend is worse than cheating in my opinion.
You are diversifying emotions that are supposed to be vested in one person.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:56 AM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Would you feel comfortable telling your current girlfriend/boyfriend of the plan? If not, then that's a sign you're doing something wrong.

Telling the backup of the plan before it goes into effect does a disservice to the backup. You're sort of asking them to wait around until you become available, which is cruel.

IMHO, it's much better all around if you just openly date more than one person, if you're not ready to commit to being exclusive with one of them (which you apparently aren't, really).
posted by hattifattener at 10:57 AM on October 27, 2007

It's only fair if everyone (primary and "backup") knows about the other people and agrees to the relationship under these terms. Otherwise, all of these relationships are based on lies and omissions. Which may be fine for you, but is pretty shitty for everyone else in the triangle.

Plus, the truth will out eventually. It always does.
posted by nkknkk at 11:02 AM on October 27, 2007

As a general rule, not telling anybody about something does not make it okay.
posted by box at 11:03 AM on October 27, 2007 [7 favorites]

I think it's fine. You're not married, so you could break up at any moment and everyone involved should know that. So how is it immoral to admit it?
posted by sondrialiac at 11:06 AM on October 27, 2007

I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're 12 years old rather than socially stunted.

The only situation where this would ever be moral is if they both knew of each other and were OK with it. Otherwise, you're basing what is supposed to be a close, trusting relationship on lies.
posted by chundo at 11:11 AM on October 27, 2007

I think its wrong from the standpoint that you enter into a relationship with another person in good faith- they assume that in investing in you emotionally, financially, temporally, etc. there is a reasonable assertion of those investments being returned in turn. If you withhold material evidence in this proposition (i.e. that you are hedging your bets with a backup) you and the primary can't really ever have a real relationship - you know nothing that happens really matters because you can just turn to your backup. The primary is likely (and rightfully so) working from the assumption that your attention is attuned to them and that you seek emotional and physical intimacy with them- not anyone who will give it. I personally find this concept repugnant and self serving. I think the major thing it forgets is that relationships with another individual exist because you desire closeness with an individual, not just another warm body.
posted by zennoshinjou at 11:13 AM on October 27, 2007

The only acceptable backup girlfriends/boyfriends are your hand and anything powered by batteries.
posted by anaelith at 11:15 AM on October 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

Depends... do you just like your back-up bf/gf, or like-like them?

If all the players are aware of the triangle, fine. If not, you're being dishonest to your current mate.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:19 AM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's not okay if you're in a committed relationship. But you already knew that.
posted by mpls2 at 11:24 AM on October 27, 2007

You know, I think it is totally okay to privately think "hmm, if things don't work out with my girlfriend/boyfriend, I'd like to date this other person." It's when this thought leaves the privacy of your brain and is verbalized or shared with another person, it becomes tacky and hurtful.
posted by pluckysparrow at 11:37 AM on October 27, 2007

Depends on what you are talking about. Assuming that a backup gf/bf is a person that you would try and go out with if the current relationship failed, well, that person isn't a "backup" bf/gf at all because they haven't given consent or agreed to wait around. Your reference to a "plan" makes me think this is what you are talking about. There's nothing wrong with thinking "gee if it doesn't work out with Sally, I will ask Beth out." I think every human does this. The "plan" idea is just a fantasy belief that you could do it easily.

If a "backup" bf/gf is someone who you are seeing on the side, well that's a different story. If you have explicitly discussed monogamy and decided that you will be monogamous, then it isn't ok, because you promised to be faithful to that person only. If everyone is ok with some sort of poly relationship, that's fine.

But everyone has to be there and fully informed of what is going on.

If the backup is a person who you are playing around with on the side, most likely the one with the backup has never actually discussed monogamy with the original bf/gf and the one who is being "backed up" on is assuming/hoping that monogamy is tacitly agreed upon. If this is the case, you'd better have that conversation now.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:38 AM on October 27, 2007

As far as I can tell the whole idea of having a "backup" is ridiculous. Either you like each partner enough that you want to be with them both - which is fine if both parties are aware of and agreeable to the situation - or you're just terribly afraid of being alone and want some safeguard in case your current relationship doesn't last....
posted by DecemberRaine at 11:39 AM on October 27, 2007

Would it make a difference if the current relationship is one that is in a stage that both partners say "I love you" to each other?

Is this a fancy way of saying "I tell my SO that I love him/her but would drop her in an instant if things didn't work out and go to someone else I would be willing to fuck?" Because, if so, maybe you're not being entirely sincere when you say you love this person, in which case yes, this is wrong, or at the very least, that the relationship is not only superficial, but outright deceptive. People in love tend not to think that there is this "stage" in a relationship where both partners simply "say" that they love one another.

I understand that some people feel you can be in love with two people at once, but dubbing the other party the "backup" doesn't make it sound like a deep affection.

Maybe you just want to hump a variety of people, which is OK as long as you're honest, but knock off the "love" talk.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:53 AM on October 27, 2007

If all parties involved know and accept the circumstances, then it is fine. If anyone doesn't know or is lied to about it, then it's wrong. It's that simple, in my opinion.
posted by mjgrady at 11:55 AM on October 27, 2007

Wow, no.
posted by fredoliveira at 11:56 AM on October 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'll go with the No. If you love someone and they love you back then it is immoral and really sleazy to have a back up partner in the wings in case things don't work out.

And I'm glad I'm not in a relationship with you because you had to ask this question.
posted by fenriq at 12:07 PM on October 27, 2007

"Having a backup" is just a thought in your own head. It's not moral or immoral, and it also doesn't mean much in terms of what is actually going to happen.
posted by bingo at 12:17 PM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Morality is ambiguous.

In my experience, trying to keep things from people that you're close to just doesn't work out. Even if it doesn't come out, keeping secrets will probably have an effect on you, whether it's fear from being found out, guilt over possibly hurting someone, or whatever.

I would ask myself why I'm in the relationship in the first place. Is it just for fun? If so, does s/he know? Generally, hurting people that you care about isn't a good idea, so in the interest of the other person, it'd be helpful to make your intentions clear.

It's good that you're honest about having these opinions, because it shows that you're aware of them and not in some kind of morality denial. I'd say it's especially hard to admit them because of the overwhelming amount of people who just flat out tell you you're evil for having thoughts like this. Whether they're "right" or "wrong" will hopefully come to you in time, probably through experience, not necessarily from enacting this strategy, but perhaps from a similar part of life.
posted by secret.osha at 12:21 PM on October 27, 2007

Are you polyamorous or in an open relationship, and being open and aboveboard with everyone concerned? AND are you perfectly fine with your SO's having other relationships of their own? (Double standards are bad and wrong.) If so, OK, as long as you can deal with any potential drama.

OTOH, if you are sneaking around, lying, misleading your partners, or expecting fidelity from THEM while you have a backup - no, not OK. Time to 'nad up and be monogamous with one partner or the other, or have an honest open or polyamorous relationship.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:22 PM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Are all parties aware and consenting? Then go for it.

If not, then don't. Leading someone on is cruel.
posted by Rabulah at 12:45 PM on October 27, 2007

Well, 12 years old is a great time to start learning that monogamy is stupid... It'll save a lifetime of disappointments.

But on this one: nthing the obvious "everything is okay if all partiies know about it, otherwise not" consensus.
posted by rokusan at 12:49 PM on October 27, 2007

This is kind of a weird question. Should you ever tell your backup person of your decision, what do you expect them to say? "Okay, gotcha, I'll just sit here in the corner until you need me?" Good luck with that one.

I guess what I'm saying is that this seems like a bizarre perspective on relationships. Significant others aren't non-perishable goods you can save up in case of emergency.
posted by chrominance at 1:45 PM on October 27, 2007

Speaking seriously, it depends on what your goal is. If your goal is to develop an exclusive, committed relationship with one person, it really isn't a very good idea at all. Most people don't want to be in a relationship with someone who's got another person waiting in the wings as an insurance policy. Most people also don't want to be that insurance policy. It implies you think of your SO as being easily replaceable. Plus you're assuming that your backup is going to be there when you're ready to hot swap. They might decide they're tired of being someone's second choice and find someone who cares about them enough to make them No. 1 of 1.

If a monogamous LTR isn't your goal, then it's probably okay as long as you're upfront with everyone about where they stand and don't hold anyone to a double standard ("I can have a backup, but you can't"). Honesty is a good thing.
posted by I Said, I've Got A Big Stick at 1:45 PM on October 27, 2007

If this is just an idea in your head of someone else for which you may feel a spark, then keep your "I would so totally be his/her SO if this relationship tanks!" thing to yourself (because it's just a fantasy) and call it a crush.

If you're keeping your eyes open in search of your next SO, well, that's likely going to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

If you are cultivating the backup relationship, that's manipulative and not cool to either your current SO or your "backup" SO.
posted by desuetude at 1:47 PM on October 27, 2007

You are Liz Patterson and I claim my five pounds.

The only way this fits with my ethics (not morals, which are social) is to be in junior high as others have stated, when relationships are temporary and unserious. As an adult it's also possible to date non-exclusively, but then you don't generally use the word "girl/boyfriend" to describe who you're spending time with.

I'll be straight with you and admit there are tons of people who cat around as much as they can while having a "safe" just-in-case option on the side. Maybe that safe person is pining away for them and being used, or maybe it's a little more equal and honest and verging on friends-with-benefits. Is it right? All's fair in love and war, they say, but that usually refers to whether or not someone is fair game, not whether you're mucking around with their feelings.

That said also, there is often the phenomenon that someone is not ready to leave the relationship they are in until they have lined someone else up on the outside. Divorce, breakup, whatever -- for a little bit they are managing two relationships.

But someone who has a committed primary relationship, while having a backup who feels they are also in a relationship, is either fooling themselves or one or both partners. It's also cheating, which is wrong once you reach the "committed" stage, which using the world girl/boyfriend often implies.
posted by dhartung at 2:16 PM on October 27, 2007

i think it's impossible to have a backup significant other. you can only have a backup sex partner. love isn't the kind of thing you can hold in reserve.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:22 PM on October 27, 2007

First off, I have conversations like this all the time, and I'm neither 12 years old nor am I currently in a relationship, so let's not crucify the OP so quickly.

I've seen this happen a lot. People in committed relationships who cultivate platonic relationships that have the potential to both outlast their current relationship, and become more than just friends should the situation change. If you label this as a "backup bf/gf" then it sounds unseemly and wrong.

Let's look at it from a different angle. There's this expectation in relationships of a certain level of emotional commitment that goes beyond simple monogamy. Along with this emotional investment there is usually some form of emotional self-defense. So while on the outside you're saying "you're the only one for me". On the inside, you're finding some way to protect yourself from this vulnerable position you find yourself in. Some people get clingy, some tell little fibs, some get jealous and controlling, some people need to talk about the relationship incessantly. Some people find solace in moving the relationship forward at every opportunity, some find a comfy spot and resist all change. And yes, some people form outside relationships that may never be acted upon, but have that "potential".

Are these things wrong? I don't think so. Usually they're not even conscious decisions. Most people are completely unaware of their defensive behavior, which is usually fodder for many fun arguments.

How many people have had the "you were flirting with so-and-so back there" argument.? You'll deny it to your death, and you may really love the person you're with, and sincerely respond with "baby, I only have eyes for you"...but really, you were flirting with that person back there a little bit.

You're human. Despite our ability to trick ourselves into believing that "Love conquers all", relationships alone never provide us with the one thing that we look to them for, and that's constant emotional security. It's really the exact opposite. The more you love someone, the more vulnerable you are. And if you're not strong enough on your own to handle that vulnerability, you'll never find it in another person.

This is why we date, fall in love, give it a shot, break up, rinse, and repeat. And each time, we tell ourselves that this person might be the one, and we really want to believe it. But deep down, i think we're all aware that until you know for sure that this person is "it" they're not "it". Eventually we find "the one" and there's a whole other level of emotional vulnerability, and the old defenses have to be replaced with new ones. My parents are old, and still in love after 25 years , built a life together, raised kids, and not leaving each other anytime soon(and it's the 2nd or marriage for both of them, so they had plenty of practice), and they still find ways to act like insecure teenagers on occasion.

Now if any of those emotional defense mechanisms I mentioned earlier become conscious dating strategy, if one is openly labelling people as "backup", then their emotional insecurity has risen far above acceptable levels, and they might need to take a break from the world of commitment until they get things under control.
posted by billyfleetwood at 2:23 PM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's cowardly. Are you so afraid of being alone for 5 minutes you have to have your future dating life arranged for the the next 50 years? It gives you the control in the relationship..."one wrong move, missy, I'm on to my Plan-B girl, sorry". It's a shitty thing to do yet it happens all the time especially with wormy men who are living with some woman and they decide to leave. When they leave, they are moving in with the backup woman and they have their new life all in order without missing a beat. It is cold, cruel and calculating and seems designed to inflict as much emotional damage to the woman left standing their holding the bag on the remnants of what she thought was a relationship.
posted by 45moore45 at 2:40 PM on October 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ugh-- "standing there".
posted by 45moore45 at 2:41 PM on October 27, 2007

No, it is not.
posted by wv kay in ga at 5:57 PM on October 27, 2007

I don't think you could fully invest yourself in a relationship if you had a planned escape route. I suppose it could become immoral if your partner is interested in being fully committed to you and working out any issues, and you're sitting there thinking, "Man, I could be with her if this doesn't work out."
posted by christinetheslp at 5:59 PM on October 27, 2007

Let me get this straight- you're dating A, but kind of want to date/fuck B. You're asking if it's OK to tell B about this?

Yes, yes you should. Because then B will hopefully turn around and tell you to your face what a shallow schmuck you are.

Go for it.

Would it make a difference if the current relationship is one that is in a stage that both partners say "I love you" to each other?

No, of course not. Keep lying to the one who says he/she loves you when you say you love him/her back.
posted by mkultra at 6:26 PM on October 27, 2007

It's moral. If you're in your teens. Otherwise, not so much.
posted by brautigan at 7:00 PM on October 27, 2007

OK, there's a bit of a pile-on going on here. I think people need to step back for a second and realize just how common this whole "backup" thing is. When a girl says to a guy, "If I'm not married by the time I'm 30, lets get hitched!" -- guess what, that's a declaration of backup duty, genuinely meant as a compliment, but expressing the simple statement that "If I can't find anyone hotter, you're better than dying alone."

This backup game is more common than you think. Even harmless flirting between people, "Oh, if we were ever both single at the same time..." has a bit of that implied.

All that being said, OP, bf/gf pretty much implies monogamy, at least outside of poly scenarios. It's an emotional state to be in, and it can be pretty damn fun :) But if you don't want to be monogamous, don't -- but don't let anyone think you are.
posted by effugas at 7:55 PM on October 27, 2007

I think its fine to have a "backup" as long as all parties are informed. Always good to have a penile insurance policy...
posted by fvox13 at 8:34 PM on October 27, 2007

But if you are in a stage of exchanging niceties why the backup? Am I being naive here, or is there something you do not say? Because if you are saying such things and not meaning them then I guess duplicity is already reigning that relationship. Or?

Anyway, the only thing I am sure is this: if you only tell the backup, this is incredibly humiliating and demeaning for the current. Especially if the backup and current know each other. Oh, so yuck. It feels like you gang up, you ridicule, you are scheming behind the current's back. Even if the current doesn't give a shit you have a backup.
posted by carmina at 9:19 PM on October 27, 2007

Yes, you are in the wrong. It sounds like a bad idea all around.
posted by MythMaker at 10:02 PM on October 27, 2007

When a girl says to a guy, "If I'm not married by the time I'm 30, lets get hitched!" -- guess what, that's a declaration of backup duty

Which is fine if you're single. If you're in a commited relationship, not so much.
posted by mkultra at 6:37 AM on October 28, 2007

kind of a disservice to the backup too. who wants to be "2nd choice"
posted by browolf at 5:44 PM on October 28, 2007

Well, 12 years old is a great time to start learning that monogamy is stupid... It'll save a lifetime of disappointments.

posted by rokusan at 2:49 PM on October 27 [+] [!]

Well now there's some cynical horse shit. That's what I love about the Meta folk. You always get a percentage of people who will say "Go for it!" no matter if it's fucking anything that moves, smoking anything, stealing, lying, etc.

If you've got a Plan B, you're already given up on Plan A, though you may not have consciously admitted it yet.
posted by CwgrlUp at 7:38 PM on October 28, 2007

It's a shitty thing to do yet it happens all the time especially with wormy men who are living with some woman and they decide to leave.

Hey, it's not just the men! I had a 5-year girlfriend jump into bed with the backup the very night after announcing our breakup (um, and when I say "the night after", that's probably giving her more credit for acting honourably than she deserves, various other things considered).

Similarly, I've also found myself on the exact opposite side of that coin, when a long-term platonic friend apparently wanted to use me as a backup boyfriend after a similarly long relationship (at least as far as I can tell; she's never spoken to me since then, presumably because I was otherwise engaged & not exactly willing to play that role at that time).

Overall, it's a particularly repulsive way to behave, imho, but I doubt I could be very objective about it. Perhaps the fact that I can't look at the whole backup strategy rationally - as an abstract moral intellectual exercise - is precisely the point: it's such an incredibly hurtful thing to do to somebody that it makes my blood boil just thinking about it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:30 PM on October 28, 2007

If by "backup girlfriend" you mean someone you would be interested in dating if you were not otherwise taken, then:

* I don't think it necessarily wrong to think those thoughts. (Well, you'd be hard pressed to convince me thinking any thoughts are wrong, but that's not what I mean...)
* I think it is wrong to tell the other person, without also telling your current girlfriend the same thing.

Secrets and/or omissions are going to make things stressful for you and your relationship. If you actually care about your current girlfriend and want the relationship to last, either keep your musings on this subject to yourself, or talk about them with her first. (or only her.)

Of course, if by "backup girlfriend" you mean, "girl who I sleep with when my other girlfriend is out of town", then you're just an asshole...
posted by darkshade at 11:31 AM on October 29, 2007

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