Dating Glossary: Cushioning

No one likes it soft.

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As dating has evolved to a much more digital landscape, a slew of new words and trends have emerged, requiring singles to brush up on their knowledge before diving in. To ensure you’re up to date and ready to tackle the ever-changing vocabulary, reference Datezie’s Dating Glossary. Our collection defines, explains—and offers humor and strategy—to the new ABC’s of falling in love.

TDLR: Cushioning: when you’re in what you think is a serious relationship, but your partner is keeping ‘cushions’ in the wings—just in case.

If you’ve never said it out loud, it allows us to give you the mic and take it away: being in a relationship is scary AF. Not only does is it mark the end of your so-called ‘freedom’ to have casual sex as you please, but it requires compromise, commitment and—the most terrifying of all—vulnerability. While some men thrive in long-term relationships, others struggle to find their ground and stress out about worst case scenarios on a daily basis. If you fall into the latter crowd, it’s likely you’ve been guilty of one of the most heinous dating crimes of all: cushioning. Don’t worry, Benson and Stabler aren’t going to knock on your door, but if you always keep your options open—even when you’re Facebook official with someone else—it’s time to cut it out. We hate to tell you, but karma is, a, well you know, and if you’re cushioning a gal now, another might do the same to you one day. Here, your guide to this modern dating term:

What is Cushioning?

The confusing part about cushioning is that even people who are in happy relationships can be guilty of maintaining contact with potential partners. Though everyone chooses to do this for a myriad of reasons—whether because they fear being alone or they need the outside validation—it’s deceitful and, well, dishonest. As dating expert and senior manager at PeopleLooker, Chris Vitale explains, in cushioning, someone is in a bonafide relationship but they also keep several prospects around, flirting with them, and ensuring they’re lingering. He says it’s considered a method of softening the blow for yourself in the event you call it quits with your current girlfriend. But more often than not, the blow ends up being in your face, when your gal finds incriminating texts or messages—yikes.

What is the History of Cushioning?

The term might be relatively new, but this practice? Well, it dates back for centuries. From historical figures who wanted to keep their options open to those who were so stunted by commitment that they refused to partake in it fully. By nature, most people would prefer to have a partner—or several. The term itself didn’t pop up into Urban Dictionary until 2017, according to Coleen Singer, sexpert and relationship columnist for Sssh.com and the origin of the term cushioning is still unknown.

Why Cushioning Matters

If you’re in a relationship and you are fairly certain you’re cushioning your partner, consider this your wake-up call. If you feel the need to have some other women on the backburner, there to catch you if your relationship crumbles, it’s time to do a bit of soul searching—not only into your couplehood but personally, too. Do you trust your partner? If not—why do you feel that way? Are you happy in the relationship—or is something missing? These are all important questions to understand, and be honest about, since Vitale says plenty of publications have coined cushioning as the greatest danger to a relationship, and it’s said to be the cause of many that fall apart. Discussing these feelings with a friend can help you process—no matter if you’re the one building up an emotional pillow fort, or you suspect your partner is. “While anyone who has experienced a breakup knows the pain that comes with it, constant cushioning could prevent you from experiencing a full relationship with your partner … and that seems like a less than stellar remedy for issues in the love department,” Singer explains.

If you are someone who is seeking—and hoping to find—the love of your life, not being able to put yourself fully into a relationship is an issue. And one that could prevent you from reaching your romantic goals, especially when you are lucky enough to swipe right on someone who could be your someone, if you don’t cushion ‘em away. “Cushioning, although an effective method of protecting yourself in case your relationship does not work out, brings with it the negative effect of you not totally committing to your partner and exploring the full depth of your developing relationship,” Singer shares. “As your new partner senses this, it can cause her/him to distance from you as well and may lead to the end of the relationship.”

Where You Might Hear Cushioning

While sitting at your kitchen table, having a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper, your phone beeps and your partner raises an inquiring eyebrow your way. You probably won’t respond casually, “Oh, no one, just this girl I’m flirting with in case you rip my heart to shreds.” Instead, Singer says cushioning is most commonly heard in conversations between mutually supportive friends when describing their tactic in a new relationship. He says an example might be one person who says to his friend, “I really like this girl, but am going to be cushioning for a while until I see if it goes anywhere.”

How to Use Cushioning in a Conversation

When you’re cushioning, you are collecting maybes in your corner. When you’re being cushioned, your partner is doing the same behind your back. To cushion, is the act itself. You can use any of these within dialogue or texting.

Vitale says when two gals are at brunch, they could say this: “I’m not sure it’s going to work out with John.  Thank God I’ve been cushioning him with Gary, Tom and Bob.”

Or, if someone is brave enough to be straightforward with their friend, Singer says they  might ask: “I know you are steady dating with John now, but notice you keep in pretty good touch with your other male friends. Are you cushioning?”

Notable Cushioning Quotes

Essentially, ‘cushioning’ means while you’re still having your main thing, you keep a few others on the backburner, texting them, and giving them just enough attention so that if your main relationship goes down, you’re not totally left alone and out in the cold. They’re there to ‘cushion’ the blow, so to speak.”Shannon Ullman

“I was seeing someone for a few months, and it was going well, but it felt like the dust had started to settle a bit. I still liked him but wasn’t entirely sure I wanted  him to be my boyfriend, and was in limbo. Instead of talking about it, the rational thing to do was to go back on Tinder and find some more boys to chat to, just in case the current one fell through.”Greg Evans

“Honestly, cushioning is basically just setting yourself up for failure. It means you expect your main relationship not to work out, which probably means you aren’t giving it your all in the first place.”Callie Brynes

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