It could be that ex you kept in touch with. Or someone you met at a live and kept in touch. A contact not so typical, but with clear elements of flirtation. And the important thing? You already have a relationship. So what exactly is this obscure contact?

A 2014 study put a name to these interactions by characterizing them “back burner relationships”. The term describes the connection with a ‘one person, with whom one is not currently engaged and with which you maintain some degree of communicationin order to ensure the possibility of future romantic or sexual involvement.”

So a fling isn’t just a fleeting thought, it involves real communication, regardless of whether you’re already in a relationship. A 2021 survey of 397 committed adults revealed that about 62% had a back burner relationship, despite the fact that 92% described their relationship as exclusive.

“There is a fundamental difference between remaining friends or hooking up with a person on a casual basis from the past and a back burner relationship”, says the psychologist dr. Jaime Zuckerman at Stylist. “A back burner relationship, when used as a means to avoid a deeper level of emotional commitment, can have a negative impact on your primary relationship.”

“Having a back-and-forth relationship keeps the door open to the possibility of a connection with someone from the past,” agrees dating coach Hayley Quinn. “If you’re single, you might want to keep the possibility of reconnecting with someone open, because subconsciously it might feel better to have an option than none. But if you’re in a relationship, staying in touch with another person can also act as a way of not putting all your eggs in one basket.”

According to the same 2014 study, 73% said they had more than one back burner, regardless of whether they were single, dating occasionally, or in a relationship. Yes, the majority of respondents (56%) admitted to having back burners while in a relationship.

Why do we keep relationships with back burners?

According to dr. Zuckerman, there are two main reasons that explain the phenomenon:

“They act as a safety net,” he explains. “In other words, should their existing relationship break up, they have access to others who fill the role of their next potential relationship or romantic interest.”

Another possible reason is that the they use as a means to avoid real commitment in their current relationship. “As long as they maintain these external connections, in their minds they’re not fully emotionally invested in their relationship,” says Dr. Zuckerman, suggesting that this is an indication of emotional attachment problems.

Background relationships are preserved because they require less attention and maintenance; Dr. continues. Zuckerman. “They exist without the expectation that the relationship has to go somewhere or it falls apart. They rely heavily on an indefinite future, a ‘what if’ and a ‘maybe one day’, so there’s not much pressure to make it ‘work’ in the present.”

Behind-the-scenes relationships are usually maintained through social media, so it’s theoretically very easy to get involved. “Social media can be a tool to keep in touch with people for long periods of time without a huge investment,” Quinn says, noting that it might be better to focus on the people who consistently give us time and attention. them in the real world.

Is there a “right” way to have an affair?

Dr. Zuckerman emphasizes that there is a significant difference between behind-the-scenes relationships and official ones. “The idea is that back burner relationships are not active, ongoing, personal relationships. They are created on the basis of ‘maybe one day, you never know’, whereas a relationship or exit from a relationship is an active, intimate situation, which dissolves when one or both are unhappy in it.’

“Backstage relationships are often kept secret from the official partner, are downplayed and described as a friendly and insignificant contact,” says Dr. Zuckerman. However, while back burner relationships may not officially qualify as “infidelity,” they do involve cheating, which can lead to trust issues within the main relationship if one partner becomes aware of it.

“If you’re in a relationship while maintaining a back burner relationship, it’s a good idea to crystallize the reasons why you’re doing it,” advises Quinn. “If you want to keep in touch with someone on a friendly basis, it’s a good idea to communicate it openly to your current partner. Be honest with yourself and your intentions about it.”