Cushioning: the latest dating trend you need to know

by Eharmony Editorial Team - May 18, 2017

Cushioning is the latest disposable dating term – and it’s all about keeping your options open. But what exactly is cushioning and what impact will it have on your love life? We investigate

When a relationship’s new, it’s hard to know where you stand. You worry about liking them more than they like you, whether you both want the same thing, and whether they’re still seeing other people. Unfortunately, if the latest disposable dating trend is anything to go by, they probably are – or at least could be! If you’re already up to speed with ghosting, zombieing and breadcrumming, let us introduce you to cushioning…

What does cushioning mean?

Cushioning is the latest term to enter the dating lexicon. The Urban Dictionary defines it as, when someone in a relationship maintains several ‘cushions’ – people that they text, flirt with, or even date – to provide back-up options in case their relationship ends.

If this sounds dishonest, that’s because it is. After all, even if you don’t go on any dates with your cushions, you’re still emotionally betraying the person you’re with by keeping romantic options on the back-burner. It’s not great for the cushions either; led on with breadcrumbs of contact and false hope.

Why do people have cushions?

Cushioning is an avoidance tactic; a way to avoid getting hurt, avoid feeling vulnerable, and avoid fully investing in a relationship.

But when you take steps to avoid the potential negative emotions associated with romance, you also end up missing out on the positives.

It’s a restrictive way to live but surprisingly tempting. When I first started dating again after the end of a long-term relationship, I wasn’t emotionally prepared to form a new connection with anyone. Dates were fine, but if they looked like they might evolve into something more, I found myself reaching for a dating app – or even getting back in contact with my ex – to stop myself getting too emotionally invested in prospective new partners.

As a tactic, it worked, but, of course, it also seriously hampered my love life. As much as you think the person you’re dating won’t be hurt by your cushions, they will be able to tell if they don’t have your full attention. And having fleeting relationships with no emotional attachment can be an unsatisfying, even lonely, experience.

Mind the emotional gap

This isn’t a phenomenon reserved for new relationships. Someone recently confided in me that, while they’re very happy in their long-term relationship, they still look outside of it to get certain emotional needs met. Whether it’s the ego boost that comes from a cushion liking your most recent selfie, or the cushion who’ll always be at the end of the phone when you’ve had a tough day, it’s easy to understand why cushioning is so tempting. In many ways, it even makes sense. It’s unrealistic, after all, to expect one person to fulfil all our needs – that’s why we need friends, family, and a wider support network.

Even so, when you feel emotionally insecure in a relationship, the worst thing that you can do is actively look outside of that relationship for support. It will drive a wedge between you, create trust issues and undermine your partnership.

The term also implies that dating and relationships are games that can be won. While keeping a cool head in the early days of a romance is smart, falling in love isn’t something you can fully control and having insurance policies in place to cushion the blow of a failed relationship won’t bring you peace of mind in the long-run. Having an exit strategy in place will make it far more likely that you’ll need one.

Being a ‘cushion’

Cushions often evolve from friendship and the line between being a good friend and a cushion can blur. In my own experience, the transition has been gradual. You form a friendship with someone in a relationship and there’s a spark of attraction, but you ignore it. Then things take a turn. Conversations turn to their relationship woes, texts start arriving later at night, and the topic of what might have been if things were different becomes less of a taboo. Before you know it, you’re a cushion.

Whether this constitutes cheating is up for debate, but if you’re confiding in cushions instead of your partner then it’s bound to cause trust issues and provide unnecessary temptation. Wherever possible, relationship problems should be discussed within that relationship, involving outsiders will only complicate matters further.

How to resist the temptation of cushioning

Investigate why you feel insecure in your relationship

Are you holding on to negative past experiences or is there something missing? You may wish to seek external help or counselling if you feel your past is preventing you from moving forward.

Take problems to your partner first

Wish your partner would watch your favourite film with you sometimes or ask about your day after work? Rather than complaining to your cushion – and relying on them for emotional support – try talking to your partner and addressing your concerns head-on

Have friendship boundaries

There’s no reason why men and women can’t be friends, but if attraction is muddying the waters, be strict about the way you act in those friendships. Don’t complain about your partner to them, don’t engage in ‘what if’ conversations, and make it clear that your friendship will only ever be platonic.

Take the leap

While you can take steps to stack the odds in your favour (such as prioritising compatibility), when it comes to love there are no guarantees. Your relationship might not work out but if you never fully invest and never let yourself fall in love then it’ll be doomed to fail no matter what.