The “Should Have Stayed a Play Partner” Effect

a tube of toothpaste with the cap off that has had most of the toothpaste squeezed out of it
Image by Kristopher Avila / CC BY

Have you ever met someone who is fantastic at first? There’s something fun and shiny about them.

Maybe they’re things that you’re missing in the rest of your life. That you don’t know anybody else who does well. Or can engage with you on that particular level.

Maybe these aspects are so shiny that you are quick to forgive many things that should have given you cause for concern. Maybe you barely notice those things or don’t notice them at all except in hindsight since your new partner is so awash in the light of the new shiny fun happy yay!

You can actually fall into this trap even if you’re well aware of New Relationship Energy and what the chemical soup of new love can do to give you a positive cognitive bias towards someone.

I know I have. In my own case, when it’s happened it’s caused me to have a more serious relationship with someone than what made sense.

There was definitely a strong connection there. A close friendship. Perhaps something that could have led to a play partner relationship. That would make you want them in your life in some ongoing capacity. But not enough to base a serious romantic relationship on.

And before I realized it, I was seriously dating someone, leaving me in an awkward position. Wanting desperately to deescalate or break up but worried that I’ve already gone too far with this person for that to happen amicably.

Simultaneously, when I find myself in this position, I will feel like it probably would have been no big deal if we’d just stayed there. If we’d stayed flirty and close but not serious. But instead we’re victims of scope creep.

And now that we tried (and failed) a serious connection, there’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube.

This is the point where changing your mind is probably going to hurt someone. A lot.

Someone close to me once called this effect: “Should have stayed a play partner.”

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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