What Is Cushioning? The Latest Dating Trend You Need To Know

Is it ever wise to keep a bit on the side? Adele Miner investigates

Ghosting, breadcrumbing, bloody dogfishing, it feels like every week there’s a new term added to the long list of dating vocabulary. While we’ve just about got our heads around the basics, it might be wise to get yourself acquainted with a new term, enter – cushioning.

The latest term to be added to the dating lexicon, Urban dictionary describes it as ‘A dating technique where along with your main piece you also have several ‘cushions’, other people you’ll chat and flirt with to cushion the potential blow of your main break-up and not leave you alone.’ Intrinsically, you’re going to assume that it all sounds a little suss, and for the most part, you’re right. It seems dishonest, and if it’s taking place in a monogamous relationship, then it is. But if it’s taking place in the world of casual dating then it can be fun, smart, advisable, in fact. 

While the term is yet another buzzword coined by millennials, the act itself is as old as time. This is because the method of cushioning is actually, for many, a protection mechanism, something that has been passed down through generations. Seeing the treacherous landscape of modern dating before us, adapting behaviours that will help survival is not only wise but vital. It’s a dog eat dog world when it comes to swiping right and casual hook-ups, and so being cautious about the people you connect with is important.

Relationship coach Annie Lavin explains that it’s healthy to have a plan b, c, and even d when playing the field, “If you haven’t had a commitment conversation with someone, I think it is healthy to have different options so that you don’t become fixated on just one person, if that one person is also using their time to date other people,” Annie says.

A byproduct of modern dating, it seems that our male counterparts have been lining the cushions long before we have. Saoirse tells me that after multiple dating fails she soon learned that if she wants to avoid heartbreak she not only has to think like the men she’s dating, but act like them too, “I came out of a 4 year relationship last year, finding myself single for the first time in a long time. I of course did what any young woman does nowadays and signed myself up to a few dating apps,” Saoirse tells me. “I spent a good 6 months going on dates with men, giving each one my undivided attention while we were seeing each other. But every time, just as I thought we were moving in the right direction, I would find out that they were actually dating multiple other women along with me, and each time I found out my feelings would get hurt.” Keen to protect herself moving forward, Saoirse adopted a cushioning mentality just like her daters, which she credits being the only thing keeping her sane in her quest for love. “I’m someone who’s loyal to a fault, so seeing multiple people at the same time felt so wrong to me at first. But, after getting kicked in the teeth so many times by men I was being loyal to while dating, I realised that to protect myself I should just start doing what they do.” Telling me what she now does to keep her heart safe, Saoirse says, “If I go on a date with someone that I like I think ‘okay, that’s great, but i’m still going to keep my options open’, I’ll still carry on using dating apps, if I get talking to someone else and he asks me to go on a date I say yes. I’ve learned not to put all my eggs in one basket, and although I’m still single, I’m enjoying my time dating, and not getting my heart broken every few months like I used to.”

So, while cushioning can help sensitive souls survive the battlefield that is dating, one place that it is absolutely not needed is in a monogamous relationship. Crossing the line from insurance to infidelity, cushioning in a relationship that both parties swore loyalty to, usually ends in heartache. Annie Lavin explains the issue with lining up back-up plans while in a committed relationship, “If you’re in a relationship and are emotionally connecting with other people, you can only ever be one foot in the relationship and one foot out of it,” she says.

Revealing that cushioning behaviour is often more about the person doing it than the person it’s being done to, Annie admits that often issues surrounding commitment can lead someone to cushion, “If it’s an ongoing behaviour, then ultimately you are never committing yourself to any relationship. If your intention is to commit to a relationship but you’re constantly cushioning, it’s important that you reflect on why you might be doing this.”

For Mia* She says that cushioning felt like the only way she can protect herself from being hurt. Having been cheated on by multiple partners, Mia felt she couldn’t fully commit to her next relationship, resulting in keeping the odd floating device around incase her relationship goes down, “When I first met my current boyfriend I was talking with other men and carried on doing so for a long time after myself and my boyfriend made things official,” Mia tells me. “I knew I should cut other men off, but having been cheated on by my last two boyfriends I assumed that this one was going to do the same and I didn’t see the point in committing myself fully. In my mind I wasn’t physically cheating so I didn’t see the harm in having the odd flirt” she continues. But, harmless fun it is not, Annie says that cushioning in a relationship only sets it up for failure. It hurts you more than it does anyone else and keeps you from experiencing true, unapologetic, love, “The effect this will have on the relationship, for both people in it, is that you’re not giving the person you’re with a chance and you’re not giving yourself a chance to experience full intimacy in a relationship.” 

If like Mia, you think that personal issues like a fear of commitment are leading you to exhibit cushioning behaviour, the good news is, there are ways to break it, “The first step to take is to bring attention to it, realise that you are doing this” Annie says. For Mia, realising that her cushioning was holding her back from progressing in her relationship with her boyfriend, she decided to wipe the slate clean, telling her boyfriend of her wrongdoing and moving forward, “As time went on I realised that my boyfriend was different and was never going to cheat on me, I felt awful for chatting and flirting with other men so I told him the truth.”

Annie says that the second step in combating cushioning is seeking help for it, this may be from a friend, therapist, or relationship coach. Bringing compassion to the table is key in moving forward, accept yourself and your failings and vow to do better from here on, “Don’t point the finger and think ‘oh my god there’s something wrong with me’, be compassionate and understanding of why your pattern of behaviour is happening,” Annie says. If both parties are willing to put in the graft to make things work, Annie assures me that fixing what was a broken relationship is absolutely viable, all you have to do is let go of your floating devices. So, while wearing armbands is advisable when you first start swimming, knowing when to take them off and dive right in is the key, because no one ever lived a full and happy life in the shallow end, right?

*Names have been changed

Images via Unsplash 

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