What Is Foster Girlfriend Syndrome?

The latest dating term explained


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When I was a teenager I would obsessively watch the film, 500 Days Of Summer. It entranced me, from the style to the soundtrack, I would mentally take note of every meticulous detail, and dream that one day, I too would find someone to galavant around IKEA with. But no matter how many times I watched the film (it must have got well up into the hundreds) a lump would form in my throat at the same moment, during the same scene, every single time. The part where Tom attends Summer’s rooftop party, in the hopes of rekindling their lost relationship, only to find out that Summer had well and truly moved on, and was engaged to someone else. “What a bitch! How could she do that to Tom, he was so kind to her!” I would scream inside my head every time. The split screen showing Tom’s ‘expectations vs reality’ so perfectly depicts how it feels to have your heart broken, and after all my time spent watching it, little did I know down the line I too would find myself in Tom’s ‘reality’. 

Giving explanation to Summer’s heartless actions, the term ‘Foster Girlfriend’ has gained prominence in recent months, thanks to video sharing app, Tik Tok, where women have been telling their stories of how they ‘foster’ partners. But what exactly does that mean? Well, where you may have written an ex off as nothing more than a fuckboy, feeding you lies only to jump ship with a new gal in a matter of weeks, turns out you were using the wrong term, instead of him being a fuckboy (he was merely just a dick), you were in fact a foster girlfriend, a casual fling before they moved on and committed to someone else.

A foster girlfriend will take a partner in, train them up, showing them all of the love and care that comes with a committed relationship, only for the other person to bugger off before it gets serious and find their ‘forever home’ with someone else. Chatting with dating coach Frances Kelleher, she tells me that although the situation isn’t ideal, it’s not uncommon and something she’s presented with by her clients again and again, “Basically a ‘Foster Girlfriend’ is when you date a guy that won’t commit to you.You make a huge effort in the hope he does, only for the relationship to end and the next woman he meets he completely commits to.”

The modern dating culture we find ourselves in today is ripe for foster girlfriends, Frances tells me. With online dating, a new partner is only ever a quick swipe away, and so many people will do whatever they can in their power to hold onto the person that they feel a connection with, unintentionally becoming a foster girlfriend, training their partners up, only for them to go off and put their new skills to practise elsewhere. Bit for a foster girlfriend to exist, a person who is willing to be fostered must exist also. So, why are there people out there claiming to be a commitaphobe one week, and putting a ring on it with someone new the next? Frances says there are multiple reasons for this, the most common reason being that really, there’s just not that into you “Sadly for them, you’re just not the one in their eyes, often people want a romantic partner just to break the boredom in their lives. Often, it all boils down to ego for many people, they want someone that they can get attention from and who can entertain them, for this reason, moving on can be really easy for them.” 

Finding myself in an eerily similar situation to my beloved 500 Days of Summer Tom some years after my obsession, made me look at what once was my favourite film in a completely different light. After dating a boy casually, but intensely, for a number of months, I was certain that we were on a non-stop train to relationship ville. He showered me with compliments, surprised me with romantic gestures, and although we never got around to an IKEA trip, I was still living out my rom-com dream. That was until the train came to an abrupt halt when I asked him to define the relationship. “Oh, we’re just friends” he told me, “I’m not looking for anything serious with anyone right now” – I don’t know any friends that hold hands and share ice-creams, I thought, but thanks for clearing that one up anyway. Knowing what was the best thing to do for my heart and sanity, I took a step back and allowed things to fizzle out naturally.

To this day I still know that we weren’t ‘just friends’, we were the poster child of cute couples. It wasn’t that he didn’t want a relationship full stop, he just didn’t want a relationship with me, which was proven when he emerged on social media with a new and very serious girlfriend on his arm mere months after we had that terminating conversation. While I don’t hold anything against him, he was, and I’m sure still is a lovely person, who deserves only happiness, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt at the time. However, Frances assures me that I did the right thing by putting a halt to the relationship immediately, “Rest assured they were not the one for you” she tells me, “If the person you’re dating is not all in regarding the relationship, then they’re just not the right person for you, it’s really that simple.”

Often, Frances says that being a foster girlfriend can be a great learning curve, even though it may not feel like it at the time, “Take note of your actions during the relationship and make sure you don’t repeat them next time. For instance if you’re giving and giving when the other person is not. We can’t change the past but we can change our present by learning from our behaviour.”

So, if you do find yourself nurturing a partner that is giving you nothing in return, what should you do? For Frances there’s only one solution, make like JoJo and leave! Get out right now! “If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who is permanently unable to commit then leave immediately,” she says. “I constantly warn clients about these situations because it can waste  so many years of your life, and usually the best and easiest years that you can meet someone who is worthwhile. It’s one of the most dangerous situations in dating because you can literally miss out on the right person for you because of someone who is wasting your precious time, and has no intention of committing to you.” Of course with finding love there is never no emotional risk attached, so chalk that bad boy down as a learning curve and continue on in your search for the goodest boy, one that’s housetrained and doesn’t bite, and won’t just be around for Christmas.


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