Why So Many Women Keep in Touch with Another Man Even When They’re In a Committed May-December Relationship


Sometimes it’s good to have a plan B, like when you’re making dinner reservations or planning something outdoors, but what about when it comes to your May-December relationship?

If you’re a younger woman who’s ever been in a May-December relationship with an older man, but secretly had another man lined up in case your relationship fell apart, you’re not the only one. A recent study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, found that a lot of people keep their options open by holding on to “backburner” relationships, which refers to someone you’re not romantically involved with, but with whom you continue to communicate with “in order to keep or establish the possibility of future romantic and/or sexual involvement.” It isn’t just someone you think of every now and then—it’s someone you intentionally reach out and keep in contact with.

Of the 374 young adults surveyed, 45% admitted to keeping in touch with their “backburner” partner through text messages, while 37% reported talking to them via Facebook and 15% actually called them.

You would expect that if someone was in a committed May-December relationship, they wouldn’t have a backup partner, or that they’d at least have fewer. But according to this study, it really doesn’t matter what type of relationship you’re in, because when comparing single respondents to those in a relationship, the researchers found no difference in the number of backup partners kept. “We were really puzzled by why we didn’t find a relationship between commitment and backburners,” said the lead author of the study, adding that the online platform might be what is changing things.


Moving communication online makes it feel more acceptable, which might be why committed people are just as likely to keep their romantic options open as single people. For instance, if you’re in a May-December relationship, whether it’s long-term or still new, you probably wouldn’t feel bad about chatting with an old flame over Facebook, as opposed to meeting up with them in person.

Even if a May-December relationship leads to marriage, a lot of women still won’t get rid of their plan B partners. The Daily Mail newspaper surveyed 1,000 married women and found that half of them still have a “fall-back partner,” just in case their marriage doesn’t work out. The most common man to fall back on was an old friend who had romantic intentions, an ex, or a colleague.

What do you think: Are you in a May-December relationship but still have a backup partner just in case?



Beck, J., “The Psychology of ‘Backburner’ Relationships,” The Atlantic web site, October 24, 2014; http://goo.gl/4jPm6c.

Hillin, T., “Uh-Oh, Survey Says Half Of Married women Have A ‘Backup Husband’ In Mind,” Huffington Post web site, October 2, 2014; http://goo.gl/YZ4CAz.


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