8 Things I Learned From Always Being The 'Back Burner' Girl

You deserve to be the only choice.

8 Things I Learned From Being The 'Back Burner' Girl courtesy of the author

I somehow made it to the ripe old age of 32 without ever having dated in the traditional sense. I had always just had a magical first encounter with someone, then become their girlfriend. Easy peasy.

But as 2016 wrapped up and the new year started, I found I’d been single for six months without one of those “magical encounters” happening. So, I decided to take fate into my own hands.

It didn’t work out so well. It turns out; Fate knew better than I.


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So, I’m bringing my experiment of dating apps, being open to people I’d never previously considered, setups, and saying “yes” to just about anyone who asks to an end. I shall be returning to my old, one-day-Prince-Charming-will-come ways. After all, my viewpoint now has evolved to: “My kitchen’s full. What do you bring to the table?”

But before this ends, I’m grateful for the lessons I learned being on the back burner this year. They set me up to create better boundaries, respect myself more, and I learned to care a lot less about a lot more…and a lot more about a lot less.


1. You’re not going to change “that guy.”

Oh, we all know him. We’ve all had versions of him burst into our lives and wreak havoc as they exit. They come and go by many names, but he is the womanizer that can charm the pants off anyone. The guy we swoon after simply because we can’t have him. The prize we don’t even want, but the chase is sooooo good. And we all think…”Well, maybe I’m different.”

2. You’re not. I’m not.

I actually met someone like that in the course of this ‘openness experiment’ that I could see myself really liking if given a chance. Charming, handsome, accomplished, talented, good in bed, perfect on paper…you know the drill. But he didn’t try very hard to date me, and I didn’t understand why — until I did.

Nobody is actually bad at dating. They either don’t want to, or they haven’t met the right person yet. And trust me, ladies, you’ll know if he thinks you’re the right person right off the bat by the way he treats you. If he doesn’t give you an indication that he’s into you beyond some sexy playtime, and you think, “Give it time, I’ll convince him,” well…that’s the quickest path I know to the special type of heartache only unrequited love can breed.


I learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago. You have to let it go, or else join the ranks of his side chicks and wonder who is going to be the lucky one to get Valentine’s day. I quickly recognized this pattern in the newest, hypothetical Prince Charming, and decided not to stress about it, go after him, or push for more.

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2. The back burner person and the “what if” person is not the same.

In fact, the “what if” person isn’t even anywhere near the stove. I was fortunate enough this year to reconnect with a friend who I’ve always been fond of — when I realized I felt more than affection. I felt…possibility.

The “what if” person is the one you wonder about, the one you’d like to give it a go with if timing and circumstances aligned, the one you think would be right at home hanging out in your brother’s backyard, drinking a beer. But they are NOT someone you do just enough with to keep as a viable possibility. The affection, genuine care for their happiness and desire for good things to happen in their life (regardless of if you’re in it) are mutually exclusive with the actions one takes to keep someone on the back burner.


3. You can move from “what if” to back burner pretty quickly.

I’m quite positive a bat signal shone from my rooftop the day I decided to be open to dating, and the world realized I was actually single again. I think I was several people’s “what if” girl… until I wasn’t. And a lot of that was on my end — I just didn’t feel a connection. But instead of trying to woo me, they just… started treating me like the back burner.

4. When you’re the back burner, they don’t plan ahead.

Chances are, if you don’t catch me at least a week in advance, I’ll be fully booked. But when you’re the back burner, guys reach out all the time… at the last minute. “Hey, passing by your house and thought of you — whatcha up to?”

If I’m actually home when you’re passing by, it’s by choice because I needed some alone time. It’s not on the off chance that you’ll be passing near me and want to hook up.

5. In fact, they don’t plan anything.

The best dates I’ve been on this year (by far!) were:

  • Seeing Hamilton
  • Taking a cooking class in Venice, Italy
  • A night at the San Francisco Symphony

You know what they had in common? I took myself to do them. Alone.

When you’re the back burner, the best you’ll get is “wanna meet up for a drink sometime?” Contrary to popular belief, I do have interests other than wine bars and bespoke cocktails. An actual invitation to something that showed a little bit of thought would’ve been nice.

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6. You’ll get only as much respect as you demand.

But a lot of that was on me. My apathy created easygoingness which created a cycle where people didn’t try too hard.


We all know this, yet it can somehow fall by the wayside when we get upset, stressed, desperate, cornered, etc. When you don’t demand people treat you with respect by accepting behavior that doesn’t meet your standards, then that’s all on you. You’re choosing to reinforce the wrong behaviors. You want someone to plan a nice date? Refuse his booty call offers until he does. You want someone to make time for you? Tell them. And don’t change your busy life plans at the drop of a hat when you do finally hear from him.

I used to not be so great at that, actually. I learned how to do that this year, and know that it’s important to honor my wishes to have the type of interactions I want.

7. You can be the primary girl…and still be on the back burner.

I dated someone for about two months earlier this year (non-exclusively), and we would spend many nights together during the week and on the weekends. But it wasn’t really dating. He was going through a busy time at work, and the only energy he had left for traditional dating was to see if I’d come over for dinner and snuggles before bedtime.

In all relationships, prioritization of partners can slip. It’s human nature. But recognizing that slide and addressing it is important. In this case, I didn’t know him well enough to want to, and I think he felt the same way, so we parted ways.


8. You can share intimate moments that don’t have to mean more

Sometimes, lovely things happen to lovely people who you know you’ll never date. And you can appreciate those moments for what they are, and nothing more. It doesn’t diminish the quality. It doesn’t leave you hurting. It just simply is. And that’s rather beautiful.

So…am I ready to be on the front burner?

Frankly, I don’t give a damn. My family is healthy. I have amazing friends. I am blessed with the flexibility and means to do what I want to do.

And when the timing is right, I’ll know how to respect myself and my partner.

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Lindsay Kohler is Relentlessly restless. Culture curator. Bad at short bios. Plays a mean fiddle. San Francisco, CA. Follow her on Medium.