A few years ago, I befriended a guy at work, and we quickly became inseparable.
We watched movies, went thrift shopping, and ate at little hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Sometimes we would just walk the streets of our small town, endlessly talking. You know, the kind of talking where you feel like the other person was made for you, and that your conversations are so magical they're already being made into a book that's being made into a movie?
The problem? I was already in a relationship.
My "friend" and I danced around our romance-less romance, shared secrets and inside jokes, talked constantly, and when he (rightfully) made the comment that maybe I shouldn't be in a relationship, I balked and cut him from my life, terrified that he was right.
I would do this two more times, with two more different guys, before I realized what I was doing: I was using a stand-in.
Now hear me out, because I'm sure I sound like a monster, but I'm not. I'm not a cheater, and I'm not a girl who abandons people when things get tough. When things get bad in a relationship, I'm there with a shovel and galoshes, willing to dig us out of this mess, but I'm talking about when things just get…. stale. The kind of stale where you both take each other for granted, aren't excited to see each other, and settle into a cold monotony of Netflix nights and trying to make separate plans with friends.
In stagnant relationships, I've been known to physically stay put, while emotionally getting the fuck out of dodge. Usually, via surrogate significant other.
Time and time again, I would find a Super Close Male Friend and pour all my clever banter and interesting thoughts into him, reveling in being thought of as a shiny new toy. I looked to these guys to make me feel special again, to stay in a permanent state of new-relationship. Though it never got romantic, I worked hard to make my victim feel like the only guy in the world.
It was never conscious on my part. But after making this mistake three times (THREE TIMES!), I realized how unfair I was being -- to my boyfriend, to myself, and most of all, to my "special friends." I let my own relationships fester and freeze to death, and instead of doing the tough work of rekindling or ending them, I took a shortcut.
When my actual relationships were dead or dying, it was nice to have someone who cared if I stayed out too late, to tell me he missed me in the middle of the day, or to show up at my work to have dinner with me, "just because." I was using these dudes as my stand-ins while ignoring the guy I had worked so hard to land, all because I didn't think he was making me feel special enough.
It's been seven years since I've used a person that way. In that time, I've looked back into myself, did some work, and realized that it's not fair to put the burden of "MAKE ME FEEL SPECIAL" on any one person. That's my damn job, a partner is just supposed to support that idea.
I also started a new relationship from scratch with the knowledge of a woman who has made mistakes. I try to look at my man with fresh, flirtatious eyes every day, and when I feel myself needing attention, instead of casting a wide net, I ask him for it. Like a grownup.
I still have guy friends now that I'm wonderfully close to, but guy friends who couldn't possibly take the place of a lover (and are never led to believe they could). It may take a village to nurture a child, but if you're into monogamy, it should only take one person to make you feel loved.
If you find yourself looking outside of your relationship to feel pretty or clever, sure, it may be time to take stock of things. From experience, I'd probably start with yourself.