I’ve been known to assist a woman or two in making the transition from tumultuous breakup to meaningful relationship. I provide this service free of charge, and I’m very good at it. My romantic resume is evidence enough. The problem: this has never been my intent.
I am the unofficial transitional phase from one relationship to the next: the rebound guy. Played strategically like a pawn, passed around like a hot potato, I’ve been, at best, a worthy substitute in relationships. And frankly, it’s pathetic.
The most recent rebounding instance was with a girl named Kate (not her real name). She worked at a pub around the corner from my place, and my buddies and I would often meet there after work for a pint or 12. Kate was by far the best bartender on staff, and we all got along great. It didn’t hurt that she was quite attractive.
Several months after breaking up with her long-term boyfriend, Kate asked me out. I said yes and then tipped her extra.
On our first date we watched a football game, drank beer and ate wings. It went great. The next week, though admittedly fast, she asked me to meet her parents and requested to meet mine. Both introductions went off without a hitch, and several dates followed.
Things started heading south when Kate confessed that she’d been leaving the area to meet an old friend. She followed this admission by saying we’d make our relationship official when she got back. Insisting that her relationship with this (male) friend was platonic, I, like an idiot, obliged.
She worked the night before she left, and I went to the bar to hang out with her. We had a very intimate conversation. She told me how much I meant to her, and the next afternoon she was gone. A few days into her trip I sent her a text to see how things were going, and I was met with the confession that she had cheated.
She slept with this “platonic” friend – yeah, I bet you saw that coming – and she wasn’t apologetic about it in the slightest. She actually sounded mad, saying she already told me that she’d probably hook up with this guy, which, of course, is not something she had said.
I called things off. When she returned I stayed far away from the bar to avoid inevitable conflict. I later learned that Kate moved to Calgary to be with this guy a month after she returned from her trip.
It was then abundantly clear that I was a rebound for Kate. Reuniting with this friend was too far away, and she needed some male companionship before then. Evidently I filled this role nicely. She knew she was going to sleep with this guy on the trip, and she was using this vacation to see if living with him was feasible. I was in no way a commitment to her. I was a rental.
I’m certainly not the only guy – or girl, for that matter – this has happened to. I reached out to Jessica O’Reilly, a bestselling author and sexuality counselor to ask her about being the rebound guy.
“Rebound relationships prove to soften the damage done by a previous relationship,” O’Reilly told me. “People seek connection, so even if we’re not emotionally prepared for another relationship, we desire intimacy and closeness and go for it anyway.”
This made sense and answers why so many of us do it. But why has this happened to me so damn much? Is there a commonality in guys who get rebounded that make them a target?
“It could be that you offer stability and security, or it could be that you’re conveniently in the right place at the right time,” O’Reilly said. “It’s difficult to speak about recent breakup daters as a group, as every breakup carries a unique set of circumstances and associated feelings. If you were dumped, you may seek someone whom you believe will not abandon you. If you broke up with your partner, you may seek someone who is remarkably different from your ex. No theory is universally applicable.”
As far as feelings are concerned, O’Reilly says that people don’t often realize they’re rebounding someone, and that it’s more likely that they’re seeking a shared desire and connection.
“I do believe that rebounders have feelings for their new partners,” she said. “Though they may not have prepared for a new relationship, it doesn’t mean that they can’t connect with someone new.”
Which means there very well could have been a mutual attraction between Kate and me. Why would she have introduced me to her parents (and ask to be introduced to mine) if she didn’t feel something? There’s a good chance that rebounding isn’t intended to be as vicious as I might have initially assumed.
To try to limit how often this happens to me, or any of us, again, I asked O’Reilly to point out some red flags men.
“Look out for the ones who talk a lot about their ex or make a lot of comparisons between your relationship and their previous one,” she says. “You should also be weary of those who seem unsure of what they want. If they flip-flop between asking for a casual relationship and seeking relationship status, you may want to call them out and ask them to examine whether or not they’re really ready for a relationship.”
The reddest of flags O’Reilly points out – for me, at least – was the mention of the ex. The night before she left, while the conversation was intimate, Kate did talk about her ex-boyfriend – a lot. Though she insisted she had nothing bad to say about him, she spoke about his many shortcomings as a partner – almost as if to describe what kind of boyfriend I should be upon her return. Not that it mattered. She was gone the next day – both literally and figuratively.
If a prospective partner does show these signs I mention, O’Reilly suggests you reconsider the relationship – though she says there are no “hard and fast rules,” to the rebound as everybody’s relationships are different.
“If you see signs that a new partner makes excuses for past behavior, rejects responsibility for their actions, and consistently compares their new life to the past, there’s a good chance that they’re not ready for a relationship with you.”
Rebounding happens. The best thing you can do to avoid being a stand-in, according to O’Reilly, is to find yourself a girl who talks about you and your future together and has conversations about where you’re going, not where she’s been. A mention of the past could be a sign that it wont be long until you’re there as well.