First, there was ghosting, then breadcrumbing, and just when we thought modern dating vernacular couldn’t possibly get any stranger—along came stashing. Six months since it has made headlines, this new dating buzzword is still going strong, and it looks a lot like unhealthy compartmentalization.
Secrets, although maybe exciting at first, don't make for a lasting connection. Anyone who’s experienced this trending form of commitment-phobia called “stashing” knows it doesn’t feel good to be a secret.
If stashing sounds oddly familiar to your present dating situation, use these insights and tips from licensed professional counselors to help handle it.
Avoidant attachment styles are more prone to “stash” a significant other.
A number of things might be contributing to the phenomenon known as stashing, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Anita A. Chlipala author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love thinks there's a link between this and the avoidant attachment style.
“People with [an avoidant attachment style] like to keep their partner at arm's length. They avoid too much closeness and prefer their independence, and they're the least likely of the types to introduce family and friends to someone they started dating," Chlipala explains. "I've worked with clients who were with someone who is avoidantly attached and didn't meet any family or friends for over nine months!" She explains that avoidants will also avoid posting about their partner on social media, as doing so creates a sense of intimacy, closeness, making the relationship ‘real'—and this can be frightening for them.
Maybe you don't think social media announcement matters (which is fine), but if transparency and openness are the foundational aspects of any healthy relationship, then staying too secret for too long will cause some serious problems.
Unhealthy compartmentalization is a potential cause of the secrecy.
Compartmentalizing aspects of our lives is something that everyone does, to a degree. When we’re at work, we don’t act the same as when we’re at happy hour with our best friend or visiting with a grandparent. Our social personas are employed for specific uses in the appropriate setting, for good reason. Life needs categories for us to function.
However, when we fail to merge significant aspects of our personal life (i.e. dating relationships) with the rest of our public or shared lives, work, family, etc., we can create an unhealthy dissonance which will wreak havoc on our significant other’s sense of belonging and worthiness in the relationship.
In fact, it’s shame-inducing, says David Klow, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist.
“Feeling stashed, or hiding a relationship from others, causes people to feel shame. It makes us feel like there is something wrong with how we love. The dissonance between how we actually are behind closed doors and how we present ourselves to the world can cause a lot of psychological pain.”
And this psychological pain isn't just damaging to the relationship. It's can be damaging to you, too.
Stashing is especially hard on women.
For women especially, stashing is hurtful and may cause them to overcompensate in the relationship. Chlipala shares the reasoning for this:
“Meeting friends and family is a natural step in the progression of a relationship. And usually women internalize a lot, so [they] think, ‘What's wrong with me?’ or ‘Why am I not good enough?’ and might double their efforts to get their man to like them.”
Essentially, it can cause women to put a lot more emotion into a dead-end relationship, because it damages confidence, making them question where they stand with a person with whom they're supposed to be growing in emotional intimacy.
If I’m being stashed, where do I go from here?
Romantic relationships require loads of security and nurturing to survive in a world that presents its share of challenges to couples. If you are faced with stashing in a relationship, anxious attachment style aside, this could mean a significant other isn’t being honest about what they want, is uncomfortable with intimacy, untruthful, or ashamed—which isn't a good place to kick-off a relationship.
Stashing isn’t just hurtful to the person being hidden, it’s also damaging to the one doing the hiding. Since the toughest parts of self-growth involve integrating parts of ourselves with others (aka vulnerability), those who insist on stashing often feel alienated deep down, whether or not their actions are purposeful or merely something they do without thinking.
It may seem harsh, but just because your S.O. has insecurity issues, doesn't mean that those issues are made for you to fix. Remember, you deserve a person who isn't hurting you at such a fundamental level, and it's unhealthy to be your partner's therapist.
“If someone suspects they are being stashed, they may want to take a look inside themselves to see how they might be disconnected from their sense of self-worth," Klow explains. "It might be helpful to talk with a trained counselor to get help with any places inside where one might not feel lovable."
Afterall, he adds, you want a partner who "would gladly let the world know that you're the one they love."