Shelving: The Dating Trend You Don't Want To Be A Part Of

Exiting from a dating match takes some finesse, especially when you're trying to make sure no one gets their feelings hurt. There are a few common strategies people use to make their escape, like the slow fade or the "it's not you, it's me" excuse, but there's another method that's familiar to even newbie daters: shelving. The term was coined by writer Gabrielle Kassel in an article for Greatist, and no, it has nothing to do with getting your Tinder date to put up shelves for you (as one TikToker famously did in a viral video).

Shelving is a trend that falls somewhere between ghosting and breadcrumbing, where a potential partner "shelves" you by saying they're too busy to meet. When you're on the receiving end of it, you're essentially stuck in limbo, wondering when (or if) you'll ever hang out. Their excuse of being too swamped with work and personal projects is plausible enough to make this form of rejection relatively painless but also difficult to discern. And it can show up at any stage of the dating process — before you ever connect IRL, after one or two so-so dates, or deep into the getting-to-know-you phase when you're sure things are just about to get serious.

Using work and other responsibilities as an excuse to end a relationship might seem harmless, but hold off before you call it a grown-up alternative to ghosting. Here's why the shelving trend isn't worth trying — or falling for.

Shelving can make dating extra confusing

Making up an excuse to let someone down easy isn't exactly a new concept, but with shelving, the recipient is placed on an ambiguous shelf indefinitely. As Gabrielle Kassel notes, shelving typically involves making empty promises to circle back later and asking the other person to wait until then. The person receiving messages like, "So sorry, things got really busy! When they calm down, let's definitely meet up!" is just left hanging. And unlike more direct forms of rejection, shelving is wrapped up in a positive and apologetic package, meaning that, for some people, it may be taken as a genuine invitation to reconnect again in the future.

In this way, shelving is similar to a back-burner relationship — a romantic prospect someone keeps on the side in case their other options fall through. "The idea is that back-burner relationships are not active ongoing intimate relationships. They are formed based on the basis of 'maybe one day, you never know,'" Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a psychologist, told Stylist. That possibility can be confusing for everyone involved and may even complicate future relationships, especially if the person you shelved slides back into your DMs.

As long as your safety isn't at stake, honesty is generally the best policy when turning down a date or ending a new relationship. Leave no loose ends or inauthentic promises to try again later — make a clean break and move on.

What should you do if you've been shelved?

It's important to not be a "shelfer" while dating, though you shouldn't let yourself fall for someone else's shelving strategy either. First, before you question whether your crush is truly too busy or just crafting their exit, remind yourself that people usually make time for the things they value. "Generally a person who isn't ready for a relationship is likely working through their own stuff," Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert, told Bustle. "Regardless, it's still unfair and undeserving for the person on the receiving end." If keeping your hopes up about a love interest is getting you down, cut your ties and pursue other options.

If you truly believe this may have been a right-person-wrong-time situation, Shadeen Francis, a relationship and marriage therapist, recommends going straight to the source to confirm your suspicions. Yep, that means asking the person who shelved you if they actually want to check in later (and, ideally, when they think that might be) or if they're just not interested. "That way you can make an informed decision about whether or not you're willing to mentally or emotionally wait and will be willing to remain open to reconnection in the future," Francis explained to Greatist.