Are You Dating a Plate Spinner?

How to identify this relationship red flag—and move on with your life.

| October 24th, 2011
Are You Dating a Plate Spinner?

Plate spinning is defined as “a circus manipulation art where a person spins plates, bowls and other flat objects on poles, without them falling off.”

In intimate relationships, a plate spinner is a guy (or woman) who never actually commits to being in a relationship with you, but once he senses you’re ready to move on, he swoops back into your life full of charm and empty promises just keep you around—or at least, on the backburner.

In other words, he gives you a little push just so your emotions keep on spinning and your relationship doesn't come crashing to the ground (like a proverbial plate). Sound familiar?

The Plate Spinner’s M.O.

Many of us have dated a plate spinner or know someone who has. They are the magicians of dating: They show up, blow your mind and then pull a disappearing act (nod if this sounds familiar).

“If you go out on a couple of dates and it seems like it went well and then you get a text from him 10 days later that says, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ that’s a huge red flag,” says Rachel Sussman, a marriage and family therapist in New York City and author of “The Breakup Bible: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Healing from Breakup or Divorce.” “Really nice guys don’t play games. They will reach out and say, ‘I hope we can do it again.’”

Plate spinners, on the other hand, are the guys who never want you more than when you have one foot out the door. “They can be very charming and want to wine and dine you, but they really have no interest in moving it further,” says Sussman.

QUIZ: What's Your Relationship Style?

That could be for several different reasons: They’re "avoidant," a type of relationship attachment style that makes them reluctant to get close to romantic partners and feel suffocated by intimacy, or they may have recently gotten out of a relationship or a divorce and are looking for a welcome distraction. Or they may be pursuing another girl who isn’t giving them the time of day—and you’re the first (or third) backup option. Ouch.

Dating plate spinners is equivalent to permanently being on a rollercoaster ride with its dramatic ups (“He wants to take me to Paris for New Year’s!”) and downs (“What happened to Paris?”). 

When you do get together it’s fun, sexy and stimulating—it feels like you won something when you finally nab a date with this guy. “The problem is you go out and every once in a while it’s totally spectacular,” says David Sbarra, Ph.D., YouBeauty Relationship Expert. “This is the reason people play slot machines—every once in a while it pays off.” But then he disappears for two weeks or more and you’re left wondering what you said or did wrong, repeatedly checking your cell phone in case you missed a call or text from him and moping over his painfully noticeable absence.

MORE: Decoding Attachment Styles

By allowing this bad behavior to continue (and passively praying it will change), you’re actually encouraging it. Here’s how a plate spinner thinks, according to Sbarra: “‘If I can come over every Friday night, have drinks, watch TV and fool around, I’m going to do it because you let me and because you seem to like it.’ People will get away with whatever suits them in the pursuit of feeling good. They will get away with it until someone stops them.”

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