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3 Reasons Why Someone May "Pocket" a Partner

Some people keep their relationships a little bit too private. Here's why.

Key points

  • “Pocketing” is when one partner in a relationship avoids introducing the other to their friends or family.
  • This can prevent a relationship from evolving and make a pocketed individual feel unfulfilled and isolated.
  • Reasons for pocketing include fear of rejection, relationship ambivalence, and desire for independence.
Ioana Casapu / Unsplash
Source: Ioana Casapu / Unsplash

“Pocketing” is a modern dating term that refers to when one partner in a relationship avoids introducing the other to their friends, family, or social circles. Essentially, they keep the relationship and the partner “pocketed” or hidden from significant people in their lives.

This behavior can manifest in various ways, such as avoiding public displays of affection, refraining from sharing photos or mentions of their partner on social media, or making excuses to prevent meetings with friends and family.

For the person being pocketed, this behavior can lead to feelings of insecurity, confusion, and uncertainty about their partner’s commitment to the relationship, impacting their emotional well-being, trust in the relationship, and overall sense of self-worth. Research shows that such a lack of trust can exacerbate emotional instability and conflict in a relationship.

The lack of integration into a partner’s life can also prevent the relationship from evolving and cause the pocketed individual to feel emotionally unfulfilled and isolated. The constant worry about the relationship’s legitimacy can also be damaging to their mental health, making it necessary to understand the underlying psychological defenses that perpetuate this behavior.

Here are three reasons why people engage in relationship pocketing.

1. A Debilitating Fear of Rejection

Individuals may “pocket” their partners due to a fear of judgment or rejection from their social circles. This fear often arises from concerns about how their partner might be perceived based on their characteristics, such as appearance, socio-economic background, race, or lifestyle. The person pocketing might worry that their friends or family will disapprove of their partner or that their relationship will not be accepted.

Research shows that from an evolutionary perspective, introducing a partner to one’s parents is an important turning point in a relationship.

“We hypothesized that individuals are motivated to bring home their mates in order to seek parental feedback and approval, as well as indicate to their mate that they are serious about the relationship,” the researchers explain.

So, if a partner expects that this meeting may not go well, they may avoid it altogether. Pocketing can also occur when individuals are unsure of how their partner would feel about their friends and loved ones. Perhaps, they would also like to keep an aspect of themselves hidden that could be revealed in such a situation.

In both instances, these actions likely have nothing to do with the partner being pocketed but are a projection of insecurity and fear onto the relationship to preserve one’s self-esteem and avoid experiencing social disapproval. By not introducing their partner to their social circles, they mitigate the risk of facing these negative reactions, albeit at the cost of their partner’s feelings and the fate of their relationship.

2. Struggling With Relationship Ambivalence

People can pocket their partners if they are uncertain of how they feel about them or the future of the relationship. This uncertainty can stem from doubts about the relationship’s longevity, concerns about compatibility, or unresolved personal issues. By pocketing their partner, they protect themselves from potential embarrassment or awkwardness if the relationship ends.

Additionally, a 2020 study found that when parents are viewed as poor role models, their children look for partners who can help them avoid what they view as their parents’ romantic mistakes. This can make them wary of committing to the wrong partner and feel uncertainty around solidifying the relationship by introducing them publicly.

Research shows that experiencing such uncertainty is a part of “relationship ambivalence,” or conflicting feelings about a partner, which is associated with lower personal and relational well-being.

One might feel love, affection, and satisfaction in certain aspects of the relationship while simultaneously experiencing doubt, frustration, or dissatisfaction, causing an ongoing internal conflict and an external sense of ambiguity in the relationship.

3. A Strong Desire for Independence

Some individuals might pocket their partners as a way to maintain a sense of independence and personal space. They might feel that introducing their partner to their social circles could lead to a loss of autonomy or pressure to conform to social expectations.

Research shows that an avoidant attachment style can play an important role in such behavior as it can fuel the fears of commitment, closeness, and vulnerability that taking this step can trigger.

Introducing a partner to one’s social circles can signify a deeper level of commitment and integration, which might feel intrusive or threatening to someone who values their independence or wishes to project an image of self-reliance.

By engaging in pocketing, such individuals believe they can preserve their sense of self and avoid feeling overwhelmed or getting hurt by their partner in the long run.

Pocketing can have significant emotional consequences for the person being hidden. They might internalize the behavior, wondering if they are not good enough to be introduced to their partner’s social circles.

For those experiencing pocketing, it’s crucial to remember that it is not their fault and to communicate openly with their partner about their concerns before jumping to conclusions. A candid discussion can provide clarity and potentially resolve misunderstandings. However, if such avoidance behavior persists with no changes in sight, it might be time to re-evaluate the relationship.

If you find yourself pocketing your partner, it’s important to engage in self-reflection to understand the underlying reasons for this behavior. Addressing personal insecurities or relationship uncertainties can help foster a healthier, more transparent relationship dynamic.

Ultimately, everyone deserves to be celebrated and acknowledged in their relationships. Whether you are being pocketed or pocketing someone, open communication and introspection are keys to building a strong, loving, and fulfilling partnership.

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