A pop-up relationship gives you a short burst of a romantic whirlwind and then back to no man's land, until next timeHave you ever spent time with somebody who gives amazing date and yet, afterwards it’s crickets? I did that on and off for four years. Honestly, if you’d met us on dates, wearing the face off each other and barely able to keep our hands to ourselves, laughing and putting the world to rights, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we were madly in love. Sadly, as I mentioned in Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl, we’d have The Best Date Ever TM™ and then he’d go dark until next time.

I recently chatted with Margie who has been ‘seeing’ (I use that word loosely) a guy for two years where they have The Best Date / Weekend Ever ™ every 4-6 weeks or so. She thinks they have an amazing connection but is very concerned about how she’s on a permanent date with this guy when she technically wants to be in a serious relationship and settle down and have a family. The funny thing is though, is all they have is these dates/weekends. That’s it. There’s no actual relationship in between. They exchange texts here and there but after 2 years, even that’s on the wane.

It is now an established pattern that they can have a date or a weekend and that he will disappear, and that she will be right there when he is looking for entertainment again in the future. 

In theory, walking away seems easy, after all, why would she want to keep seeing somebody who, in the space of 2 years has spent the same amount of time with her that someone else would do in the space of a few months?

Margie focusing on the feelings that she experiences on the dates has blinded her to what she feels afterwards. It is a rollercoaster and she harbours a fantasy that one day he’s going to come to her and say, ‘Baby, thank you for your patience over this last two years. I’ve decided you’re the one and I want to be with you every day and live happily ever after. Let me knock you up this minute’— not.gonna.happen.

When a relationship pops up for a short period of time and then disappears again, it’s a pop-up relationship or even pop-up romance.

I have a number of friends who run their own pop-up shops. They do not want the commitment of running a full time store and so they periodically rent a space or turn their current space into one for a day, few days, a week or even a few. They promote it and invite regulars etc., and they get to sample the joys of retail without getting too invested, plus they sell lots of product.

Similarly, there are people who like to sample aspects of a relationship (sex, companionship, the excitement of possibilities) and get to satisfy their curiosity about someone without having to get vulnerable and intimate. These can be casual relationships but also, it covers an ex who boomerangs back into our life promising great change.


If you are involved with somebody who pops up from time to time and gives great date or a great but short period of time before they disappear or revert to their usual, ‘Oops, I did it again. I played with your heart and made out that things would be different this time when they won’t’, you are stuck in the cycle of the pop-up relationship.

These pop-up relationships feel romantic at the time but they come to an end and then after a period of time, probably when the person feels sure that you’re not expecting too much, the reset button is hit, there’s another pop-up and then lather, rinse, repeat.

You end up becoming almost desensitised to how neglectful the involvement is and normalising an unworkable situation.

You forget the confusion, heartache, the self-doubt, the anxiety and wondering what the hell they’re doing, who the hell they’re doing it with, and why they aren’t consistently there.

You also notice how these relationships never really develop and deepen. Well, how can they when you almost have to start over from scratch each time and they keep checking out on you?

If you believe that you want a committed, loving relationship and you’re instead attending a pop-up relationship from time to time with someone who is clearly partial to a spot of Future Faking and Fast Forwarding, you have to ask yourself, as discomforting as it might be, is, What’s going on with me that I would settle for something entirely different to that? It’s also asking, Where am I bullsh*tting myself?

If you were being absolutely clear with you about what you want, you wouldn’t settle for temporary attention.

There is a level of ambivalence about what you want, otherwise you would not be OK with their ambivalence that’s reflected in their lack of consistency, intimacy, and actually, their general attentiveness. You wouldn’t settle for getting high periodically and instead, would look to enjoy a more consistent, sustainable partnering. You wouldn’t be hiding behind their emotional unavailability.

‘We talk about so much’, said Margie, and yet, they have never talked about where the hell he goes for those weeks or what the hell is going on between them, despite having around 19 opportunities to do so. In truth, Margie’s been going out with her rolling stone father and hiding her fear of getting it wrong and her hurt over another relationship in this pop-up relationship.

Romance is easier than allowing ourselves to be seen.

A pop-up relationship where, for 24 hours or however long it is, we get to pretend that we’re in a relationship and to play out our dreams about this person as well as ourselves, all the while knowing on some level that it’s not real and that they’ll be gone again, allows us to protect ourselves from really putting us out there. We don’t have to share ourselves and put in the level of effort that a consistent relationship would need, but at the same time, we end up residing in an uncomfortable comfort zone where we give ourselves a hard time about our needs not being met and feeling habitually neglected.

Acknowledging the overall cost of continuing to be involved with this person and how it’s blocking you from being available for an available relationship where you don’t have to wait around to be summoned, provides the much-needed wake-up call, but also being honest with you about your needs and what is motivating you to settle for less. When you confront the pain, fear and guilt, the ambivalence and resistance will start to fade and this person and their fly-by-night ways will no longer seem attractive or normal to you.

Your thoughts?

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