Experts In This Article
Some people employ a harmful manipulation tactic while dating to get what they want now: future faking, or spinning future plans and commitments with which they have no intention of following through. The hallmark of future faking is that these plans won’t happen, and the person coming up with them never intended to see them realized in the first place.
“Someone may talk about long-term commitments, future vacations, or even marriage and kids very early in a relationship,” says clinical psychologist Lauren Kerwin, PhD. Emotional intensity isn’t the same as actual emotional depth, though, so if you notice it, it can be a sign that something isn’t entirely healthy early relationship behavior.
What this does is build the relationship up on a false premise. The person on the receiving end is fed what they want to hear, but it’s not based in truth. For example, someone could promise to become your monogamous partner down the line so that you have sex with them. While there’s nothing wrong with sex that doesn’t lead to monogamous partnership, if you’re being told that sex will, in fact, spawn a monogamous commitment by a person who has no intentions of such, then you’re being deceived. You don’t have all the information necessary to opt in wholeheartedly, and you might change your tune if you knew they were lying about committing.
By a similar token, future faking could also result in making some big financial moves that you wouldn’t have made otherwise. “By having the illusion of a future together, the victim may rush into physical intimacy or financially invest in their partner much quicker than they would organically like taking trips together, meeting their family, or getting married,” says clinical psychologist Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD.
Why someone may engage in future faking in a relationship
Future faking is a deceptive and unkind behavior, which puts it in the realm of tactics narcissists could use to draw someone in, but it can also be practiced by not very adept or considerate daters. Narcissism exists on a spectrum (with those diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder at the extreme end), so anyone may display a narcissistic tendency or two, like lying, as they date. Someone with less nefarious intentions could just be not sure of what exactly they want. Regardless, they aren’t being considerate of how this comes off.
However, a key part of future faking is deception. According to clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of Joy from Fear, talking about future plans and having them fall through isn’t the same as future faking. “It’s okay for someone to say, ‘I really hope for you to meet my family this summer,’ but we really want to be saying if it works out, rather than ‘I will’ or ‘I promise,’” she explains.
What makes this manipulative is deliberate lying about the future to extract something in the present from someone else. That’s not only unkind dating behavior; it’s calculating and cruel. Future faking can also be part of a larger manipulation or abuse scheme, where it’s used to draw the victim in and create a seemingly loving bond to place them in a vulnerable position. This dynamic puts one person’s need above the other’s, which doesn’t reflect an equitable partnership.
Future faking could also be one way to create emotional dependency, or shirk responsibility from any broken promises they’re making right now. Maybe this person regularly ditches your plans, but makes grandiose promises to take you on a lavish vacation to smooth things over.
In effect, this doesn’t really benefit the person doing the future faking in the longer term, either. “The diabolical side of future faking is that not only are you affecting at least one other person, but you’re lying to yourself and teaching your brain to tell stories and to not be responsible and to not have integrity,” says Dr. Manly.
How to identify if someone you’re dating is future faking
It can be difficult to initially tell whether someone you meet is capable of future faking because the infatuation stage is common, but Dr. Manly says there are indeed some behaviors to be on the lookout for.
First, consider whether their actions and words align. For example, if they say they want to be more serious with you, are they demonstrating that in their communication with you? If they tell you they want to see you again, are they fitting you into their schedule and making time to deepen your connection? If there’s a mismatch, that could be a clue that this person isn’t entirely genuine.
Being clear about your own boundaries and what you consider to be relationship red flags can be clarifying and help you decide what to do here, too. It’s a good general practice to nail down what behaviors you will and won’t tolerate from a potential partner, so having these on hand can serve as a useful gut check for what’s happening.
It can be tiring to always be on the lookout for wrongdoing, so Dr. Manly recommends journaling to keep track of how your relationships are going. Write down instances that give you pause, and reference those entries later to find behavioral patterns that point to dishonesty. “Something subtle could happen, or you have a wonderful weekend away and you forget about the red flags if you don’t have your history written down to remember and corroborate those details,” she says. It doesn’t have to be that detailed—just enough to keep a personal record.
What to do if you find out someone is future faking you
If you suspect someone you’re seeing isn’t being completely honest with you about their level of investment in your shared future, a respectful, clear conversation can shed some light. Dr. Manly advises saying something like, ‘I noticed this pattern where you make promises [that you don’t keep], and now I’ve noticed three events where this happened and that’s a dealbreaker for me.’
“If you notice your partner is trying to rush things…make sure to set your standards in the relationship and go at a pace you are comfortable with.”—Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, clinical psychologist
Spacing out your dates to give this person time to follow through on their plans is another measure to see if they’re sincere. “If you notice your partner is trying to rush things or talk you into taking next steps that you’re not ready for, make sure to set your standards in the relationship and go at a pace you are comfortable with,” adds Dr. Romanoff. This could look like saying something like, “Hey, I’m a little uncomfortable with how fast we’re moving—can we slow down and just enjoy right now?”
If they react poorly or gaslight you about it, that can be helpful information to have, too. (Dr. Manly cautions that people who are regular manipulators can be good at sidestepping these conversations, so don’t stop until you have a satisfying answer.)
If what you’re hearing raises your alarms, redirecting them could be helpful, too. “If they are constantly promising things to you in the moment and you’re feeling uncomfortable you could change the conversation or ask them to hold off on these promises and ideas if you don’t feel ready for them yet,” says Dr. Romanoff. Then, you can judge their followthrough.
Ultimately, you get to decide whether it feels like this person is being truthful. If they’re making you uncomfortable or wary about the pace at which the relationship is moving and pressuring you to accelerate your timeline or change your plans for the future, take whatever space is necessary to get clarity and figure out how to proceed. That may mean cutting them loose. Remember that you’re the one in charge of your future, and you deserve honesty from any potential partners to inform what it involves.
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