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“Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice.” — Eric Fromm

Being a “foster” girlfriend or boyfriend may not be what you think it is. You may have heard that it’s based on the “fostering” partner being emotionally unavailable or that they’re somehow hellbent on pushing their partner away, dodging long-term commitment or intentionally getting into dead-end relationships that have an expiration date.


And, we’ve probably all seen that meme floating around the last few years that says…

“…I don’t date anymore. I just foster men (or women) until they find their forever home.”


OK, so what does this all mean?

Does being a “foster girlfriend/boyfriend” mean that one partner is being used by the other for adulting advice? Does it mean that one partner is less emotionally invested or is emotionally unavailable? Does it suggest that one, or both partners are insecurely attached and are bi-products of a push-pull or rollercoaster relationship? Or, something else?

Most of us can probably nod along with this analogy: girl meets guy. Girl chooses her career, her friends, and her Pilates over guy. Then, girl wants to know why guy left. Or, on the flip-side: guy meets girl. Guy keeps girl at arms-distance by choosing the bar scene, the gym scene, or his career over girl. Then, guy wants to know why girl bailed.

These situations don’t refer to a “foster” partner; they refer to an emotionally unavailable one.

One of the biggest misconceptions we hear about a foster boyfriend/girlfriend is that the “fosterer” (the one who is fostering) is emotionally unavailable.

A foster girlfriend/boyfriend is someone who is usually emotionally available and wants a relationship. Many times the relationship kicks into high-gear as having great potential. As with most relationships, the foster/fostered relationship starts out pretty epic.

The “foster” partner often has an uneventful or boring dating history where partners never quite seemed to stack up to their expectations, hence why it can be confused with them being emotionally unavailable. Granted, some may fall along the emotionally unavailable spectrum, given their past experiences. Psychologically speaking, once we dig a little deeper into the dynamics of the foster boyfriend/girlfriend (and the one being “fostered”) we will see how emotions come into play.

While some may say that the fostered partner never wanted a relationship and is usually up-front about it, this is not always true. Depending on their level of need and self-interest, they may play along and manipulate the “foster” partner into believing they’re loved, valued or wanted — while taking notes for future use.

If you’ve ever had a relationship where you guide, mold, help support, or encourage your partner to be a more enlightened version of themselves — only for them to abandon you for someone else — you may have been a foster partner.


5 Red Flags You’re The Foster Partner

You Help Them Get Their Shit Together. The foster/fostered relationship has many dynamics to it. Yet one thing is constant: there is always an uneven balance of power. More common than not, the foster partner is often more educated, more advanced in their career, or has more lived experiences to pull from. This can include anything from showing the “fostered” partner how to dress like they didn’t fall out of a Screamo video (still working on this one, myself..), to how to balance a checkbook, how to use a washing machine, or how to get into grad school.

They Move On Quickly. Like, the-other-person-was-already-there, quick. I’m not saying the other person is always there, but it’s been my experience that the other person is usually there on some level. Maybe the “fostered” partner is bored and ready to try their newfound skills or life-lessons on someone new. Maybe they have taken to covertly talking to others to foster (no pun intended) a new relationship, or they may just go ghost on the foster partner.

Equally common is that the foster partner may notice that the fostered partner has become less available, cancels plans at the last minute, or may become emotionally abusive or dismissive. These are all red flags that something isn’t right in any relationship. However, if the relationship is based on the “foster/fostered” dynamic, this is usually the tip-off that the fostered partner has taken the lessons and is moving on.

You Enjoy A Fixer-Upper. The foster partner may lower their standards and choose someone to foster who is emotionally unavailable or who is seen as a project to “fix”, or “save”. They may choose partners who come from a toxic background, who have lived life through the School of Hard Knocks, or who have the ‘rebel without a cause’ mentality. Foster partners often like challenges, and the more of a challenge you present to them, the greater the reward in trying to “fix” the fostered partner.

You Are A Surrogate. This may be a surrogate caregiver, a surrogate boss or coworker, or a surrogate friend. For example, if they fall and sprain their ankle playing sports, the foster partner may become surrogate caregiver helping to ice their ankle or run their errands while they heal. Or, the foster partner may help them out with brainstorming a business proposal, or in critiquing their graduate report.

You Are Their Therapist. This may include the literal definition where the foster partner is there as a shoulder to lean on while giving advice, however it’s often done less formally. For example, the foster partner may be less impulsive or have more sound judgement where they encourage the fostered partner to think twice about posting their drunken birthday party photos to their social media, or to keep calm if their mother texts more belated holiday wishes for the umpteenth time.

However, it’s also common for a foster partner to be more emotionally invested, more emotionally mature and to encourage the fostered partner to talk to a therapist to continue gaining insight, to tackle their past pain, or to help them with future goals.


Digging Deeper

Since there’s two sides to every coin, there’s two-sides to the relationship coin as well. Each is the flip-side of the other; thus, they’re like puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together.

…At least in the interim, and while both partners are getting their needs met.

The “Fostered” Partner. This is the partner who gained support, insight, awareness, “adulting” advice, and was shown how to get their shit together. Not to suggest that all fostered partners are narcissistic, but based on the emotional, psychological and behavioral dynamics associated with this type of “relationship”, the scales tilt to self-investment and unfulfilled needs.

For example, the fostered partner is often more emotionally unavailable and is usually less invested in the relationship. Any investment is typically self-serving in which anything learned (skills, advice, “adulting”) is taken with them to their next relationship to show off their skills. This taps into Ego, and a need to feel valued and good enough. Unfortunately, a missing piece is often emotional growth. If the fostered partner is narcissistic, then accountability and self-awareness are minimized, and “things” learned for status or image, maximized.

The “Foster” Partner. This the partner giving the “adulting” advice, insight, awareness, and support. Not to suggest that all foster partners are codependent, but given that they tend to freely give of their time, emotional investment and support — often without getting an even R.O.I. — the scales tend to tilt to emotional dependency and unfulfilled needs.

What keeps the foster partner giving of themselves and their time, is that their own sense of self-worth is tied into seeing their partner succeed. Many who are foster and fostered partners came from toxic childhoods where they went invalidated, mistreated or unheard; so, by helping their partner (or being helped) to “shine”, they’re also helping themselves feel worthy and valued.


Stopping these type of relationships begins with self-awareness and accountability. No one probably wants to admit that they choose to be a foster partner because their own basic needs are getting met in the process, but recognizing why this type of relationship is chosen is important for breaking the cycle.

If you notice a pattern of these relationships, it can also suggest a fear of engulfment, where relationships are kept as projects or transactions, instead of emotional investment that can leave you feeling trapped. Thus, tackling our own needs is important in our emotional growth.

This post was previously published on Medium.


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The post The Psychology Behind “Foster” Relationships appeared first on The Good Men Project.