‘Pocketing’ or ‘stashing’ is the term that is used to refer to the phenomenon when one’s partner keeps the relationship a secret, or cut away from any of their social or family networks, and shows no intention to want to take steps to change this. 

This is more than just “keeping things private”. It could be extremely invalidating as well, knowing that nobody in the partner’s life knows about one’s existence or the existence of the relationship and its significance. 

Signs of Pocketing include: 

  1. Making excuses to make introductions to family and friends, or deflecting these conversation altogether 
  1. Avoiding work events or partake of any open activities that other couples may be seen being a part of 
  1. Meeting only in private 
  1. No indicators of a relationship on social media (given that the person is otherwise active) 
  1. If one happens to bump into someone from the partner’s social life, they do not acknowledge the relationship at all 

The ‘whys’ behind pocketing: 

There could be several reasons for people engaging in such behaviour, perhaps previous negative or hurtful relationship experiences have made them cautious, and there exists a fear of moving too fast too soon…but more often than not, it may simply be a way that a person responds to their own uncertainty or challenges with commitment, by keeping entanglements at a minimum.  

There are also situations wherein the person pocketing is involved in multiple relationships and hence wants to keep evidence of the same to a minimum. 

There could also be other fears around judgment from the partner about their family life or circumstances, and hence the hesitation to introduce them. 

There have been situations we have come across wherein pocketing has occurred within relationships that are outside of the cis-heteronormative expectations, wherein the partner who is perhaps struggling with their own sexual identity and unable to stand up to societal pressure to conform, group and age norms and perhaps also their own internalized bias and homonegativity,  has engaged in pocketing along with promises of love, which have ended up stringing the other person along for long periods of time. 

While pocketing isn’t okay, another possible reason could be due to fear and wanting to protect oneself or one’s partner in situations of inter-caste, inter-religious and same sex relationships. However, if there is such a cause for concern it becomes important to discuss it with one’s partner to prevent the adverse impact that can be brought on due to pocketing. 

Impact of Pocketing: 

No matter what the reason, pocketing is not okay, and can be very damaging to the wellbeing and sense of self of the person on the receiving end of this behaviour. 

  • The experience can be invalidating: Often in this situation there is no name to the relationship that is acknowledged by others, there may be no title, no indication to the world about its existence at all. The acknowledgement that those of us tend to receive from others at important markers of any relationship are missing, and it may feel stifling. Overtime this behaviour would lead to a person calling in question whether the relationship is real or not.  
  • Impact to selfhood: There will be an adverse impact to a person’s sense of self. Being hidden from the rest of one’s partner’s life may bring in doubts of one’s own self, judgment, self doubt, and the idea that one is ‘not enough’. 
  • Impact to emotions:  Impact to emotions will include a surge in anger, fear, apprehension, confusion, guilt and shame. There may also be moments of grief, acute loss, envy especially when looking at other couples who seem to have what one is longing for. This will largely lead to feelings of instability within the relationship. 
  • Impact to trust and future relationships: This experience may cause so much hurt and emotional damage that it impacts a persons ability to trust another, and may keep coming up as a pattern in future relationships as well. 

How can one respond? 

Remember, you are deserving of a validating love that honours you, and what you bring to the relationship. 

If you are experiencing pocketing, it’s not okay. Try talking to you partner and trying to understand the motivations behind the behaviour. However, if the relationship has gone on for a significant amount of time with no indication of change, then it’s a red flag that you need to take cognizance of to protect yourself. 

Remember it’s okay to feel what you are feeling, and it’s okay to reach out for support. 

Write to us and let us know how you would deal with this kind of situation or if you would like to know more! 

Written By Rosanna Rodrigues and Samriti Makkar Midha 

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