Is your monkey branching boyfriend laying the seeds of a future betrayal?
Is that betrayal already here?
Or is this all just a case of a person who didn’t get the memo about the unwritten boundaries of romantic exclusivity?
Welcome to the world of monkey branching where immaturity, insecurity, resentment and miscommunication all contribute to making you feel like you’ve been sidelined.
But emotional chaos aside, does monkey branching spell the end of the relationship? Not necessarily. Let’s take a closer look.
What Is Monkey Branching?
Monkey branching is the act of preparing to “swing” from one relationship to another, or from branch to branch, despite already being committed in a relationship.
Just so we’re clear: Your boyfriend is the monkey (no surprises there), and the branches are the people he’s flirting with. The branches, in this case, represent a way to avoid hitting the ground if his current branch (you) snaps.
The simplest way of visualizing this is to ask yourself whether your boyfriend pretends he’s single when he isn’t. I’m not talking about a man who just doesn’t mention he has a girlfriend, I’m talking about a man who is openly flirting.
What This Looks Like In Practice
It’s time to compare notes. Here are some typical monkey branching signs that I feel are pretty common.
- Your boyfriend passes his phone number around and engages in long, pointless, emoji-filled conversations with other women.
- He reacts defensively (guiltily) if he catches you peeking at him engaging in one of these conversations.
If your boyfriend is generally quite flirtatious, and you’re pretty certain it’s just a reflection of his bubbly nature, then fair enough. But the fact that you’re here, reading this, makes me feel otherwise. There’s something troubling you about his actions, and I’m here to help you solidify why your brain is raising red flags.
Harmless Fun Or Prelude To Cheating?
Monkey branching is usually denoted as a sign your boyfriend is predisposed to cheating. But is that really the case?
Flirting To Build Rapport
Telling the difference will require context.
Think back to when you and your boyfriend were dating. Compare his flirtatious behavior then, with how he interacts with other women now. How does it stack up?
If it does look similar, chances are he is flirting. But it doesn’t always mean he’s looking for romantic greener pastures.
While flirting is inextricably linked with romantic interest, it is also a way for us to bond with people and build rapport. In short, it can help make us more likeable or approachable, not just as potential mates, but as friends or acquaintances. Flirting is a tool that many of us routinely use to pierce defenses and get what we want from people we don’t know well.
So, yes, there’s a chance that flirting is his way of building bridges (rather than actively working to tear yours down).
When Flirting Becomes Dangerous
Flirting can be a dangerous to your relationship in two ways.
- When it makes the flirter’s partner (you) insecure and damages trust.
- When the flirting is used as a bridge to cheating.
Permit me to say that if you’re reading this, the first of these options is already starting to affect your trust in the relationship. While your boyfriend’s actions might just be a passing thought, those thoughts are now there and clearly something about his behavior is raising red flags.
This will need to be addressed or it will lead to resentment (or cheating if the second danger sign is true), but more on this later.
Signs He’s Considering Cheating
In order to help you make your mind up about what your boyfriend’s intention is, here’s a personal list of signs I feel indicate that there’s more to his flirting than just being friendly.
- He’s defensive and acts guiltily for no real reason. This includes bewildering overreactions.
- He no longer seems to care about achieving or building towards relationship goals.
- He spends less time with you (though if the relationship is fresh, this is inevitable, so use your judgement here).
- He is making an effort to look his best for no discernable reason.
- His keeps his phone or social media accounts far away from you.
- Your sex life noticeably wanes.
It is important to differentiate between a relationship which is naturally transitioning from attraction to attachment, from a sudden and bizarre change in behavior that may indicate he’s considering cheating.
If you’ve only been in a relationship few a few months to a year, there will be a noticeable “relaxing of gears” as you enter the long-term stage or the relationship. Don’t confuse this with a lack of interest on his part.
However, if you were already in an established, long-term relationship, these signs can indicate a shift in priorities that will require your attention (even if it isn’t cheating, but a slip in romantic interest).
Dealing With A Monkey Branching Boyfriend
Let’s deal with the least worrying scenario first; that his flirting is just a way to make connections and appear likeable. What now?
If His Flirting Makes You Uncomfortable
The concern here is balancing our desire to feel safe in our relationship with his natural tendency to flirt. At what point does his behavior justify our indignation? Is it fair of us to demand he change his behavior?
I would argue that there does come a point when flirtatious behavior becomes a mark of disrespect towards you and the relationship.
The thin red line is a personal one. But here’s where I would draw the line, maybe you’ll agree, maybe you won’t.
- When he prioritizes his flirts over me.
- When he takes steps to actively hide the fact that he’s in a committed relationship.
- When he starts getting defensive about his new “connections”.
- When his flirting is obviously laced with sexual innuendo.
- When he starts hiding aspects of his life from me that he didn’t before.
These are my red flags when it comes to flirting. And frankly, I’d also say these behaviors justify you demanding to have a talk.
What to do: Let him know in no uncertain terms that his actions are making you feel like a backseat driver, and that it is affecting your ability to feel secure in the relationship.
Don’t beat about the bush. If he’s guilty there’s a chance he will attempt to shame you or make you feel like you’re overreacting, but that should serve as more fuel for your fire.
If You Think He Is Cheating Or Intends To
There is no negotiation with a cheating partner. This doesn’t mean you can’t patch things up. It just means that they’ve made the decision to seek romantic solace outside of the relationship, and they didn’t consult you, so now it’s up to you to decide what is acceptable for you.
It’s time to take a step back.
What to do: Break the tension by taking a step back, but let him know why. Removing yourself from the situation will allow you to free yourself from any guilt, confusion or mental fog stemming from dealing with his mixed signals in close proximity. You need to detox and then decide what is best for you.
If he steps forward as you move back–great. Use this willingness to communicate as a way of discussing what’s going on.