Is Paperclipping Considered Verbal Abuse In a Relationship?

January 5, 2023 Cheryl Wozny

Navigating relationships can be confusing, especially with narcissistic behaviors like paperclipping -- being kept on the backburner -- from a partner. Are you the victim of paperclipping? Knowing what to look for can help you avoid hanging onto the idea of a potential relationship with no possibility of commitment. 

What Is Paperclipping? 

The term paperclipping describes how a person temporarily reaches out to reconnect with someone they keep in the background. These people with potential partners on the back burner for an alternative option typically don't want a meaningful relationship. When the person is a narcissist, this behavior reinforces that they have choices and can get attention when needed to feed their ego

While having someone text you out of the blue isn't necessarily verbal abuse, repetitive actions like this with no intention of a real connection can damage your self-esteem. Paperclipping tends to keep a potential mate always yearning for more of a relationship as they wait for the next phone call or text message. 

Unfortunately, when I was most vulnerable, I experienced paperclipping with a love interest. After entering the dating scene once my first marriage broke down, a potential partner would periodically message me only often enough to keep me from seeking companionship from others. 

Paperclipping Is Manipulative Behavior 

Not every attempt at reconnection will classify as paperclipping. Some distinct ways to spot this behavior are: 

  • Text messages after months or years of absence
  • Reminding you that they are still single and looking 
  • Disappearing when the relationship becomes too serious but periodically reconnects 
  • Obvious patterns of reaching out and disappearing 

If a previous love interest wants to reconnect, knowing if this behavior is repetitive will help you determine if they want a relationship or just attention. 

Avoiding Paperclipping and Toxic Relationships

You aren't alone if you find yourself in a toxic relationship or a never-ending cycle of paperclipping. It took me years to recognize that someone was keeping me on the side as an option but never for a serious relationship. Even after telling myself I would not return messages, I still felt hopeful each time this person called on me, thinking next time would be different.

I think the best thing you can do for your mental health is to avoid someone who uses this method. Remember that you can learn from each mistake and make better choices for potential partners. It's never too late to find happiness in a relationship and someone who will treat you with respect. Although it took me years, I learned how to recognize the signs of a toxic relationship and found a mate perfect for me. 

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2023, January 5). Is Paperclipping Considered Verbal Abuse In a Relationship? , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Author: Cheryl Wozny

Cheryl Wozny is a freelance writer and published author of several books, including mental health resources for children titled, Why Is My Mommy So Sad? and Why is My Daddy So Sick? Writing has become her way of healing and helping others. Find Cheryl on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and her blog

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