Netflix's One Day promotes unhealthy 'backburner relationship' style

One Day is an example of a 'backburner relationship'. (Netflix)
One Day is an example of a 'backburner relationship'. (Netflix)

If you haven’t already watched Netflix’s One Day series, may we suggest you have a box of tissues handy for when you do?

The series, an adaptation of David Nichol’s 2009 book of the same name, follows characters Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew through nearly two decades of their lives after they meet on their university graduation night.


Yet, despite a deep and lasting friendship developing, it takes years for the pair to actually get together romantically – a key sign of a ‘backburner relationship’.

“A 'back-burner' relationship, is where one or both individuals in a romantic dynamic consider each other as options for a future romantic engagement while not committing to a serious relationship in the present moment,” Annabelle Knight, Sex and Relationship expert at Lovehoney, says.

“Essentially, these individuals are kept in reserve, much like keeping a pot simmering on the back burner of a stove, not ready to serve but still being warmed and ready to go if and when they need them.”

Knight adds that Emma and Dex, as he is known in the show, display typical behaviours of backburner relationships.

Ambika Mod as Emma and Leo Woodall as Dexter in One Day. (Netflix)
Ambika Mod as Emma and Leo Woodall as Dexter in One Day. (Netflix)

“They keep in touch, yet flitter in and out of romantic relationships with other people, they have rules to ensure things don’t get too familiar when on holiday together, and they have a history that dates back to their being at university,” she explains.

Signs of a backburner relationship

Along with the examples above, Knight says some other signs you may be in a backburner relationship include:

  • Infrequent, yet consistent communication: “Partners may not talk every day but keep the line of communication open just enough to maintain interest.”

  • Ambiguous plans: “Conversations about the future are vague, with neither party making concrete commitments.”

  • Emotional investment is limited: “Emotional depth and vulnerability are often restrained, as both parties might be protecting themselves from getting too attached.”

How common are backburner relationships?

Despite One Day being set largely in the Nineties, Knight says that many of the aspects of a backburner relationship are “increasingly commonplace” in modern life.

“Social media and dating apps have transformed how we view availability and choice in dating,” she adds. “With apps and social media, there's always the sense that there are endless options, leading some to hesitate in fully committing, fearing they might miss out on 'something better.' This can lead to a lot of ‘back-burner’ style relationships amongst old friends, as is the case in One Day.”

Don’t romanticise a backburner relationship

Knight warns that, despite the sweeping love story featured in One Day, we shouldn’t be romanticising backburner relationships as they can toy with our mental state.

”While 'back-burner' relationships might seem practical and fun, they can lead to emotional distress,” she warns.

“The ambiguity and lack of commitment can create insecurity and anxiety. Individuals should try and figure out what they truly want from a relationship and communicate openly with their friends or partners. If you find yourself in a 'back-burner' situation, maybe think about whether it's truly serving your emotional needs."

Relationships: Read more