How Did the ‘Slow Fade’ Become the New Breakup?


What’s behind this disappearing phenomenon? (Illustration: Erik Mace for Yahoo Health)

You’ve met someone. And this one’s great.

You’re super excited about where things are headed. Maybe not to the altar — no one can know that yet. (You’re not delusional!) But it seems like this person would be a great plus-one for your cousin’s wedding in July, or worthy of that extra $100 ticket you got to that concert in August. You may have only been on a few dates, but they’ve all been practically perfect. Things are looking good.

But then, suddenly, something shifts, out of nowhere — almost imperceptibly at first.

An ignored text. An unreturned email. Excuses like, “I’ve just been so busy at work.” A canceled date … and then another: “Sorry, I’m going out of town.” No effort to reschedule.

Internally, you’re panicking, because you’ve been here before. This is a slow fade, you realize, and soon you know this person with the amazing potential will be completely gone from your life — and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. 

“You will never get closure in these types of situations, which is what almost everyone wants,” Boston-based dating coach Neely Steinberg tells Yahoo Health. “It’s always, ‘Why did you just disappear? I need to know!’

It’s one of the most frustrating aspects of modern dating culture: Disappearing is easy, and it happens often. Fading out is the new quasi-breakup.

Truth #1: Slow fades happen when things start getting real.

You’re dating, having a fabulous time, and everything seems to be great, until:

1. The other person suddenly realizes the relationship is going to seriously evolve — like, imminently — unless he/she pumps the brakes.

2. The other person figures out he/she’s “just not that into you.”

Enter the slow fade.

“In these situations, when one partner ‘needs’ more than the other individual is willing or able to give, they find it easier to simply begin backing away,” psychologist and counselor Karla Ivankovich, tells Yahoo Health.

Often, the slow fader feels like he or she is drowning. “Perhaps they were dating and then, at a certain point, it’s obvious the other person starts having expectations about the person and the relationship,” Steinberg says. “And the other person has two choices: ‘OK, I’m in, let’s do this, let’s have a relationship!’ or, ‘Oh, shit, I’m not ready for a commitment,’ or, ‘I’m not sure about this person,’ or, ‘I just don’t know what I want.’”

Related: The Number One Relationship Problem, According To Therapists — and How to Fix It

Rather than communicate fears and concerns — not an easy conversation to have — the slow fader gradually slips away, “so that the other person will get the hint without having to have an open discussion,” says Steinberg. 

She also says that this is why a slow fader will often still show signs of interest even as they’re disappearing, making the ultimate poof! moment that much more confusing. “They are conflicted themselves,” Steinberg says. “They want to know that you’re still there, that you’re still an option, that the door hasn’t fully closed, just in case they have an epiphany about you.” (Which they may, later on. We’ll get to that.)

Truth #2: Millennials are primed to pull a slow fade.

It’s not you; it’s the generation. According to Ivankovich, millennials are practically groomed to pull a slow fade. “There are two concepts I refer to on a daily basis: ‘Our ADD Nation’ and ‘Our Disposable Society,’” she says. “In the ‘ADD Nation,’ children are taught to jump from sport, to activity, to interest, to academics, and to do so with intense frequency. If you are not excelling at something, get rid of it.”

And while no one is perfect, we’re primed to think that we can always get closer, do better, or find a better fit without putting in any additional work. We think we can simply “trade up.” This is the idea behind the concept of the “Disposable Society,” Ivankovich says.

Related: Should We All Be In ‘Monogamish’ Relationships?

“We are more inclined to toss the item, or relationship, than to actually put the time in to address the problem and fix it, especially with relationships,” Ivankovich says. “As you can imagine, commitment is not as important in this concept.”

Truth #3: That being said, its harder for millennials to truly fade out.

Blame social media. It may seem easier “to do the slow fade for younger people, who are more tapped into technology,” says Steinberg. “A few less texts than normal, a few less emails than normal, and then slowly … poof. But I think it’s also harder for younger people to truly vanish, because they’re all on social media, which is actually one of the most difficult things about the slow fade: They’re never really gone.”

This is tough on their fadee — who’s left wondering what the heck went wrong. “You can still see them and their activities on social media,” Steinberg says. “You get caught up in the whole social-media stalking thing, and that can hinder you from just moving on.” 

But that’s not all. Social media is also tough on the slow fader, and it’s why he or she may just walk back into your life. If you’re living well, looking good in those Instagram photos, or meeting someone new, they may start to reconsider tossing you out. “Social media perpetuates the myth that everyone is happy and living life to the fullest,” she says. “And remember your grandmother’s old saying: You only want something when someone else has it. We are a society of coveters, so imagine your surprise when someone else has gladly engaged in a relationship with what you previously tossed away.” 

So should you give a slow fader a second chance? 

Let’s say a slow fader comes back from the dating graveyard. They say they’ve made a big mistake, or maybe they simply ask you out again. But should you actually entertain the notion of a relationship with this person?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer here. “Sure, a person can be worth a second try in some cases, but proceed with caution,” Steinberg says. “There needs to be open and honest communication about what happened [and] how you were hurt, and boundaries need to be set, communicated, and held to.” 

“A sincere apology is nice, but their actions need to prove their words true,” Steinberg adds. 

And there’s certainly no guarantee they won’t fool you twice, which is why Ivankovich is a skeptic. “Leopards don’t change their spots,” she says. “Personalities are consistent over the course of a lifetime. If it happened once, it will happen again.” 

With all that, Ivankovich says she is also a realist. “People get back together because it is comfortable,” she explains. “The devil you know is far easier to get back into bed with than the one you need to get to know. … It’s a personal choice.”  

If you do decide to re-engage with a slow fader, you have to let go of the past and the way it ended (or rather, faded). “It is not appropriate to go back into a relationship ‘looking’ for the next time they screw up,” Ivankovich says. “This is setting the relationship up for failure before it even gets back in motion, so in order to make it work, there needs to be two completely agreeable people.”  

Only you can decide whether it’s worth it.

Read This Next: Why Breaking Up Is So Hard To Do

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