If you’re just entering the dating market, there’s a whole new language you’ll need to learn. New buzzwords pop up all the time to explain some of the more common-yet-baffling behaviors out there. The newly named phenomena people ask me most about tend to fall in the “fading in and out” category.
Even just 10 years ago, it was much harder to meet people because you had to risk rejection more frequently. While I was writing my book, men in their 30s would recall their early days of dating. “You got a phone number, it was like gold,” one guy recalled to me, surrounded by a bunch of his buddies (who quickly agreed).
When you managed to snag someone’s digits back then, you used ‘em. You asked people out. You followed through, over and over, until you knew whether or not you had enough in common to keep seeing each other — and you typically told the person whether or not you saw it going anywhere.
Today, daters have many options, and they like to keep things open-ended. In 2017, with apps and online dating, you have enough phone numbers to pursue a new person every night of the week — and then some.
This has led to a generation of crippled decision makers who opt to keep things casual for a long time, have the lightning-quick ability to shuffle their prospects, and have terrible communication patterns.
And it’s created an epidemic of fading in and out on unsuspecting prospects, à la the now classic “ghosting” method. There are actually lots of terms to describe different kinds of “fades,” but let’s define three biggies:
Most people are familiar with this term, but as a quick refresher, “ghosting” refers to a dating prospect who suddenly disappears from your life without warning. Usually, this happens within the first few dates. Suddenly, they’re simply MIA and you cannot reach them via phone call, text, email or social media.
Not that you can’t see them on social media. While some ghosts may decide to totally erase their trail and go “poof,” lots leave those social connections intact — so you can see your ghost, while suddenly dead to you, is not dead to the world. (It’s also especially traumatic to see a ghost living it up while you’re still mourning their sudden departure.)
Since there are a lot of prospects in play, many daters try to keep in touch with multiple at one time. If you’re dating someone who’s throwing up lots of roadblocks in the progression of the relationship, they’ve got you on “bench.” They’re keeping in touch semi-regularly, but they’re not exactly itching to make a commitment or to get to know you quickly.
He or she could be dating someone else, but still kind of interested in you. Or it could be a bad time for them to make a commitment, and they’re trying to sort through their personal life, or they date casually until they’re “ready.”
Another (more frustrating) form of benching is “breadcrumbing,” where a prospect peppers you with just enough attention and vague communication to keep your interest — with no intention of actually meeting up.
Of course, you don’t know that.
It takes work to get over someone significant, or even maybe-significant, and keep on keepin’ on — but zombies won’t allow that. This prospect (or even ex) is someone you completely wrote off, got over and forgot about. Until, of course, they come back from the dead. Often “ghosts” turn into “zombies,” because hey, they never explicitly told you they were ending it, right?
Sometimes zombies re-emerge from the metaphorical dating graveyard with a rush of old feelings. Sometimes they don’t. It can be amusing, intriguing or infuriating to suddenly hear from a prospect to whom you last spoke some six months or a year ago.
Now, here’s the question of the moment: If someone suddenly exits your life without communicating why, and then comes back around weeks or months later, should you ever entertain dating them?
A lot of people will tell you no. No! Move on. They had their chance, and there are no do-overs — especially when that person clearly can’t communicate well.
I’d say that it’s more complicated than that. It all depends on how you view the situation.
Scenario #1: Let’s say you’re ambivalent, and always were.
If you venture back to the moment you realized you were not a priority, and you do not have strong feelings about it, proceed as you see fit. Maybe you were playing the field too. Maybe you weren’t really sure how much chemistry existed between you two, and had other options.
If you’re intrigued now and were never emotionally invested, then sure. Chat. Meet up. Start over. There’s no harm. Hey, you might even find there’s more to the person than initially met the eye — or, of course, you can ignore them or politely tell them you are no longer interested.
Scenario #2: Let’s say you felt real potential back when the person disappeared.
More often than not, people ask me about entertaining a return visitor when they felt the connection might evolve into something more substantial than a few dates. So, maybe you went out with the person, had a really great time, enjoyed great conversation, had a lot of chemistry, perhaps were even on the cusp of a relationship … and they left without warning. Gah!
If that’s you, then you’re not alone and weak for looking back; lots of people end up in this situation and feel torn. Here’s what to do:
I have always taken the viewpoint that people are complex, ever-changing creatures. Most people are looking for love, just not all the time. Men and women date with different intentions. In addition to finding a relationship or love, there’s also plenty of people dating for mindless escapism, therapy, practice, or fun. They’re dating, but also “really busy with their career,” getting over an ex, playing the field for a while … you get the picture.
With that, people operate in the dating scene with varying levels of openness to legitimate connection. So sometimes when a preoccupied person does meet a prospect that carries a little too much potential, they don’t pursue it for exactly that reason: They’re not in the right place. Timing really does wreak havoc sometimes. They also don’t know how to tell you this, so they don’t communicate it at all, which only adds to the mess.
If you were ready to for a maybe-relationship and your zombie/former ghost/bencher was not, and you still feel potential, proceed with caution. If it bugged you on an emotional level to find closure way back when, then it’s worth questioning now. Since communication is always the start of anything solid, clear the air first.
Ask what happened. Ask why they left things the way they did. And then take a beat to think about their response.
If they have a legitimate reason for their distraction at the time, which checks out upon examination, you can try again — but slowly and from ground zero, not where you left off last. If they want back into your life, they have to earn it. It’s their job to get your trust back, so wait to invest until they have a new track record of communication and consistency.
If you ask what happened when they ghosted, and you don’t like what you hear on a gut level, don’t fool yourself. Don’t entertain it again. If they’re overly vague, arrogant, or totally unrepentant about their behavior — and something just doesn’t sit right about the response — just move on. Plenty of people will pull this stuff out of boredom or simply to play games. You definitely don’t need that.
Is pulling a disappearing act of some sort selfish? Yes. Will said person always be this way? Maybe, maybe not. That’s for you to find out — but only if you want to.
Never forget, if a ghost comes back as a zombie, you suddenly have the agency again. Use it wisely.
Jenna Birch is a journalist, dating coach, and author of The Love Gap (Grand Central Life & Style, January 2018). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Friday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to email@example.com with “YAHOO QUESTION” in the subject line.
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