Today, there is a name for everything, so it’s only natural that new terms have been invented for everything to do with dating. These new terms include cuffing season, ghosting,hauntingand zombieing. They reveal psychological processes that help us make sense of what’s happening in the dating world, so it’s worthwhile knowing what they mean.
Let’s begin with a timely one – cuffing season. Cuffing season refers to the winter months, when people who are usually happily single start to seek a committed relationship. With the days getting shorter and the nights longer, the temperature dropping and the trees becoming bare, it’s the perfect time for cosy nights in with your loved one, building a relationship. It is the optimal time of year for past partners to creep up on you, too. If an ex-partner is single, they might try to come back you to spend these cosy nights in with you. Clinical psychologist Seth Meyersexplains that ‘our energy levels are lower during the colder weather and we are moodier’, so we have less motivation to organise interesting dates. This, coupled with poor winter weather, means we have fewer places to go and things to do. This makes us seek out an easier option, such as a past partner.
This may help to explain why ghosting in relationships is on the rise. Ghosting refers to when an individual ‘disappears’ without a trace. One day, two people are communicating as normal, and the next, one of them just stops. Ghosting someone can be a way of avoiding your own emotional anguish. However, it can also be passive-aggressive and intentional; it’s a cowardly way to end a relationship. Researchhas shown that emotional rejection activates the same pathways in the brain as physical pain does (MacDonald & Leary, 2005). Being ghosted is painful and means the person who has been ghosted has no closure. They may have several questions for their partner – why did you do this? Don’t you love me any more? What went wrong?
Some people are more likely to ghost than others. Researchhas shown that people with stronger ‘destiny’ beliefs (as opposed to growth beliefs) are more likely to ghost another person or intend to ghost (Freedman et al., 2018). Those who have ‘destiny’ beliefsbelieve that relationships succeed or fail because two people are either inherently compatible, or they’re not. If a problem were to arise, destiny theorists are more likely to conclude that the relationship was not meant to be rather than work to overcome these problems and find a solution; they are more likely to ghost someone than face the problem head-on. In contrast, people with growth beliefsthink that relationships thrive when people overcome challenges and obstacles; they think this helps the relationship to grow and develop. It’s important to remember that being ghosted says nothing about you, and everything about your ex. Move on to find your next potential match.
While ghosting refers to current relationships ending abruptly, there are also terms to describe past partners creeping back into your life. This is done indirectly by haunting or directly by zombieing.
Haunting refers to when – after a substantial amount of time and no communication – a past love begins to subtly resurface in your life. This is done, for example, by liking your posts on social media, which makes you think of them without them actively communicating with you. Why are they following me on social media? Why are they liking my posts? These ghosts from past relationships usually only stop haunting you when they have found someone else to fixate on. Unfortunately, there is noghostbusterthat we can call for you to get rid of them. So, keep an eye out and ensure you don’t engage with a haunting ex.
Zombieing differs from haunting in that it is an active way of an ex coming back into your life; it’s as if someone has just come back from the dead. They send a ‘Hey, how are you?’ message out of the blue and begin to communicate with you as if they only spoke to you yesterday. People tend to be zombied when the person who is zombieing is regretting their decision to end the relationship, or simply because they’re feeling bored and lonely. As it can bring back feelings of nostalgia,it can make you question why now, after all this time, when you are moving forward with your life, they have decided to come back into it.
Haunting and zombieing can be psychologically draining, since getting over an ex is emotionally challenging. They’re both a form of control, and can prevent a vulnerable person from moving on with their life because they bring a sense of false hope that there’s a chance of getting back together. On the flip side, it may be genuine and your ex may be coming back into your life because they genuinely miss you. The key is to figure out why this is happening. Is your ex only thinking about his own emotions, or is he genuine? If they really want you back in their life, then you’d find out quite soon: they would apologise or try to win you back. If the same person ghosts, haunts or zombies you more than once, then it’s more than likely down to boredom. They’re trying to manipulate you and keep some control over you. It’s definitely time to move on.
Let’s look at some more of the newer dating terms.
Cushioningis the act of actively pursuing someone who is already taken, keeping them close to you. Imagine the person you like is in a steady relationship. You don’t flirt with them but you talk to them regularly, you have inside jokes and shared memories, and you tag them on social media. But you have an ulterior motive. You are preparing to be their ‘cushion’ if things don’t work out with the person they’re with. Or you might prepare someone to be your ‘cushion’ if your current relationship ends – this can be seen as infidelity.
It’s best to have firm boundaries in place when you’re communicating with someone who is in a relationship. If you’re in a relationship, respect the person you’re with by not overstepping your boundaries. This will avoid cushioning. Cushioning is about putting a lot of effort into someone, with the hope it might lead somewhere. The opposite is breadcrumbing(or ‘Hansel and Gretteling’, after the fairy tale with the dark twist). This means sending out flirtatious, but noncommittal, text ‘breadcrumbs’ to lure someone in without expending a lot of effort. There is no point getting your hopes up about a breadcrumber; they’re just bored.
The final back-up scenario is benching, which is very common – and frustrating. Benchinghappens when someone is unsure about being in a relationship and doesn’t want to commit to you, so they stop contacting you and start cancelling dates at the last minute, making excuses not to meet up. However, they don’t want to commit to replacing you and end up regretting their decision so they keep you on the bench, just like a substitute in football. If they can’t find anything better or they finally decide they want you, they’ll take you off the bench. Be wary of people who do this: as quickly as they can take you off the bench, they can also move on to someone else.
When we talk about appearances, we mean how you present yourself to other people. Are you showing them your true self, a Photoshopped version, or a different person altogether? At Seventy Thirtywe discuss with our clients the importance of good, accurate photos and information. This does them justice by representing them in the best light, but still portrays an accurate representation of themselves. This brings us on to the next term,kittenfishing. Kittenfishing means showing inaccurate photos of yourself: for example, Photoshopped photos, photos using filters, or photos taken years ago that don’t show how you look now. It can even mean changing your personality depending on how you think your partner wants you to be, and lying about things you are interested in. Kittenfishing is more prevalent now than in previous years, due to an increase in the number ofappsthat can make you look slimmer, alter your skin tone and change your appearance with the click of a button.
Even more extreme than kittenfishing is catfishing. This term originated from a 2010 film, and it often begins due to a lack of self-confidence. Individuals use a fake identity and someone else’s pictures for their profile on dating sites and social media, and go the extra mile to make another person believe their fake identity is actually them. They may become so engrossed in their lies and false reality that they can’t admit what they’ve done. Catfishing is psychologically damaging: if you’re catfished, you’ll find it harder to trust other people. It’s important to remember to be yourself when dating. There is no point in lying, as lies will catch up with you eventually.
Hot and cold
If someone isn’t fully invested in you but doesn’t want to be without you, they may blow hot and cold – they may treat you inconsistently, sometimes being lovely, and at other times being nasty.
Love bombingis when a relationship starts out as a whirlwind romance, all hearts and grand gestures. It is highly manipulative and can be a way to gain control over another person. They will tell you they love you very early on, and that they’ve never felt this way about anyone. You may be flattered, and think you feel the same about them – but when you start to reciprocate, they will lose interest in you. They enjoy the chase but as soon as they manage to catch the person they are after, they start looking for the next chase.
The final term is known as stashingor Jekyll and Hyde-ing. ‘Stashing refers to the act of dating someone seriously, only to have them hide you away from everyone they know’ (Salaky, 2017). They are affectionate when they see you, but they don’t tell their friends and family about you, and don’t share pictures of you on their social media; they ‘stash’ you away. Maybe they’re benching you, maybe they’re cushioning someone else, but they are definitely not committing to you, so it’s time to move on to someone who wants to tell the world about your relationship.
It’s important to remember that people who act in any of these ways are only thinking abouttheirfeelings, not about the psychological effects their behaviour might have on another person. It is okay to feel pain, sadness and confusion if you’re treated like this, but to be able to move forward and continue the journey to find everlasting love, you need to find happiness within yourself. It can’t be dictated by someone else. To hear more on this topic, listen to our podcast,‘Are you up to date with dating terms?’
MacDonald, G. & Leary, M.R. (2005) ‘Why does social exclusion hurt? The relationship between social and physical pain.’ Psychological Bulletin, 131(2), 202.
Freedman, G., Powell, D.N., Le, B. & Williams, K.D. (2018) ‘Ghosting and destiny: Implicit theories of relationships predict beliefs about ghosting.’ Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0265407517748791.
Salaky, K. (2017) ‘Everything you need to know about the newest trend wrecking your dating life – stashing.’ Retrieved from http://uk.businessinsider.com/what-is-stashing-dating-trend-2017-8