Dating has long had its own lexicon, like “playing the field” versus “going steady.” But as more people meet online and communication channels grow complex, new dating terms abound as we struggle with erratic text responses or parse the “real” meaning behind an emoji.
Here’s a guide to steer you through the fast-changing terminology of modern dating.
Modern dating terms
In days of yore, dating was a simple affair: Meet someone at school or at a party, arrange to go on a date, meet at the right time and place, and see if you like each other. The follow-up was equally simple: Call or don’t call. Arrange a second date, or don’t.
Now, terms like “ghosting” and “zombieing” might make you think you’re in a horror movie. (And of course, dating can be its own form of horror when things go wrong.) Others, like catfishing, can sound relatively benign while being downright criminal.
In many cases, the terms refer to ways to keep in contact with people you’re not all-in on dating at the present moment. Many of these terms indicate “deliberately leaving the door open,” said Julie Spira, online dating expert and founder of Cyber-Dating Expert. They often describe methods of trying to keep potential romantic paths open when you’re pursuing multiple people at once.
“There’s more bad behavior [in dating these days], but I think it’s also because people are communicating with more people at a time than they used to,” said Spira.
So how can you tell what approach your potential love interest is taking with you? Here are the terms that might describe what’s happening.
- Ghosting is the most commonly used and oldest of the modern dating terms. It refers to a tactic of suddenly ending communication with a person you’re dating without formally telling the person you’re breaking up with them. If you’re ghosted, you’re left to come to a realization you’ve been dumped on your own. “The reason ghosting is so prevalent is that people can get excited for a split second on a dating app and then they can meet someone else, and then they can just disappear,” Spira said. “It’s a coward’s way of ending a relationship.”
- Breadcrumbing: You’re being breadcrumbed when your date seems to be leading you on—communicating intermittently and sending you signals of interest every once in a while—but otherwise being noncommittal and silent. Maybe the person ignores your texts for days and then suddenly sends you a gushing email or calls you to chat. Maybe they ignore your calls for weeks, then suddenly invite you on a date.
- Benching: When you’re corresponding with someone online but they keep putting off your efforts to meet in person, you’re probably getting benched. The idea is that you’re on the bench (as in sports) while others play the game. The person who has benched you may be meeting others in person while they keep you waiting around as a fallback option.
- Microcheating: This term describes behaviors that test the limits of emotional or physical infidelity. It’s difficult to give a firm definition because those limits vary among individuals and relationships. For some, microcheating may occur when their partner is checking out people’s profiles on Tinder or flirting with people they meet. For others, it may not become a problem until their partner is sharing lingering touches with co-workers or conducting intimate phone calls with someone else.
- Zombie dating (aka zombieing): Once someone has ghosted you, you often don’t ever hear from them again. But occasionally, someone will pop back up and contact you as if nothing ever happened. This is called zombieing, in reference to someone “coming back from the dead.” Someone may try zombieing after another relationship has fallen apart and they want to get their former partner back without a lot of discussion about what happened.
- Slow fade: A slow fade is when someone you’re dating gradually stops contacting you little by little. It’s a way to end the relationship passively without facing the guilt that comes with ghosting someone. However, enduring this can be even more annoying and painful than ghosting because you may be dogged by confusion or hold out hope that something will change.
- Catfishing: This term is used when someone uses romantic interest to scam people out of money, and it’s the most ominous and criminal among the dating bad behaviors on this list. Catfishers pretend to be people they’re not and carry on online correspondences with targets who are lonely, vulnerable and not savvy about online scams. People have been tricked out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by “romantic partners” who suddenly find themselves in need of financial help.
- Orbiting: Like the moon that comes in and out of view as it orbits the Earth, a person who is orbiting pops up occasionally on your social media channels after breaking it off. They might like your Facebook post or comment on your Instagram photo, keeping a peripheral connection with you, perhaps to keep the prospect of a reunion in the back of your mind. For example, you start a promising relationship but soon, that person cools things off for no apparent reason. “They want [a] backup plan, said Spira. That’s when you can see people doing the orbiting, where they still interact with you on social.”
- Cushioning: Cushioning refers to staying in communication with a potential love interest to get an ego boost. The person doing the cushioning may be in another relationship or may simply not be that interested in you, but will still reach out and flirt. If their current relationship ends, having someone to flirt with can “cushion” the blow.
- Stashing: Getting stashed is basically being hidden by someone you’re dating. They never introduce you to anyone in their life and don’t take you out to public places where either of you might know anyone. You’ll probably have the disconcerting impression that the person is ashamed of you or shouldn’t be dating you for some reason, such as if they are already in another relationship.
Can you trust your date? Arm yourself with information
While the internet makes modern dating more complex, you can also learn more about potential romantic partners.
Before getting serious with someone, a background check may reveal red flags. You can use a people search tool to try and see if a suitor is actually married, has an arrest record or maintains social media aliases you don’t know. Pay attention to anything that makes you question how truthful your potential paramour is being with you.
How to tell if your date is really interested
With all these new terms flying around—and more being coined all the time—modern dating can seem absurdly complicated. But ultimately, all these terms are just different ways to say that the dating relationship isn’t as wholehearted as you’d like. People being orbited, benched or stashed may not know those terms; “they just know that something’s off with the person they’re seeing and they’re being sort of blown off,” Spira said.
If communication with someone you’re dating seems to be “off,” you can proactively distance yourself from the relationship before you make a bigger emotional investment.
Is there a term for that?