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Ghosting, Orbiting, Breadcrumbing, and Other Modern Relationship Terms Explained

couple talking to each other on a couch.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Relationships have never been simple. But in today’s modern era, the lexicon of terms we use to describe how two people fall in and out of love is more expansive than ever before. Dating in a mostly digital world (with the rise of various dating apps) has changed romantic relationships for good. The good ol’ days of there being only three stages of a relationship; dating, engaged, and married, are long gone.

Now, there are new relationship terms for every beginning and end-stage of your dating life, whether the person you’re seeing is seeing other people (roaching) or a new infatuation showers you with love and attention for weeks before suddenly falling off the face of the planet (love bombing).

It’s all very confusing and complicated, which is why we’re here to decode your dating life. Below, you’ll find a complete glossary of modern relationship terms to help you define the undefinable relationship and give you the clarity you need to either move on or take it to the next level.

Ghosting

Ghosting is nothing new in today’s modern dating culture. It describes the act of abruptly — and seemingly without reason — stopping all communication within a budding romantic relationship. The ghoster vanishes into thin air, ignoring the other person’s text, calls, and carrier pigeon memos, ceasing all contact.

The worst thing about ghosting is that it leaves the other person completely bewildered and confused as to where it all went wrong. Whether you’ve been seeing each other for a while or you’re still in the beginning stages of a romantic relationship, ghosting is a sudden and complete end to whatever two people had going on—like it never even happened in the first place.

Some psychologists believe ghosting is a form of emotional cruelty and deepens feelings of abandonment and desertion. If you’re seeing someone and it’s not working out for whatever reason, it’s best to break up with them the right way, even if it might be a difficult conversation.

Haunting

After ghosting comes haunting. Sometimes people that ghost a potential partner will pop back up in that person’s life, once again without warning or explanation. Haunting isn’t direct, like a text or phone call. It’s subtle and usually done through social media. Haunters may like an Instagram photo or react to your story after ghosting you, taking you by surprise. These lazy attempts at connection shouldn’t be taken as anything other than a ghost trying to cause trouble. If they wanted to reach out and rekindle the flame, they have your phone number.

iPhone opened, showing its applications.
Benjamin Sow

Submarining

Submarining is similar to haunting, but instead of being subtle about their attempt to pop back into your life, they’ll resurface completely, like a submarine. A ghoster might reach out via text and act like nothing ever happened, without an apology or acknowledgment for the ghosting that occurred in the first place. Submarines will always find their way back into the shadows of the deep mysterious sea, so don’t mistake the resurfacing for real connection.

Zombieing

So far, we’ve learned that ghosts can haunt and submarine, and finally, they can also zombie. A zombie describes a ghost that pops back into someone’s life months or even years past the original ghosting and tries to re-establish a connection. The zombie might try to fool you into thinking they’re a new person, and that they didn’t mean to ghost you originally, but don’t fall for it.

Orbiting

Orbiting is the new ghosting, apparently. With social media the way it is today, it’s rare that someone will completely disappear forever. Instead, they’ll likely orbit your world of social media, constantly monitoring your life updates and general musings. It’s a persistent lurking, but without actually ever engaging in conversations or any attempts at connection.

You see them watching you, and after a while, your might start to wonder why. There is no simple explanation. Maybe they think the unfollow button is too harsh a punishment, or maybe they are just that curious. Either way, you’ll never know – unless they come back as a submarine or zombie.

man sitting face down while texting.
Courtney Clayton

Breadcrumbing

Breadcrumbing comes from the old German fairytale, Hansel and Gretel. It describes the act of leaving proverbial breadcrumbs that may lead someone to believe you like them in the form of texts, calls, and general social media attention. It’s just enough engagement to keep you interested but ultimately, unsatisfied.

Breadcrumbs are often a trail to nowhere. A breadcrumber will play games, avoid words and gestures of genuine intent, and never fully lead you down the path toward a real relationship.

couple dating in a restaurant.
Matt W. Newman

Benching

As you know, in sports, players on the bench are ready and waiting to get in on the game. In modern relationships, benching is the act of “stacking your roster” with potential players that could, one day, get called up to see some time on the court. You might bench someone that has expressed interest in the past, but for whatever reason, the timing has never worked out. Someone also might bench you if they’re not ready for a real relationship, and you are. Regardless, benching usually involves some breadcrumbing.

Situationship

A situationship involves two people entering a romantic relationship out of convenience or due to circumstances outside of genuine interest. This can be as a result of living proximity, like when you start seeing your neighbor because the commute is easy. A situationship by nature has an expiration date that aligns with the end of your situation, whether that’s a move across town or the end of cuffing season.

The Slow Fade

If ghosting is an abrupt end to a relationship, a slow fade is death by a thousand cuts. A slow fade happens over time, and involves one person in the relationship slowly pulling away from the other. Instead of having a short but difficult conversation leading to a breakup, a slow fade is a drawn out and often painful recession that leads to the eventual end of the relationship. It’s common in new relationships as a way to soften the blow of a break-up.

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Nate Swanner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Nate is General Manager for all not-Digital-Trends properties at DTMG, including The Manual, Digital Trends en Espanol…
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