Ghosting. Breadcrumbing. Orbiting. There’s a good chance you’ve heard these terms and others like them tossed around. There’s also a good chance that you have utterly no clue what they mean—if you’re anywhere north of 40, at least. (And if you’re not, well, you may very well have first-hand experience with them, either as victim or perpetrator—or both—and need no refresher. Vámanos!)
Yes, for people of a certain age, having conversations about modern romance can feel a bit like wading through the semantic dark; it’s as if the kids are speaking a different language. “He’s such an incel.” “We’re in a situationship.” “Bro, she kittenfished me.” If any of these terms made you go, huh?, worry not. Herein, we’ve compiled the ultimate glossary of modern dating terms.
So read on, and wade into the world with your new knowledge. Just don’t actually do any of these (mostly horrible) acts, okay? And for more advice on how to navigate this brave new world of dating, check out The 17 Worst Things a Man Can Say to a Woman.
You meet someone, you go on a date, you have a great time. You text back and forth. Then, one day, you send them a text and don’t get a response. You wait a few days. You figure they are probably just busy. Then weeks go by and you realize that whatever you had is over. It’s bad enough that people do this after dates; what’s even more appalling is that I know people that this has happened to in relationships. You’re seeing someone for months, then, one day, they just vanish into thin air.
You’re left anxiously waiting to hear from them, getting a jolt of hope anytime the phone buzzes, only to realize it’s a text from Seamless to tell you your eating-your-feelings order is being prepared. You don’t get any closure and you never really know what went wrong. It takes you much longer to get over this kind of breakup than the traditional one because of the agonizing period of time in which you wonder if you’re even still in a relationship. Nowadays, people treat ghosting like it’s just a funny quirk of dating in the digital age, but it’s not. It’s excruciating for the victim, and creates real trust and intimacy issues for them. It’s time to call it what it is, which is severe emotional abuse. And for more on this insidious trend, learn the 20 Signs You’re About to Get Ghosted.
Ah, breadcrumbing. The coward’s way of what is already a coward’s way out. Unlike a ghoster, who will cease all communication completely, a breadcrumber will send flirtatious but non-commital texts like “Hey, what’s up?” without ever making an effort to meet up. It could go on for months, even years. For the breadcrumber, it’s an easy way to keep the door open in case they decide they want to pursue something down the line, or to make you so desperate you agree to a booty call. Sometimes, the breadcrumber will disappear for weeks, only to resurface and throw another mystery crumb your way, leading you to tear your hair out, wondering whether or not they are interested after all. And for more wisdom, don’t miss the 40 Relationship Tips That Are Actually Terrible.
This is a new, terrible trend in dating. In orbiting, a person will ghost you, but continue to stalk your social media. You wouldn’t know this is happening with Facebook or Twitter, but Instagram stories and Snapchat tell you which users have watched your content. If your ghoster appears, that means you are being orbited. This, too, can lead to psychological anguish for the victim, as they wonder if it means the ghoster is regretting their decision to abandon you, or simply keeping themselves in your orbit, so that you don’t forget about them completely in the off-chance they feel like hooking up again. Of course, you will never know which one is which, because they don’t the courtesy to just tell you how they feel. The alternative term for this breakdown of basic courtesy is “haunting.”
Similar to breadcrumbing, benching involves stringing someone along just enough to keep you around as an option. The way that breadcrumbing is different from benching is that the former is crueler because the victim doesn’t know if you’re just being a little flaky or if you’re just not that interested. With benching, it’s more clear that the bencher is pursuing other avenues and just putting you on the bench in case one of their main players gets called off the field. And for some actually positive relationship advice, don’t miss The 20 Best Dating App Opening Lines.
You meet someone you really like, but they are already in a relationship. The way they flirt with you via text makes it seem like they are interested, but they make no indication that they’re planning on leaving their current partner. This is cushioning, aka the act of keeping the seat warm in case they want to use it somewhere down the line. Next, check out the 30 Worst Phrases To Use On Your Dating Profile.
You’re dating someone, and you feel like it’s going well. But you notice that they don’t feature you in any of their social media, or detag themselves from posts you put up. This is the modern version of getting weird when you ask to meet your partner’s parents. The person you’re with is into you, but they aren’t sure they want to close the door on other possibilities, and therefore “stash you” as one would with a basket of dirty laundry, in the closet.
An extremely insulting and mildly sexist (it is almost always used by men to refer to women) term for the period between early fall and late winter when people are more likely to date someone regularly just to have a warm body nearby. Because god knows that being in an intimate relationship with regular sexual activity is akin to being chained to the ground. Someone let Prometheus know he got off easy.
Getting curved is a little easier to bear than a flat-out rejection. It’s when someone turns down your advances but doesn’t do it in a direct way. A great example is when Drake tried to kiss Rihanna on stage at the 2016 VMAs award and she literally curved to give him the cheek. While curving is somewhat nicer than a lot of other items on this list, it’s still often used as a way of keeping an option open even if you’re not really that interested. Noticing a trend here?
This is when one person has all of the power in an exchange. Someone who will text you but fail to respond when you text back. Someone who will never make plans to see you but expect you to drop everything and come over when they happen to have an afternoon free. As the name implies, this is not a two way street. It’s a firedoor. You can get out but you can’t get back in.
You’ll see this one come up on Reddit threads a lot. It stands for “involuntarily celibate” and is usually used as a term of identity by people who feel entitled to sex but can’t get any. These people suck and, more often than not, are actually dangerous.
We’ve all heard of catfishing, in which someone pretends to be someone they’re not in order to catch a potential mate. In “kittenfishing,” however, someone isn’t exorbitantly lying in their online dating profile, they’re just stretching the truth. The most basic version of this involves posting old or heavily altered photos, or lying about weight or height, so that the person who walks into the bar only vaguely resembles the person you matched with. But it could also involve saying that you’re a “doctor” when you’re really in Pre-Med.
This involves deploying a blitzkrieg of affection at the very beginning, only to totally lose interest once the enemy has been captured.
If someone says they are “pansexual,” it mean that they are attracted to someone regardless of their gender. To learn more about how that differs from being bisexual, check out our helpful guide on what it mean to be pansexual.
Being “poly,” as it’s known for short, means you can be in a relationship while enjoying relationships with other people. The key here is communication and honesty (yay, finally! remember those?) and taking great care to make sure you’re not hurting or betraying any of your partners. It’s been around in some form as far back as ancient Rome, but it’s experiencing a resurgence in popularity. To find out more about its terms, you can read what this pansexual, polyamorous man had to say about it. Unlike the other terms on this list, there’s nothing wrong about being pansexual or polyamorous as long as the person communicates that to you, but not everyone knows what they mean so they are handy terms to know.
If you find out your partner hasn’t cheated on you but has been casually looking for someone else on the side, then shifts the blame by saying they didn’t realize you were monogamous, they are roaching. As the term implies, this is not a nice thing to do.
Traditionally, a date is seen as an interview for sex. But, increasingly, some millennials are using sex as a determiner of whether or not they’d even want to bother getting to know the person in the first place. This is a “sex interview,” and while it has some logic to it, it is, at the very least, unromantic.
Circling back to the fact that everyone these days is wildly commitment-phobic, a “situationship” is a sexual relationship that stops short of being a committed relationship. You’re together but you’re not together together. You’re in a situation.
This is the act of taking a condom off during sex without even letting your partner know you’ve done it. In addition to being emotionally traumatizing, this is straight up sexual assault.
This is when someone breaks up with you or ghosts you and then just pops back into your life after a lengthy silence as though nothing had happened. Torpedo that thing.
Unlike cheating, micro-cheating involves engaging in a series of seemingly harmless gestures that would nonetheless hurt your partner if they found out, like messaging a cute girl on Instagram or flirting with a hot guy in your office. For it to be micro-cheating, the key is that it has to be something bad enough that you would hide it from your partner. As we’ve written about before, relationship experts say that while it might be innocuous, it can also lead to actual cheating down the road, and fosters jealously and mistrust along the way.
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