The Four Horsemen of the Dating Apocalypse

February 7, 2017

benchingThe Four Horsemen of the Dating Apocalypse are:

  • Ghosting
  • Benching
  • Zombieing
  • Breadcrumbing (aka “Hansel and Greteling”)

To some extent these terms have been coined and promoted as clickbait on sites like Buzzfeed and Bustle. We love reading stories about the bad behavior of others – it makes us feel virtuous. And if we’ve been on the receiving end of bad treatment, we feel vindicated to see that someone is calling the perps out on their selfishness.

But they also accurately reflect what’s happening in some dating relationships today. Smartphones and social media are the perfect combo for ditching personal responsibility, because they place our “victims” at arm’s length.

The Ghosting Problem

Most of us are familiar with the phenom of “ghosting” even if it hasn’t happened to us personally. It’s usually described as disappearing without an explanation. In a post about ghosting I wrote last year the topic proved controversial. No one will disagree that disappearing from a committed relationship without a word is a pretty crappy thing to do. In my book, though, not getting asked on a second date fails to qualify as being ghosted. One woman wrote about being ghosted before she’d even been on a first date!

There’s another piece to ghosting, though, which is “ignoring the other person’s attempts to reach out.” The least you can do is reply to a text to say you’re no longer interested. What kind of person finds it less awkward to ignore a request for an honest answer than to text a rejection?

The Solution:

If someone you’re seeing casually suddenly disappears on you, reach out for an explanation if you’re truly shocked. If they don’t respond, FIDO (f*ck it drive on). If someone you’re seriously dating ghosts you, count yourself lucky because you just got a major asshole out of your life. Personally, I believe this kind of ghosting is rare.

Avoid drama, you’re too good to beg for the explanation you already know. He/she doesn’t like you, much.

The Benching Problem

I first learned of benching when reader SayWhaat sent me an article from New York Magazine last summer. Described as “the new ghosting,” benching is stringing a person along with just enough attention to keep them waiting for something more to develop. People who practice it defend it as a way to keep their options open. One guy who liked to focus on one person while benching a couple of others said “Why close that door if you don’t have to?” Essentially, the people on the bench are in reserve as insurance if your preferred pick doesn’t work out.

Apparently, women find benching very confusing because it’s often done in the context of solicitous, concerned behavior. “How was your day?” “Thinking of you, have a great holiday with your family!”

I can’t even count the number of young women who have offered me these kinds of tidbits as “proof” the guy is thinking about them and must like them, or why would he bother? When I point out that sending a friendly mass text takes ten seconds, they’re dumfounded. We don’t want to believe that the people we like are not very good or moral. (And that they don’t care about our feelings.)

The Solution:

Texts from interested men are designed to move the relationship forward. They signal intentions and serve to make plans. If you’re getting texts from a guy (no matter how nice) and they’re not followed up with a suggestion you meet up at a specific time, go silent. It may take you a few texts to figure out what’s going on, but you have no responsbility – and no good reason – to keep responding to How are you? texts from guys who don’t actually make moves.

The Zombieing Problem

The zombie is the ex who ghosted or dumped you and is now returning for opportunistic ego gratification or even sex. It is defined as:

“What you call that time when your ex who you haven’t heard from in years liked one of your Instas….from 37 weeks ago…

Why shouldn’t you mysteriously re-enter someone’s life by the same means you left it – a passive-aggressive, confusing and ultimately meaningless signal?”

This is another scenario I hear frequently from readers and clients. A Facebook or Instagram like from someone in their past knocks them a bit off balance. What does it mean?

It means that you crossed his mind. He thought about you long enough to check out your social media posts. Maybe he spent 5 or 10 minutes on your Instagram account. The problem is, his impulse is probably not a generous one. If it were, it would be followed by a concrete suggestion you meet for coffee so that he could apologize for ghosting. It’s meant to be manipulative and remind you of the power he held over you at one time. It’s all about him.

The Solution:

Radio silence! Never, ever acknowledge a throwaway social media “like” from an ex. Trust me, ignoring it will feel good. You’ll get a little bit of your dignity back.

The Breadcrumbing Problem

Breadcrumbing is “giving a guy or girl just enough attention to keep their hope for the relationship alive.” It’s similar to benching in the sense that it’s made up of meaningless, stalling communications that require little effort and contain no substance. Except in this case, you’re not waiting in the wings in hopes of beginning a relationship. Breadcrumbing is a slow death as a relationship as ending.

Carole Lieberman, M.D., a Beverly Hills-based psychiatrist and relationship expert, says that breadcrumbing is more harmful than ghosting:

“Breadcrumbing is worse than ghosting because it is more sadistic. Ghosting is merely a coward’s way out of a relationship. Breadcrumbing is a slow and painful death of a relationship, whereas ghosting makes it clear — eventually — that the person is gone.”

The Solution:

This is very difficult. You need to be objective at a time when your heart may be breaking. My advice is to listen to your gut – if you sense your boyfriend is creating distance, try and describe the behavior. Is he replying to fewer texts? Does he no longer initiate romantic plans for the two of you?

Instead of making excuses for these behaviors, e.g. he’s been really busy at work, ask him directly what’s going on. You’re not crazy, you’ve noticed a real and quantifiable change in his actions.

Social Media Makes Cads of Us All

None of these behaviors are new, exactly. In the old days we called them other names, from “leading someone on” to “acting so mean they have no choice but to break up with you.” We had to do it while making eye contact, though, and that tended to repress our worst instincts.

What is new is the callousness bred by social media. Without eye contact or even direct communication, we fall into the lazy habit of “sending signals.” Jason Chen of New York Mag puts it this way:

“It’s become comically frictionless in the smartphone era. You no longer have to take someone to lunch or buy them a martini or even have a face-to-face conversation.”

Sometimes people really are manipulative for personal gain, but often they don’t fully [take the time to] understand how hurtful their actions are. They think that not replying to your texts 75% of the time sends a clear signal that you are no longer a priority. It’s a coward’s way out, but social media makes it tempting to take the easy path. He thinks he’s made himself clear, while you agonize over signals that seem murky at best.

The solutions I’ve offered here are a suggestion that you ask for clarity when it is lacking. That’s really hard to do, because it may invite rejection on the spot. But you’ll be proud of yourself and enjoy the dignity that comes with asking to be respected. Dare I say it – you will feel empowered when you stand up for yourself.

Have you experienced any of this or seen it among your friends? What devious tactics can possibly come next? Let’s discuss!