All These New Dating Terms Are Actually Incredibly Unhelpful

Designed by Anna Jay.
I don't know whether it was the perpetual feeling of impending doom or the sudden prospect of never being intimate with another human being again but, when it came to all things dating and matters of the heart, lockdown really did seem to have a mystic power. 
As I sat in my pants at home trying to work out whether I was lonely, ghosts suddenly came back to life. Breadcrumbers suddenly started following their own trails back to the start and sending me proper messages. Submariners resurfaced, coming back just to take a little bit more of my oxygen. 
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“Hey you,” began one message which followed a swift round of Instagram orbiting and a barrage of new picture comments. “You're looking well, from what I can see. It's been a while...”
Indeed, it had. For this plucky individual, who I genuinely thought I had blocked, disappeared into the dating abyss no less than three years ago. Yes. Three years ago. We'd been seeing each other for a few weeks, spoken every day and, then, suddenly – poof – into the ether he went, never to be heard of again. 
He was not alone in rising from the online dating graveyard.  A former beau and serial breadcrumber who disappeared around 12 months ago also slid into my DMs one warm lockdown eve in April. For those unfamiliar with the term, breadcrumbing is a manipulative behaviour by which an individual feeds you just enough attention to keep you invested in the hope of something more. Ultimately, though, they are keeping you on the back burner or using your attention to feed their famished egos. 

We have developed all of these metaphorical linguistic shorthands. But, is it possible that while labelling what is at best unusual and at worst incredibly problematic behaviour we’re normalising it? 

“I've been thinking about you ; ),” his WhatsApp read. “When are you back in town?”
Unfortunately for them, I hadn't actually been thinking about either of them. At all. However, I might have been. I could have been wondering where things went wrong? What caused them to disappear and desert me? But everyone gets “ghosted”, right? It's just part of our “shop window” approach to dating today, isn’t it? The possibilities online appear endless, and the need to “settle” has become obsolete. Hasn’t it?
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That’s why we have developed all of these metaphorical linguistic shorthands. They allow us to quickly define dating behaviours as quickly as we’re prepared to dismiss a potential match. But, is it possible that while labelling what is at best unusual and at worst incredibly problematic behaviour we’re normalising it? 
“Dating buzzwords and labels can be helpful or they can be very misleading,” Neil Wilkie, psychotherapist, relationship expert and creator of the Relationship Paradigm, tells me. “If someone is on the receiving end of this behaviour, using terms like 'breadcrumbing' and 'ghosting' may well help them to understand what's going on, and help them decide whether they should accept or put up with that relationship or find someone who is going to treat them the way they want.”
A quick straw poll of my friends leads me to believe that there are some benefits to using these terms.
“I can say I was 'ghosted' now, rather than tell friends the longer winded and more embarrassing version – that a guy I really like stopped talking to me and disappeared, and I don't know why,” one explained.
“'Ghosting' works better because, as the term suggests, you don't usually find out or ever know why someone has stopped talking to you in that way,” another offered. “You just know it hurts and it's a dick move and lots of people do it.”

“If someone is on the receiving end of this behaviour, using terms like 'breadcrumbing' and 'ghosting' may well help them to understand what's going on, and help them decide whether they should accept or put up with that relationship or find someone who is going to treat them the way they want.”

Neil Wilkie, psychotherapist, relationship expert and creator of the Relationship Paradigm
Indeed, giving certain behaviours a label also allows us to talk about them. By doing so, we give those affected a better forum to speak about their experiences and relate to others in similar situations. This also allows us to emotionally distance ourselves from the situation and understand it. 
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Nia Williams is the director of Miss Date Doctor – a bespoke relationship counselling and advice service for those who need it. She believes the various terms used to describe dating behaviours should provide a “veil of comfort” to daters looking for love.
“Bad dating experiences can happen to anyone,” she explains. “The emotional bruising from negative interactions can be hard to get over sometimes when you really like someone, but sometimes negative personality traits of difficult individuals are innate and have nothing to do with you. Labels help to convey that.”
This makes sense. For me, however, that's where the positive aspects of using buzzwords ends and a whole world of behaviour that allows adults to abdicate from having to take responsibility for their actions. 
Another friend put it best: “using buzzwords like 'ghosting' is hiding behind the visage of colloquial terminology to justify behaviour that shouldn't be accepted, and certainly shouldn't be normalised,” she told me. “It relies yet again on people – predominantly women –  adjusting to accepting shite behaviour, rather than pointing out that that kind of behaviour should change.”
Perhaps, then, we need to be careful for, perhaps, assigning these labels doesn't just normalise the experience of these behaviours but the actions of those who perpetrate them. 
Using these cutesy terms almost makes disappearing without a trace or explanation for a period of time (submarining) or teasing someone with just enough attention but never committing time to them (breadcrumbing) almost sound like fun, when in fact, they can be incredibly damaging to the self-esteem, trust and sanity of the person on the receiving end. 
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Neil thinks this is a very real concern. “When we talk about why people 'ghost', there are so many complex reasons” he explains. “Some of it might be about self esteem, or it might be their attachment styles. They may be avoidant or anxious in their relationships, and it may be easier to label behaviours in order to excuse them for avoiding the relationship than actually address them.”
“Breadcrumbing is manipulative behaviour, as is submarining” he adds. “It is also potentially abusive and narcissistic. Labelling it - putting it out there and laughing it off - normalises it in a surface-level way that means it never gets addressed. This could make people aspire to behave that way as well, which is very bad news for everyone.”

“People may feel silly or even weak for feeling hurt or upset by someone who has ghosted, orbited, breadcrumbed or submarined them. This can mean they  feel as though they haven’t got anyone to talk to about how much it has affected them and set them back.”

Marine Ravinet, the Head of Trends at dating app Happn
All of this can also mean that those who have been ghosted or breadcrumbed feel that their suffering is minimised. “Oh you were ghosted, get over it...onto the next one” is the sort of response that is really common now but, in reality, ghosting can leave people incredibly hurt and, even, in therapy
“People may feel silly or even weak for feeling hurt or upset by someone who has ghosted, orbited, breadcrumbed or submarined them” Marine Ravinet, the Head of Trends at dating app Happn says. “This can mean they  feel as though they haven’t got anyone to talk to about how much it has affected them and set them back. It’s key, however, to remember that any feeling you have is valid and real, no matter how big or small it may seem.”
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And so, while the advent of all these new dating terms may help us to loosely identify situations we shouldn’t expect them to do much more than that. We have more power than we think or, indeed, than these buzzwords imply. 
“There's a phrase which is often said that you should treat others as you would like to be treated yourself, and that is actually wrong,” Neil concludes. “You should treat others how they want to be treated. You might be OK with being 'breadcrumbed' and be able to shake it off and move on, but that might not be OK for the other person.”
We must not only confront these behaviours when we experience them but be introspective about our own actions. Are we treating people properly? Are we setting strong enough boundaries for ourselves? If we feel unable to let go of people who perpetrate manipulative behaviours like 'breadcrumbing', what do we need to do to boost our self esteem and give us the strength to cut them off and move forwards?
Nia agrees, and leaves us with this essential piece of advice:
“Ghost negativity and stay away from those that treat you as anything but significant.”
Hard to argue with that.

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