Wouldn't it be nice if dating was all cupcakes and sunshine and everyone was nice and said what they meant, or said anything at all? Instead, looking for love or hookups in the era of social media and online dating often leads to strange behavior that people call "orbiting." Typically, it goes like this: You meet someone on Tinder or Bumble or some other dating app, you go out a few times, you start following each other on Instagram and Snapchat, and then they ghost you. But they don't completely disappear like a traditional ghost. Over the next several weeks or months, you realize that your would-be ghost has stuck around in your social media mentions. They continue to watch your Instagram and Snapchat stories. So what's the deal? Does watching your stories mean that they're actually still interested?
Maybe, but don't get your hopes up, says Paulette Sherman, PsyD, a New York City-based psychologist and author of Dating from the Inside Out. There are a bunch of reasons someone may want to stay connected with someone they ghosted, including the possibility that they could reconnect for a date or hookup down the road. But orbiting could also be their way to assuage some of their guilt. "They may do it to seem friendly and to appear that they didn't completely disappear," Dr. Sherman says. Or, maybe they just forgot to unfollow you. "Regardless of the reasons it does seem rude to ignore a person's texts, yet not end things," Dr. Sherman says. "It’s a new kind of blow off."
To Dr. Sherman, orbiting is a sign of bad communication and can be passive-aggressive. Even people who "forgot" to unfollow someone have a new chance to do so every time a new story pops up. So continuing to watch the stories can be selfish at worst, and inconsiderate at best. "It doesn’t seem likely that orbiters are considering how this makes the other person feel. Many daters would prefer that someone who ghosts them stays gone," she says. But if our dates were considering other people's feelings, there would be no ghosting or orbiting in the first place. If everyone could empathize with how it feels when someone they dated disappears with no explanation, they'd likely be better at explaining why they're not interested in taking things further. "They would end things and ask if they could stay friends or could continue to stay in touch via social media, and they would give the other person a chance to respond," Dr. Sherman says. "It is possible they tell themselves that staying friends via social media will make the person they rejected feel better about things, but this seems misguided."
Her advice for anyone who feels uncomfortable with their ex hanging around via social media?Block them. If you're really bothered, you can even try reaching out beforehand. Say something like, "I noticed that you stopped responding to my texts, but are commenting on my social media. It feels confusing and I’d prefer not to keep in touch," she says. "Just because someone is indirect doesn’t mean you have to be."