Zombieing Is The Dating Trend That’s Spookier Than Ghosting

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell.
Even if you've never been ghosted — or ever been the ghoster — you probably know what it is: when someone you're dating or "talking to" disappears out of the blue. But there's a new dating trend, one that takes ghosting to the next level. It's known as zombieing.
No, this isn't when you're ghosted on Halloween. Zombieing is when someone ghosts you, but then decides to come back into your life like nothing happened. You know how zombies die and then miraculously rise from the dead? Like that. We know that ghosting can be hurtful — and a sign of someone who has little-to-no communication skills — but zombieing adds insult to injury. You're going to pretend you didn't just disappear for weeks, even months?
Experts say people's motives for zombieing can vary. It might be boredom, Marla Renee Stewart, MA, a sex expert for Lovers, an adult wellness brand and retailer, tells Refinery29: "I believe that if someone is zombieing, it's because they're finding themselves wanting to go back to a source of entertainment."
Kate Balestrieri, PsyD, the founder of Modern Intimacy and expert for the relationship app Clarity, calls it attention-seeking behavior. "They want to see if they can still get a reaction. They're using it as a way to get validation if they're feeling low about themselves," says the certified sex therapist, who's based in Beverly Hills.
Of course, there is a kinder way to read things. "They might realize that they missed out on an opportunity to get to know you and they're hoping that there's still a chance at that," Balestrieri says. Or they might be really lousy at communicating, and kind of misguided. "It can happen in a benign way," she says. "People think they're being nice. Sometimes they reach out because they feel guilty and they want to see if you're angry at them or if you're okay."
Personally, I think there's a strong case to be made for ignoring the zombie trying to stagger its way back into your life. Stewart is with me. "A good response may be like, 'Wow! I hadn't heard from you since you ghosted me, so it's strange to see you back. I hope you enjoy the rest of your life. At this moment, I'm not interested in getting to know you,'" she says. Harsh, but it could be needed depending on the situation.
Ultimately, how you respond to your zombie is a personal decision — if you believe in your heart of hearts that the initial ghosting and the subsequent reentry into your DMs didn't have a nefarious purpose, it's within your rights to give the zombie another shot.
Still, Balestrieri says, you may not want to ignore the disappearing-reappearing act. "We don't want to make assumptions, but at the same time if someone isn't a good communicator or if they did just drop you and expect to pop back into your life, that cannot be condonable," she says. At the very least, ask what happened, why they're back, and whether they plan to pull another disappearing act.
"Sometimes people have a good excuse or a good reason, or they've changed their behavior significantly and they've learned something," Balestrieri explains. "If you see that that's a possibility and this was someone you were interested in getting to know, then you might tread very cautiously and give them a second chance." If you move forward with your zombie à la Warm Bodies, though, be cautious, and watch their actions — don't just listen to their words.
But if their excuse for zombieing seems fishy? Trust your gut. You have a good reason to end the convo right then and there.
If you're the one attempting to come back into your ex-flame's life after ghosting, ask yourself why before sending the text. "Are you doing it because you want to get laid? Or you need to be entertained? Are you bored?" Stewart asks. "If you're going to approach someone, I think you should be honest about why you ghosted and why you're coming back. People appreciate honesty and authenticity. It can be up to the person whether or not to engage with you."
Balestrieri agrees. "You might really want to examine how you objectify others and what your relationship with people is like," she says. She suggests asking yourself the following questions: Does my reaching out have the potential to be hurtful or damaging? What might the impact of my ghosting have been on this other person and am I willing and ready to accept whatever their feelings are and hold space for that? If it feels like you might get defensive or dismissive, leave them alone.
The final word on zombieing? "Just because someone reaches out doesn't mean you have to be okay with that behavior. If it's triggering for you that someone from the past is reaching out, don't respond," Balestrieri says. You can even block them. Sometimes, a relationship is better left dead.

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