From Ghosting, Orbiting, Haunting, And More, We Love Naming Dating Trends. But Why?

"It validates, it reassures, and it normalizes ... it doesn't make you feel so isolated and alone."

If you've been single for any amount of time in the past few years, you've probably heard terms such as "ghosting," "haunting," "orbiting," or "stashing." You've probably even used one of these words to describe a love interest's confusing behavior that turned out to be part of the latest dating trend. But why do we feel the need to come up with new labels for dating trends at all? 

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More importantly, can putting a specific name to these nebulous actions actually help us better understand that behavior and ultimately move on?

Dr. Wendy O'Connor, a licensed marriage and family therapist, believes this tendency to name dating trends could be a response to the boredom and frustration singles feel with "the whole dating process." She told A Plus, "It's important to name it because you can't do anything about it unless you label it something." 

But she's quick to note that the practice of naming dating trends, and human behavior at large, is nothing new. "Back in the day... they would label positive [actions] like 'courting' or 'wooing,'" she explained. "... And now, I think with the heaviness of the world, and technology, and so many overwhelming ways to date, I think that it gets really frustrating for singles." O'Connor considers the negative terms that have resulted from this frustration a "translation" for abandonment and rejection. 

As an attachment therapist, she attributes a dater's reaction to a dating trend, like ghosting, to two parts: their genetics and their life experiences. "Often, there's a lot of trauma that has to do with it ... and that's why you have a lot of people who, whether you say 'abandonment' or 'ghosting,' 'rejection' or whatever — there are undercurrents of absolutely needing to identify it so we can learn from it and then make different choices," she said. 

"... I think you have to name it, and I think it's very interesting how it resonates with different generations." While a teenager might consider getting ghosted as a serious rejection, an adult who's been divorced twice might see it as more of a relief, according to O'Connor.

Putting a name to baffling behavior can provide people with a sense of comfort because, if nothing else, misery loves company.

This desire for commiseration, beyond friends, family, and even licensed professionals, can explain the near-instant virality of articles that coin new terms for dating trends. In April 2018, Anna Iovine, a freelance writer and weekend social media editor at VICE, published an article on Man Repeller titled, "Orbiting Is the New Ghosting and It's Probably Happening to You." 

Iovine recalled her own experience being "orbited," the term she came up with after a guy "Tyler" ghosted her after a second date but nonetheless continued to watch her Instagram stories. (Not to be confused with "haunting," which is when someone ghosts a potential love interest, but then continues to interact with them indirectly on social media by liking Facebook and Instagram posts, on top of watching their stories.)

Though Iovine never received an explanation for this behavior, the experience of not only naming a dating trend, but sharing it with the world, did provide a sense of catharsis.

"Naming it made it seem more valid and easier to explain. It also gave people language to channel their frustrations," she told A Plus. "... I think that's powerful and makes them realize that it's a 'real thing.' People — women primarily — are so often called 'crazy' when they're not treated well, being gaslit, etc. I wanted to make them realize they're not crazy; this is a real phenomenon, and it's rude." 

Months after the article was published, Iovine still regularly receives texts from friends sharing their latest "orbiting" experience. "It provides solidarity towards others," she added. "I saw comments on my orbiting article at the time like, 'OMG I hate this!' and tagging their friends. We want to know we're not alone … and we want to commiserate with other people in the dating world." 

Iovine believes our tendency to name new dating trends is rooted in our relationship to new forms of communication.

" 'Unmatch,' for example, really meant nothing a few years ago… but everyone knows exactly what it means in 2018," she noted.

As helpful as it is for singles to remember they're not alone in getting orbitted, ghosted, haunted, stashed — the list goes on and on — O'Connor wants daters to recognize they're not alone in their specific dating situation either. "A relationship takes two so, it's taking into consideration the other person," she noted. "... It could be that somebody has a serious intimacy issue, and they don't really understand how to verbally express things like, 'Oh, you might not be my type, [but] I had a nice time with you. Can we just be friends?' So they shut down altogether and then, of course, technology allows us to hide in cyberspace." 

If, or more likely when, that happens to someone, O'Connor encourages people "to pick up the phone — old school way — and check it out." She suggests saying something like, "I had a nice time, and I understand you don't want to go out again, I'm just wondering why." Getting actual feedback from the would-be ghoster, haunter, or orbiter can help both parties assess themselves so they can look for someone with a more complementary personality, and common dating goals, next time.

While there are potential benefits to identifying an individual's behavior as part of a larger dating trend, it can also be a double-edged sword, according to O'Connor. One danger of using these terms is that it puts a one-size-fits-all label over a wide range of behavior, when in reality, each circumstance can be different. 

"The nice thing when I see dating trends, and words to identify that behavior, is that there's constantly articles that are clarifying the meaning, and because they're new words, there's so many different meanings. It's very subjective," she explained. "... They [daters] have to learn what that term means for themselves and apply it the way that they understand it… really try to understand the intention of that word, and then, again, kind of personalize it to help you and not to hurt you." 

To do that, she encourages singles to identify the behavior and how it may relate to a larger dating trend, have a discussion about it, and then focus on the positives they've gained from the experience. "Singles constantly need to be uplifted, empowered … and feeling the best that they can feel," she said. "I think, often, singles get into a cycle of just doom and gloom ... and then you just spiral into negativity that is not helpful for anyone if you really, truly want to reach your goals." 

It's clear there are both benefits and drawbacks to putting a concrete name to widespread dating trends. But if they can help someone cope during uncertain times, make them feel less alone, and ultimately learn from difficult experiences, then all these "negative" dating trends may not be so bad after all. 

Cover image via  Kaspars Grinvalds I Shutterstock

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