Language lesson … do you understand what’s going on in your fledgeling relationship with your online beau?
It’s a truism of modern dating that no one knows what they are doing anymore. As technology has exploded our capacity to find potential mates and take them to tapas bars with outsized wine glasses, we’ve all had to relearn our sexual “moves” from first principles, like stone age hunter-gatherers suddenly asked to perform credit default swaps.
Yet what’s becoming apparent is that we all don’t know what we’re doing in remarkably consistent ways. These quirks – and the rules formulated by a panoply of breathless dating gurus who promise to help you navigate them – have required a new language. Earlier this year, “ghosting” entered the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and newer terms like “cushioning” won’t be far behind. For the avoidance of both confusion and online dating gurus, here’s a roundup of this freshly born lingo.
Some suggest that ghosting is a defining millennial act. That when they make period films about the 2010s they will all open with dialogue like: “Oh so Gary ghosted you? No way. Can I borrow your Fitbit? I’ve got to nip to my SoulCycle class before I go vote for a rightwing populist.”
Ghosting is in lockstep with the times because it is entirely driven by new technology’s capacity to anonymise. If you have zero friends in common, stepping straight back into the darkness from whence you came without so much as a word of explanation is the no-hassle way to devastate your ex. “Congratulations: you have been unpersoned.”
Rather than explain in a series of text messages that they are a desiccated husk of a human, the ghoster simply puts down the phablet and is never heard from again. It’s the online equivalent of “going out for a pack of cigarettes” and never coming back. It is apparently perpetrated equally by both sexes, and over 50% of online daters report it happening to them.
Closely related to ghosting, but more and/or less humane depending on whether your framework of morality would include “playing nicely with a puppy before you drop it down a well”.
Slow Faders are always on the lip of availability. They’re always “just” doing some other thing with some other person in some other place, but “drinks soon yeah?”. They’re the likely to use that most inexcusable excuse, “work”, to keep you on the cusp of their radar until the signal fades out, like the batteries running down on an airplane distress beacon at the bottom of an ocean.
You should pity them. They’re utterly at sea with the infinite choices the modern world has given them, but they’re also wedded to seeing themselves as “nice”. So they probably stand on the brink of a breakdown if they don’t solve some of that cognitive dissonance.
This is the proposition that you shack up with whoever’s around between October and mid-November, so that you’ll be snug with your “human hot water bottle” when the things turn coldest and the thought of going to bars night after night to meet strangers sounds about as enticing as laser eye surgery. In other animals, this would be timed to include a few months of foetus gestation before the spring lambing season.
Cuffing season is a lot like Aesop’s fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper. While the grasshopper plays the field all summer, the ant works tirelessly on his relationship, extending well-observed compliments and putting lots of immersive couples activities in a joint iCal. But, as in the fable, the grasshopper actually does OK because when it gets to October he just drops his or her standards and “cuffs” anyone who lives close by. A few months of Netflix, roasts in cosy country pubs and trips to the Sir John Soane Museum proceeds in much the same way.
The effect is measurable: the dating app Hinge polled their users and discovered that men were 15% more likely to be looking for a relationship in winter. But Cuffing Season, like so much else, has also become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the new-rules era, where people are assumed to have been looking to cuff-up simply because of the time of year.
To indicate to the object of your crush that you are “interested” by going back through their social media and interacting with artefacts buried back in the mists of time.
This is a useful tool because while it is happening on what is technically a “public” forum, not even dearest friends would go back to re-read the ancient brain-burps that constitute an online life. Yet the notification will show up immediately. Could it be that someone you flirted with was just “really feeling” that gag you did about “Macron-nomics”? No. It could not. They like you, so get out there.
If nothing else, the idea of someone rummaging through your ancient Facebook junk will remind you to change your privacy settings before running for public office.
In olden times, when life was simpler, a gent or lady would throw your self-esteem under the bus and you’d have to look at it all crushed and twitching and crying out for death’s sweet release.
But that was back when a basic level of monogamy was built-in. Now that we’ve eliminated many of what economists would term “search costs”, it’s possible to avoid the deep life learnings of relationship breakdown. How? Simply by keeping a bunch of buttresses to hand. That means a little B-team of boys or girls who could easily be taken off the bench and drafted into the A-team if things take a funny turn. All these potential human life-rafts require is a little bit of flirtatious open-ended contact to maintain interest. It’s really no trickier than feeding a goldfish.
Cushioning is the latter-day equivalent of the zero-hours contract. Yeah, sure you do the job well. But we’ve also got the CVs of another half dozen people who can do the job too, so why should we give you pension rights?
What Cushioners do to B-teamers.
Sadly, the witch to your digital Hansel & Gretel doesn’t even want to cook you in their OvenMaster3000. They just want to be wanted. They just need to be needed. It’s not about you, it’s about them. It’s about the moment when they know you have stopped thinking about them – perhaps via a tiny radar in their heads to detect their personal stock dropping – and decide to ‘like’ some random bit of content on some obscure social network, setting the cycle of need, excitement and deprivation up all over again. It’s little granules of “hey how r u” dropped at inconvenient hours, cheap links to content they think you might like but they probably haven’t even read; it’s anything bi-monthly or with more punctuation than text.
Sure, it sounds like ghosting but haunting is almost its inverse. It’s the people who are no longer in your sexual life, but who still cluster at the edge of your social media to peer in through the pane, wordlessly. The intent may vary: sometimes the haunter wants sex, sometimes they want to rekindle something, sometimes they just want to wallow in this one-way mirror of their own melancholy.
How do you even find out they are there? With the advent of apps – Snap Stories being the most obvious – where you can see who has “read” your content, it’s become possible to know who’s lurking on the edge of your awareness.
Also known less poetically as ‘zombie-ing’, haunting doesn’t feed off of social technology’s capacity for anonymisation; it feeds off of its capacity to keep us all socially linked – even against our will or better judgement.