“Someone disappearing on you doesn’t reflect your worth: It reflects their fear of being ‘seen'”- Baggage Reclaim, Natalie Lue
Many of my private practice clients are immersed in the dating world, searching for healthy love relationships and healing from toxic ones. I wanted to take an opportunity to define a few terms that are floating about in the cybersphere.
When an individual is dating someone, the connection either continues to evolve in a healthy direction, it ends, or it tapers off. I am going to talk about when dating relationships end, what’s healthy and what isn’t in terms of leave-taking.
With the advent of electronic technology, dating apps, and the internet, I have noticed a tendency for people to announce the ending of a relationship in indirect, confusing ways. Historically, if a person decided not to continue dating someone, they would actually say to the person “I don’t think we are a match, but thank you.” And no one in a million years would think of just disappearing with no closure. Back in the day, we had landlines, answering machines, and we certainly didn’t have the built-in distance or seeming anonymity of dating apps. Unfortunately, technology has made it easier for people to be “ghosted.”
1)”Ghosting” is a fairly new term in the dating world. Now that we have entered the era of Tinder, Bumble and dating websites, texting and email tends to be the first way that potential dating partners begin to get to know each other before their first phone call or in-person encounter. When a dating partner loses interest (after one or more dates), often what will happen is “ghosting.” In other words, the person disappears like a ghost and ceases texts, phone calls, emails, etc, and won’t respond to attempts to re-engage. It’s basically a cowardly way for a person to say (without having the balls to say it) that “I am not interested in you.” In my non-clinical definition, it’s a$%hole behavior, and the person on the receiving end of it is fortunate to have dodged a bullet from an immature, shallow dating partner. The person who is doing the “ghosting” is at minimum, immature, and at worst, potentially a psychological abuser.
2) So in an abusive relationship, a psychological abuser will oftentimes engage in what experts call “the silent treatment “(ST). The ST is an emotional abuse tactic employed by psychological abusers….it is designed to cause harm to it’s intended target and to render that individual “non-existent.” See my article about the Silent Treatment I wrote for goodtherapy.org here for further definition. Basically the abuser falls off the face of the earth with no explanation, causing tremendous anxiety for the recipient of the ST. The silent treatment is cruel, and no one deserves to be dealt the silent treatment. Typically, the ST is employed when the abuser does not like a healthy boundary that was set by their significant other — it’s like stonewalling with silence, and it accomplishes nothing productive. What it does result in is the usurping of power and control for the abuser.
3) A survivor of an abusive relationship decides to go No Contact (NC) when they have determined to end the relationship. No Contact is designed to help the survivor reclaim their personal power and heal from a toxic, psychologically-damaging partner. Experts in the field virtually unanimously agree that No Contact (or Limited Contact in the cases were there are children or a business ) is essential for the healing of the survivor, to work through and sever the trauma bond and reclaim personal self-worth and agency. I’ve written more about No Contact here. No Contact is like detoxifying from an unhealthy “drug” of a toxic relationship.
4) “Breadcrumming” is essentially stringing someone along. It’s akin to communicating just enough to put the person on the back-burner as an “option.” (like occasional texts here or there with no concrete date or frequent flaky behavior resulting in cancellations of meet-ups). It’s disrespectful behavior perpetuated by immature players who like to have “fallback” options or who get their egos filled by knowing that someone is pining away for them.
5) “Catfishing” is creating a fake dating profile. Predators like narcissists and psychopaths do this to hunt for targets to extract ego fuel in the form of attention, affection, sex, and eventually, toxic encounters that can result in rape, boundary violations, and other dangerous circumstances. Vet the person you are going to meet (in a public space); let trusted people know your whereabouts when you first meet a potential suitor. YOU control the pace of the relationship. Go slow until you know what this person is all about and if they are worthy of your precious time.
6) “Benchwarming” Essentially you have been relegated to not first priority in your love interest’s hierarchy of targets and s/he has placed you on the bench as a potential option to tap for ego fuel in the future. You are NO ONE’S option. If you are being treated like an option, run for the hills and be glad you dodged a bullet from an assclown.
Boundaried, healthy relationships require direct, authentic and honest communication. Sometimes that means going No Contact if you determine you need to end a relationship with an abuser. Ghosting, Benchwarming, and Breadcrumming are cowardly, egotistical methods of ending or holding off communication in an avoidant manner. Mature adults do not communicate in such a way. Silent Treatment and Catfishing are flashing red warning signs of a psychological abuser that you need to get away from immediately.
(A version of this article first appeared in the author’s blog, From Andrea’s Couch”)