Ghosting and Benching and Zombieing, Oh My!
By Paulina Siegel.
*Paulina Siegel is a regular guest blogger for Aging Well Denver. You can see all of her posts here.
Modern dating is wildly different from previous decades and takes on a completely new form. In the past, it was quite common to meet someone at a social gathering, bar, or be introduced by friends or family members, however, that is no longer the case in today’s age.
The Millennial and Gen-Z cohorts are quite different from previous generations in numerous aspects, however, there is a major difference in how we conceptualize the dating process. We are the first generation to be immersed in technology, dating apps, and social media, which has radically changed our perspectives and outlook.
The days of reaching for peanut butter at the exact same time at Whole Foods doesn’t exist. Meeting prospective suitors out and about organically is as unusual as online dating was in the early 2000s. Back then it was shameful to admit that you were online dating because that meant to the world that you were incapable of finding love IRL. Today, finding someone online or through an app has become widely accepted, expected, and socially normative. The original judgment placed on online dating has vanished, and now people receive criticism when they choose to disown the apps or take alternative dating routes. Now, there is an underlying assumption that if you attempt to find love the old school way, you’ll miserably fail.
Gen-Z and Millennials have become incredibly comfortable with dating apps as the preferred modality and are enmeshed in these platforms. Downloading Hinge, Bumble, or even Tinder is a no brainer and is advocated as the only way to find a hookup, FWB, or relationship. Although dating apps were intended to increase connection and aid in the process of finding love, they created an unexpected monster that has changed the dating game forever.
What is this monster I speak of? Well, researchers are beginning to study it because of its fascinating nature, confusing presentation, and negative impact on the brain. This monster has infiltrated the minds of Gen-Z and Millennials and has left a permanent imprint psychologically, cognitively and emotionally. You may be thinking, “Wow, that statement was dramatic,” but as you continue to read this article, you may find that this monster is more familiar than you anticipated.
Dating apps have radically changed the attitudes, beliefs and values of Gen-Z and Millennials, and researchers are mesmerized by the negative implications. Relationship scholars are fascinated by some of the cultural practices and want to understand on a deeper level the science behind these dating behaviors. Researchers are specifically focusing on the term ghosting, and have noted the following findings:
It’s Not You, It’s The Ghoster! All of us have specific beliefs about romantic relationships. Some people believe in destiny: there is one soulmate out there and is waiting to be rescued. Others are skeptical about the idea of “soulmates” and believe in multiple fitting partners. Believers in destiny are 63% more likely to deem ghosting an acceptable way to end a relationship. These individuals rationalize termination because they feel that their one and only is still out there waiting to be found. You most likely did not cause the ghosting, the ghoster’s theory about romantic partnership allowed them to justify their inconsiderate behavior.
It’s Probably for The Best. Research shows that ghosters are attracted to impersonal strategies that lessen emotional discomfort, decrease conflict, and avoid social cost. These detached tactics are often preferred by those who dread commitment and dodge intimacy. Even if ghosting was avoided, these characteristics could create deep tension in a relationship.
Avoidant Attachment Style – A Ghosters Best Friend. Every adult has an attachment style that impacts relationships. There are 4 attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, and anxious/avoidant. Researchers found that avoidant attachment is common with ghosting and allows the ghoster to maintain emotional distance, reject intimacy, and avoid commitment altogether.
As we can see, hiding behind a screen and swiping endlessly serves an intentional purpose and encourages deplorable conduct such as ghosting. Sadly, ghosting has become standard and happens more often than not which leads daters to feel defeated, confused, and outright pained. Not only has ghosting become the norm, but some other cultural practices as well.
“Benching” is a newer term that was coined for when someone you’ve been dating stops meeting up in person but continues to contact you via social media or through texting. Think of a basketball team where you have the star players and the benchers. The benchers are still considered to be part of the team, but they are not “played” in the game. In dating terms, someone is keeping you on the bench while they play out their other options. Although benching happens quite frequently, researchers have not yet studied this practice. Some may say that benching is the same as “playing the field,” however, I would make the case that dating apps takes this practice to a whole new level of intensity.
“Zombieing” is another fresher expression that haunts active daters and creates loads of confusion. Zombieing occur when a person who has disappeared from your life, randomly pops back up with a text, call or “like” on social media. Better yet, the zombie doesn’t provide an explanation as to why they originally evaporated or the reasons behind their unexpected return. Zombieing is just as common as benching or ghosting, however, has not been examined by researchers thus far.
The real question: If ghosting, benching, and zombieing occurs frequently and isn’t likely to end any time soon, how do Gen-Z and Millennial daters cope with this harsh reality? Unfortunately, nobody is educating these two generations on how to deal with the emotional discomfort related to contemporary dating. Nevertheless, there are a few tools that can help lessen the blow and ignite some hope in the process.
Take some time to review the 3 tips below that will help you feel relief and regain hope after you’ve been ghosted:
Tip 1: Be Aware of Your Emotions and Practice Acceptance. We all want to create a rich, full, and meaningful life. In order to achieve that, we have to accept the inevitable pain that life brings. As you know, modern dating requires emotional risk, which can lead to rejection and emotional discomfort. Instead of fighting or attempting to get rid of the discomfort, change your attitude to one of openness and curiosity. Even if your experience in the moment is unpleasant, you can be open and curious about it instead of actively avoiding your discomfort. Research shows that when we bring acceptance to painful thoughts and feelings, we reduce suffering in the long-run.
Tip 2: Practice Vulnerability and Take Some Emotional Risk. When we’ve been hurt, we tend to build up our walls and want to wear our armor at all times. This protection mode seems to be helpful at first, although it can lead disconnection, loneliness, and isolation. When you want to hide and stay in your comfort zone, it is important to push yourself and continue to show up courageously. Remember, the only way we can foster authentic connection is to be brave, unguarded, and bold.
Tip 3: Clarify and Identify Your Values in Romantic Relationships. Unlike goals that have a final destination, values are qualities of ongoing action, and guide how we behave on a continuing basis. In order to create a rich and meaningful life, we need to clarify our value system and then take effective action to get closer to these values. Take some time to reflect on the following questions:
What sort of partner would you like to be in an intimate relationship?What personal qualities would you like to develop?What sort of relationship would you like to build?What qualities and attributes do you need from a partner?How would you interact with your partner if you were the ‘ideal you’ in the relationship?
I’m the first to acknowledge that modern dating is incredibly frustrating and can lead to bitter disappointment. When we feel defeat and pain, it’s easy to want to give up and check out, however, it is important to remember that you are not alone in this process, and millions of Gen-Z and Millennials are in the trenches trying to find this thing called love. Now is the time to continue to persevere because finding connection and cultivating love is one of life’s most precious gifts.
Harris, Russ. The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living. Exisle Publishing Limited, 2007.Burriss, Robert. “Why You Were Ghosted.” Psychology Today, 4 Sept. 2018.Harris, Russ. ACT MADE SIMPLE: An Easy-to-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. New Harbinger Pub, 2009.
Paulina Siegel offers her counseling services at her practice Courageous Paths Counseling. She received her Masters of Social Work from the University of Denver and went on to receive her Certified Addiction Counselor level II certification. She specializes in Anxiety, Depression, Stress Management, Alcohol and Drug Addiction, Career Issues, Trauma, Academic Issues, Self-Esteem. For more information, please contact Paulina by phone at 970-591-2315 or by filling out the form in this link. Check out her website and other blog posts here.