BY: OLIVIA BAHOU
Nowadays, there’s seemingly a new dating term for every nuanced form of behavior. Relationship expert Susan Winter attributes our growing lexicon to the effect technology has on romance.
The guy you were talking to on Tinder suddenly stops responding? You just got ghosted. Your kind-of boyfriend is being flaky? You’re probably being benched. Or maybe you’re being breadcrumbed or cushioned—it’s hard to tell.
Why are the niche terms proliferating? here’s an “ease and lack of rules around dating,” she says. “There’s less commitment in general. These have become the regular dance steps—if you don’t think it’s going to work out, it’s just easier to ghost them because you don’t want to deal with it. It’s easier to bench them because you’re getting greedy.”
If that sounds cavalier, it is. “It’s heightened by the distance that we have because of online technology,” says Winter, explaining that because there is so often a screen between you and the person you’re communicating with, exchanges can feel less personal. “A lot of our interactions and hookups aren’t that meaningful anymore, so when the relationship itself isn’t meaningful, our morals around how we interact with them are a lot more lax.”
Dating is hard enough without needing to consult a dictionary. So let’s break down what these terms really mean, shall we?
The Truth About Ghosting
First, ghosting—perhaps the most popular of the bunch—simply means disappearing without a trace. “You cut them off completely, and there’s no forewarning. In another time period, if you want to get rid of somebody, you say, ‘It’s over.’ They have an idea that it’s ending, and there will not be communication. But with ghosting, you’re not even given the heads up,” says Winter.
Cushioning is equally unkind. “It’s used to describe someone already in a relationship that is overtly flirting with others just to keep them kind of warmed up on the side—just in case. They’re using others as a mental backup plan,” Winter explains, comparing the behavior to emotional cheating. “It’s cruel, because it gives mixed messages. It’s only for ego gratification and a sense of inner security.”
BENCHING AND BREADCRUMBING
Now here’s where it gets tricky: Benching and breadcrumbing have some definite overlap. According to Winter, benching is putting someone in the “maybe” box. “You emotionally reserve them. You’re not moving forward. You’re not moving backwards. You’ve sidelined them to be available for you while you check out other possibilities.”
Breadcrumbing is a bit sneakier, as the person being led on might not know for a fact that their romantic interest is pursuing other options. A breadcrumber may leave texts unanswered for days—but then respond affectionately, only to disappear again.
“Even though you’re sitting there