Breadcrumbing, ghosting, and cushioning...oh my!
Thanks for joining us for the second episode in our #hotgoss series about dating apps. This week we talked about apps, communication, and communication break downs. Catch the episode here if you missed it!
On this month’s episode we asked the question: Dating Apps, are they good or bad for communication?
Like most things, the answer is: A little yes, and a little no.
On the one hand, there are a number of reasons dating apps can help facilitate communication. They clarify, at least somewhat, the nature of your initial date. As one woman said to us last episode, “At least when I’m on a tinder date, I know it’s a tinder date.” Apps like Tinder also offer the opportunity to communicate boundaries up front before investing time and energy into a date. For example, if someone says that they’re just looking for hook-ups on their profile, and you’re looking for a serious relationship, that’s important and helpful information. You better know how to set your expectations going in. As Oronde said on the episode, for better or worse, it can sometimes be easier to communicate those boundaries via text or message too.
But, communicating boundaries over text isn’t the same thing as doing so in person. Just because someone agrees to something, or seems open to it via text, Messenger, or Snapchat, doesn’t mean you have automatic consent when you’re together in real life. The same applies to Tinder or dating app messages. Going out on a Tinder date isn’t a guaranteed hook-up, both parties need to be checking in and communicating clearly throughout the date.
Even if you’re flirting on Tinder, you’re allowed to get to the date and decide you’re not into it. You shouldn’t be obligated or pressured to keep your date going any longer than you’re comfortable. Says one friend of Speak About It, “Tinder can create this obligation. Because it’s known as a hook-up app, sometimes it doesn’t feel any different than when someone buys you a drink and you feel pressured to do something for it. I know that isn’t right...but I have trouble shaking that feeling.”
Dating apps offer such a plethora of options, it can feel like you’re swimming in a sea of faces. A lot of folks we talked to said it feels hard to make these digital interactions feel personal. This can breed more opportunities for disrespect and digital harassment. Because the person behind the message feels less like a real person, it’s easier to forgo respectful communication. It also leaves folks, especially women, trans and non-binary folks, and people of color open to discrimination that they cannot necessarily avoid reading or seeing.
Disregard for the humans behind a Tinder profile can seep into in-person interactions. A number of folks we talked to said that they put less time, energy, and consideration into Tinder dates because they seemed less serious, less real, and less valuable. This can leave a lot of folks feeling undervalued, and even dehumanized by their dating experiences through the apps.
Shane asked an important question during our episode, Do dating apps make dating too easy? While the apps can be great for facilitating romance when you are crunched for time, is this benefit also a downside? Dates can be instantaneously available, summoned with a swipe and arranged in between meetings and emails, but also while you’re waiting for the bus or going to the bathroom. Is this ease and convenience preventing people from learning how to be honest and vulnerable?
Apps can also make it easier for folks to split energy between multiple people. Dating around isn’t a bad thing, but you have to remember that energy isn’t a renewable resource. You only ever have 100% of your energy at any one time. If you’re splitting your dating energy between four or five people, that splits your energy and ability to communicate attentively too. If you are dating multiple people--or even just talking to multiple people--it takes energy to juggle these engagements. And that tax on one’s energy can be a hindrance to good communication.
The 21st Century Dating Buzzwords...are they Tinder’s fault?
If dating apps facilitate poor communication, are they also the cause of many common communication breakdowns in relationships? You’ve probably heard of ghosting before, and have read about or experienced breadcrumbing or benching too. So, we wanted to know: Can we blame Tinder for these things?
Even if there wasn’t a term to describe it before like... 2015, ghosting is an age old folly. If you haven’t had the honor of being ghosted or the shame of ghosting someone: Ghosting is when someone you’re dating stops communicating with you at all--the other end of the line goes silent, and you never hear from them again. This behavior can be very harmful, it leaves the ghostee with a feeling of insecurity and a lot of unanswered questions. If you’ve been physically intimate with someone or spent a lot of time on relationship only to be ghosted, one can end up feeling used and disrespected.
People ghosted even before texting and dating apps were a thing; scenes of despondent teens waiting anxiously beside rotary telephones that never ring come to mind. But because there are so many ways to get a hold of someone today, and therefore so many more ways to ignore them, it can be simultaneously more hurtful to ghost and easier to do at the same time.
Some folks ghost with malicious intent, others because they are distracted, busy, or don't know how to communicate. They might think it’s easier to ghost rather than hurt someone’s feelings by telling them they’ve lost interest. Likewise, while apps can easily facilitate hanging out or talking to multiple people, the sheer mass can get overwhelming if you have a busy schedule. It’s easy to just lose touch with someone when there’s so many other things on your to-do list. Plus, lots of people have different opinions on when ghosting is actually ghosting and when it’s fine to just not respond.
Many, we suspect, ghost because they think it’s okay. BuzzFeed reported on this telling scene from Netflix’s new show, Hot Girls which revealed an interesting revelation from Tinder dater, J. Rhine. A serial ghoster, he never realized the impact of his behavior on his dates. He simply thought it was a better tactic than “dealing with a girl’s feelings.” After producers showed Rhine the other side of his ghosting relationships, Rhine reflected, “Sitting there watching her cry and break down like that over something that I personally didn't think was that significant was a good reminder as to the fact that you sit back, get off your phone, and pay attention to how these other people are feeling. You're affecting other people, and you're not doing it in a good way,” he said. “...You're supposed to be honest and up front, and you're supposed to be considerate for other people, and that was something I wasn't doing.”
Breadcrumbing, Cushioning and Benching
Behaviors like breadcrumbing, cushioning, and benching are also not new behaviors, but their rise in popularity and subsequent naming can, in-part, be attributed to dating apps. Like ghosting, these behaviors are all niche terms for the same sort of thing: not communicating and valuing someone else’s time in a relationship.
Breadcrumbing occurs when someone keeps another person interested and semi-engaged with snippets of conversation: the occasional DM about your Insta-story, a text or two, a late-night date once a month. These brief interactions are enough to keep someone on call, but never enough to satisfy what the person on the other end wants. Like ghosting, someone might be consciously breadcrumbing, or doing it because they haven’t figured out what they're looking for themselves. Either way, breadcrumbing leaves the person on the other end feeling strung along and unsatisfied.
Cushioning and benching are like nasty twin cousins of breadcrumbing. According to the Boston Globe, “Cushioning occurs when you have a main squeeze, but just in case that doesn’t work out, you keep one or more other people in the picture...By breadcrumbing several people, you cushion yourself from your main relationship failing.”
This NYMag article explains benching, or the process of keeping someone on the sidelines (usually through breadcrumbing) just in case you want to pursue something with them eventually, or not at all.
“After two dates, I couldn’t quite decide what I was feeling for this person — whether we would never see each other again or become friends or maybe date down the line — but I didn’t want to end the conversation either. So I would ping him occasionally, just enough to pique his interest and dangle the carrot of a possible relationship without ever actually following through with plans. To use a sports metaphor (my first ever), he would be on the roster but not in play; I’d decided to bench him. It’s despicable, manipulative, selfish behavior — and something we’re all doing”
Ghost Busting: Let's do it better.
If dating apps create lower stakes for relationships, and fuel negative behaviors and communication breakdowns, then how do we avoid this? How do we do better?
A lot of the things we talk about at Speak About It can help prevent communication breakdowns like ghosting or breadcrumbing. Treating the people on the other side of the apps like real people, and communicating with them using the same attention and respect you give friend is a great start to healthier online dating. The next time you go out on a Tinder date, try it. Open yourself to clear, respectful communication for any level of romantic commitment.
Many communication follies happen on apps and in real life because we are not honest with ourselves and our partners about how much time and energy we are able to give to a relationship. Like we said earlier, your energy is not a renewable resource, you only have the capacity to give 100% at anytime. If you’re dating multiple people, or busy with other commitments, you have to divide that energy. It’s totally fine to date around as long as you’re respectful of all your partners, and clearly communicate the terms and boundaries of your relationship with all of them. But that’s key--you have to communicate with all of them.
Because there are so many options at your finger tips, Tinder can make you feel like the grass is always greener on the next swipe. It can feel exciting, enticing, and easier to jump into a new date or move on to a new person. It is harder to be honest with your feelings or communicate clearly with your existing partner(s). But you have to remember, people aren’t grass.
And if you are going to think of people as grass--think of it like this: Some grass can’t survive being watered once a week. If that’s all you’re able to do, tell the person (grass?) up front. That gives the person the opportunity to decide if they can grow in that environment, or if they want to grow somewhere with more water.
If these grass metaphors feel like they’re coming out of left field, they might be. But the long and short is: communication is essential in any relationship, whether you met on the apps or not. Use Tinder as a way to increase your ability to communicate, not other way around.
Tune in Februray 15th on Facebook Live. We’ll be wrapping up our #hotgoss series on dating apps by talking about how to reframe Tinder and use it in a healthy way. Until then, happy swiping!
Speak About It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that partners with high schools and colleges to educate, entertain, and empower students to create positive change within their communities, advocate for and practice healthy relationship habits, and prevent sexual violence.
Copyright 2016 Speak About It, Inc. Website by Alexandra Valleau