I once passed the better part of a summer waiting for a spark to ignite with a guy whose feelings for me were mostly inscrutable, while mine never warmed above tepid. We got along well enough, were amply able to sustain a conversation, but ultimately, both of us understood we were taxiing down an endless runway without any possibility of takeoff.
So when the subtle shifts in conversational dynamics occurred—increasingly extended pauses between texts, outlines of weekend plans left to languish as Friday loomed—I correctly assumed imminent ghosting. And while I found that exit both rude and frustrating, when things fizzled for good, it seemed like the right and natural end.
Except for that it wasn’t the end, not quite. Roughly two months after my final unanswered text, I opened my phone to a series of dispatches from my ghost, making small talk about Netflix as if it had been a week since we’d spoken. Confused and genuinely curious, I inquired after his endgame: Was he angling for me to come over, or was he just making conversation?
The latter, he said, before sinking back into a silence that lasted four more months. One random spring morning, I awoke to a late night invitation to join him and a friend at a bar down the street from my apartment. Over the next couple of weeks, he fired off a few more variations on “u up?” until I eventually answered, explaining that I was seeing someone but wished him well. No response. His periscope dropped down below the waves, never to resurface again. At least not so far.
In 2016, I referred to this episode as ghosting, but the internet recently coined a more precise term: submarining, or the sudden vanishing of a romantic prospect who just as suddenly reappears at some future date, cresting huge and unannounced and without mention of the intervening silence, as if they’d never disappeared at all. Submarining is just the latest in a series of freshly spawned dating “trends:” There’s, or maintaining a person’s interest by occasionally throwing them communication scraps that suggest some kind of intention; there’s , or deliberately cloistering a new partner away from friends, family, and social media, as a means of keeping the relationship informal and non-exclusive; there’s , or the low-key lining up of several alternative partners as a sort of insurance against the dissolution of a new relationship.
The unifying themes, as I see them, include disregard for the feelings of others and a certain dismissiveness. Neither are new in the dating game; they’re not so much “trends” as perennially shitty dating practices. The lighthearted designations may help them seem less egregious, but the proliferation of pet names risks normalizing the behavior so that it becomes easier to indulge, more socially acceptable: If everyone ghosts one another all the time, if disappearance is par for the course, then we needn’t hold ourselves too accountable to other people’s feelings. They know the rules.