How to cope with pain behind dating buzzwords

Woman on mobile dating app. | Newsreel
Online dating is a minefield without coping strategies, | Photo: Flippo Bacci (iStock)

Being orbited hurts, but not as much as ghosting, while breadcrumbing makes you lonely. Welcome to the world of digital dating.

The various buzzwords associated with online dating and the impact of the actions behind them, have been unpacked by a psychotherapist who wants to provide coping strategies for those hurt in the dating process.

Writing for The Conversation, Instructor of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Danielle Sukenik said she had seen firsthand the impact these experiences had on mental health and was keen to share the latest psychological research on digital dating and evidence-based strategies to cope.

While many may be familiar with ghosting, where the “ghoster” completely vanishes, Ms Sukenik says that in orbiting, someone ghosts  but continues to follow the other person on social media by watching stories or occasionally engaging in their content.

“A 2022 study compared the psychological consequences of being ghosted, orbited or rejected (and) while feelings of rejection did not differ between the three breakup strategies – the end of a relationship hurts regardless – the results showed that ghosting led to stronger feelings of exclusion than being rejected outright,” Ms Sukenik said.

“Being orbited, on the other hand, seemed to buffer victims partially from the emotional consequences of a breakup.”

Ms Sukenik said other studies had showed that people preferred receiving negative attention over being ignored entirely.

She said breadcrumbing, which followed a similar vein, was when someone dropped morsels of flirtatious attention to keep the other person interested, even though they had no intention of participating in a relationship.

“Some classic signs of breadcrumbing are not responding to messages for long periods of time, vague communication, and avoidance of discussions related to feelings. These patterns tend to boost the breadcrumber’s ego, self-worth and sense of power,” she said.

“For the person being breadcrumbed, it’s a different story. (They are) more likely to have feelings of loneliness, helplessness and less life satisfaction than victims of ghosting.

“Because people on the receiving end of breadcrumbing remain in limbo longer, they experience repeated feelings of exclusion and ostracism. The ongoing nature of breadcrumbing explains why it can have more negative effects on mental health.”

Ms Sukenik said given the prevalence of these behaviours, it was important to employ strategies to support yourself and maintain a positive outlook about the dating scene.

“Any time you have an experience, your mind is quick to create a narrative around what happened in order to make sense of it and create an illusion of control or safety,” she said.

“If you’re not aware of the stories you tell yourself, you may find yourself incorrectly assigning blame or fault, which can lead to negative self-talk, anxiety and depression.

“For example, rather than think, ‘I did something wrong to cause them to ghost me,’ you could think, ‘Their decision to disengage from the relationship is more about them and how they relate to others than it is about me’.”

Ms Sukenik said being mindful of your cognitive patterns and practicing changing your narratives could help keep online dating from wreaking havoc on your psyche.

“I also recommend varying the ways you connect to others to mitigate burnout. A healthy mix of apps and meeting people ‘in the wild’ will often yield the best outcome and allow the dating adventure to remain exciting.”