“Pocketing, Irene, it’s called pocketing,” Irene’s friend Noe told her. “That bozo’s doing nothing a thousand others haven’t done before him.”
This is how Irene realized that the man she had been dating for over a year, was not “in a bad place” but was simply reproducing a specific pattern of dating behavior.
“I had to ask Noe to explain because I had never heard the word ‘pocketing’ before,” Irene admits via Skype from Barcelona. So, Noe told her: “It’s when you have a relationship with someone, but that relationship doesn’t leave the walls of their house, or yours. In the outside world, he doesn’t know you. That’s what the word pocketing means. If you’re outside, you keep the relationship in your pocket.”
Irene says that yes, “clearly” Ivan, whom she met on Tinder, was “pocketing” her and that when she confronted him, they broke up. “He told me, ‘Look, girl, we were fine as we were, but right now I don’t want any trouble,’ and that was after a year and a half of seeing each other four times a week.”
By putting a name to what she was experiencing, this 32-year-old woman was able to get out of a relationship that was “objectively toxic, looking at it in perspective.” Like pocketing, there are dozens of terms that define patterns of unhealthy behavior that help identify them; conceptual labels that describe ways of getting into, staying in or leaving noxious relationships, both for the active and passive parties. Irene is not alone. Over the last month and a half, almost 200 women and a dozen men, from 14 to 56, have responded to a request by EL PAÍS through social media to share their experiences.
Most of the men’s stories involve ghosting, the act of abruptly cutting off communication with the partner, and there were three in which the relationship simply ended with only one partner falling out of love. Regarding the women’s experiences, there were a dozen instances like that, though on the whole their ex-partners’ behavior was diverse with an element of ghosting almost always creeping in at some point. The terms given to some of these behaviors are explained below.
On October 5, 2018, when Banksy’s Girl with Balloon went under the hammer at a now-famous auction, the work began to self-destruct before the buyer’s very eyes. Similarly, banksying involves one partner plotting the break-up of a relationship almost before it has begun. According to a survey by dating app Plenty of Fish in 2018, one in four people had banksied their partner while 44% believed they had been banksied.
When it comes to benching, one person keeps another “on the bench,” like a substitute at a sporting event. Highly manipulative, this keeps the benched partner hanging on, hoping in a “neither with you nor without you” scenario in which only one person decides when to get together. Lidia, 17, recalls being relegated to this state of eternal limbo: “He came and went,” she says. “Suddenly I found out he had a girlfriend, then he came back because he had been dumped... and that’s how it was from the age of 15 until a few months ago. I was like the spare part, but I really liked him a lot.” Meanwhile, Janire has found herself in the same situation with a “friend,” who, like her, is in his 40s: “He only gets in touch between girlfriends. When we see each other, he doesn’t want anything long-term and as soon as he stops calling, I know it’s because he has found something serious.”
Those who breadcrumb make sure to offer up crumbs of attention to keep the other person interested, although in general they have no intention of actually interacting and, if they do, it will be sporadic. Lola, 39, explains: “He is not the first or the last midnight cowboy – as I baptized them a while back – that I have come across through Tinder or other dating apps, but for the past year or so, there is a guy who, either through Instagram or WhatsApp, pops up to ask me to meet for a drink, with an explicit suggestion that we sleep together, which never actually happens. Neither the meeting up nor the sex, I mean.”
Catch and release
This is basically the same tactic as used in recreational fishing with the caught fish being returned to the water. The objective is to pursue the target, but not to maintain a relationship: chase, conquer, and then, it’s goodbye.
This practice gets its name from Catfish, the 2010 documentary in which Nev Schulman discovers that the woman he has been having a relationship with for several years is not who she says she is. It is is the act of creating a false identity to initiate a relationship with someone. This can be considered a crime if the perpetrator steals other people’s images and data. There is also a risk of anything from scamming to assault if the perpetrator and the person being catfished ever meet up or enter into a relationship.
Cloaking is a step beyond ghosting. Not only does the person disappear, but the other person is blocked on any of the apps or channels through which communication was maintained.
Cricketing is leaving a message on read for a long time, as in weeks, as a sort of “let you down easy” move.
Patricia says she can’t believe she didn’t realize she was being cuffed sooner: “I’m 34 and I’ve been with a jerk since I was 29. I have to say it– a jerk. Me? I was an idiot,” she says. “We met in September 2017, at a concert, and dated until April. He got back in touch in October and we dated again for about five months. Then, last year, I said, ‘Look, this is a joke. It’s over.’ He got back in touch in mid-September and we dated, but I didn’t want to get back together, I just wanted to see what might happen. He literally told me that in the summer he had a lot going on and being with someone interfered with that. How do you deal with that?”
In the US, there have been studies carried out on this particular modus operandi, warning potential victims on how to avoid being cuffed – picked up during cuffing season when it is cold and rainy, then dumped when the sun comes out. Reverse the time of year and this becomes known as freckling season.
Curving is less aggressive than cricketing, but just as disconcerting, and frustrating for the person on the receiving end. Curvers do not stop writing, but answer tersely and sometimes monosyllabically, implying that the conversation is over without actually saying so, or expressing an explicit lack of interest. They are not really there, but they don’t really leave either.
Cushioning is practice of flirting with other people to cushion the fall for when a relationship ends.
Valeria, 26, and Joanna, 26 both live in Lima, Peru. One Saturday in January, they both got the same message within the space of a minute from the same phone number, inviting them out for a drink. The same thing happened to Nerea, 29, and Carla, 30, last summer on the Mediterranean coast. Valeria and Joanna say it was “funny,” while Nerea and Carla’s response was “what a jerk,” but all four agree that it doesn’t feel good when someone writes you to meet “not because they want to meet you,” but “because they want to meet whoever.”
According to safety requirements, fire exit doors have to open outwards. Similarly, a firedooring relationship is one way, with the person exercising power only really paying attention to their partner when they need something from them.
This is about being flexible with the truth. Pumping up your image before actually meeting the other person in the flesh. According to Plenty of Fish data, 63% of single women and 38% of single men have come across a flexer.
This is one of only two terms that already has an established translation in Spanish. Gaslighting, a term borrowed from the famous 1944 movie Gaslight, is a mechanism of psychological violence to make someone question their own reality by continuously casting doubt on their perceptions and recollections. Has anyone ever told you that you are exaggerating, that you are crazy or mad? Has anyone ever asked how you can think that or that what you are seeing is not what you think you are seeing? During an argument, do they repeatedly tell you that you remember things wrong or that it did not happen the way it happened? This is gaslighting, a continuous, repetitive and subtle abuse that undermines and ultimately renders the victim impotent.
A goodbye without explanations, no response, no warning. A soft version of this is known as caspering, from Casper, the friendly ghost. In the case of caspering, there may be no explanation but there is at least a goodbye. When a person is muted on different apps, he or she is being mooned – from the moon icon indicating a “do not disturb” setting on some phones. When this is done gradually, it is called a slow fade.
This is ghosting’s counterpart. Ghostbusters insist on maintaining communication even when there is no one at the other end.
This term is inspired by Jay Gatsby, the character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, later made into a movie (twice), who did everything he could to get Daisy Buchanan’s attention. It is also known as instagrandstanding or instagranding, using Instagram to get someone’s attention with the perfect post or story to trigger a response from a specific person.
This term suggests anything from pursuing to obsessing. Whatever form it takes, haunting also involves disappearing by ghosting while continuing to haunt the person on social networks by checking their activity.
Hoovering is the act of sucking up unwanted behavior in order to get back into someone’s life. “I’m the perfect example,” says 16-year-old Maria. “Since I was 13 until November last year, my boyfriend would leave me, without any explanation, and come back two weeks later saying he was sorry, that he’d lost it. He would disappear again after two months, and then come back, saying that it wasn’t going to happen again. He did this eight times. I was hoping that he would change. I was really stuck, but in November I thought that there was never going to be a solution and I left him. I explained it to him and I think he understood.”
This is a tame version of catfishing and involves pretending; maybe that you love the theater when you have never set foot in a theater; that you have an apartment in the cool neighborhood of Malasaña in Madrid, but in fact you live in Seseña on the very outskirts of the capital; that you are on a postgraduate course, one that, in reality, you have been doing for the past 10 years and which you are never going to finish; or that you love techno when it actually gives you a massive headache.
This involves coming on strong at first with attention and promises of eternal bliss. Once the receiver is well and truly hooked, the bombardment ends as quickly as it started. Irene, who is now 40, remembers an ex “with a huge ego and a narcissistic nature.” First, he did everything he could to conquer her. But as soon as they were a couple, things started to change: “Every so often, there would be these cries for attention, which was how he referred to the moments when he disappeared,” she says, adding that sometimes she didn’t even know where he was. “He would stop writing or calling me... [an intermittent ghosting that borders on psychological abuse]. According to him, he did it so I wouldn’t get used to it. Now when I think about it, I wonder what kind of person makes sure you don’t get used to being well treated?” Irene went to therapy. “I got over it,” she says. “But we are blinded by centuries of patriarchy.”
Cata is 36 and lives in Bogotá in Colombia: “You know those men that say something really insulting when they meet you for the first time, instead of complimenting you, and try to make it look like a joke? Well, I’ve been meeting more and more of them. When he first saw me, the last one said, “How cute, you take up so little space.” According to Cata, who is 1.53 meters tall, these men are negging (negating) her, which is all about trying to get someone interested in you through negative comments. Insults in disguise.
Orbiting around someone on social networks, giving likes, viewing their stories, but never interacting. It borders on stalking, i.e. online harassment.
“I do this to my mom, but I had never had a guy do this to me on a date before,” Noelia says. “It started with the last guy I went out with on Tinder, just before the pandemic; every time we met he ignored me most of the time, and looked at his cell phone instead. Maybe I’m 20, but I’m not stupid and when it’s been three months like that, well, that’s it. I had zero interest. Now I’ve had it done to me more times.”
A combination of phone and snubbing, this practice is also known as sidebarring. According to a 2017 Facebook study, 71% of people do it at some point, whether in a couple, among friends or family.
An indoor relationship, i.e. a partner who only wants to have a relationship alone, either in their home or yours or, at most, somewhere where you won’t run into anyone you know. But that’s as far as it goes. It comes from pocketing something, hiding it away when you’re out and about.
Roaching is to behave like a cockroach. Lucía explains how she was roached on her 51st birthday. “I was in a relationship with a man my age for two years and everything was fine,” she says. “We were a couple, or so I thought until one day I made a comment that I thought was normal about having lunch with my daughter who was coming to Spain [she is studying abroad]. He asked me what I was thinking, that we were not a couple and had nothing serious going. It was so ‘not serious’ that I got my things from his house and told him that I wasn’t prepared to put up with that kind of bullshit at my age.” Lucía, 22, Ana, 26, and Fernanda, 34, told more or less the same tale.
To submarine someone is to ignore someone for a long time, and then come back as if nothing has happened. Irma, 39, said: “He disappears and I find out that he has got a girlfriend through social networks. And four years go by. Four, huh? One night in June, when you’re having a drink with friends, you receive a message. There has been a pandemic since you last saw him. He hasn’t asked you how you are or if anyone you know has died or if you have been infected. He’s like, cuckoo. Cuckoo, as if nothing had happened; hello! Here I am, it hasn’t been four years, I never left.”
The same thing happened to Marta, 30. She met a guy through an app and they had a connection “in a lot of ways from the word go.” They met once and that was it: “He disappeared from the face of the earth and a year and a bit later he wrote to me again as if nothing had happened.”
Tindstagraming is to go directly from a Tinder profile with the Instagram account in the biography, to that account, without making a match. If it is private, you will check it out, without explaining your motives and, if not, you won’t need to. You will check that account daily, without following it and without interacting. Just watching. In fact, it amounts to passive stalking and online harassment.
Marta is 43, has an above-average salary and an above-average position in her profession: “When I meet someone, I know perfectly well if that person is interested in me or in what I represent. Once I got this: ‘Hey, there’s no attraction between us – we both know that, but we could make a good couple and do well at work.’ I was a bit dumbstruck, but I replied that I was already doing fine on my own. Thank you and goodbye.” Throning is wanting to have a relationship with someone on account of their social or economic status.
“If you’ve been dumped by Zoom, welcome to my club; you’ve been zumped, which at least is better than being ghosted.” This was Elsa’s brief message explaining what zumping is, a term that became widespread during the pandemic, when circumstances limited social interaction.
If someone is ghosting, then suddenly wants to come back and does it through social networks, they are zombieing.
Why it matters to label what’s happening to you
Some of these behaviors are relatively recent, emerging with social networking and dating apps. Others have been modified and intensified by the use of these apps, and reconceptualized. Experts, research and figures – or rather the lack of them – have thrown up three things to consider: socialization through the internet has changed the scenario; it is mostly women who bear the brunt, although it can happen to anyone; and more and better quantitative and qualitative analysis is needed to understand the way we make connections and bond with others.
The most recent study in Spain on ghosting [disappearing without explanation] and breadcrumbing [holding someone’s interest by dropping the odd crumb of attention], carried out by researchers from the Sociology department of Castilla-La Mancha in 2021, reflected that “half the participants were not familiar” with these terms, but that, nevertheless, “approximately two in 10 reported having either experienced or committed ghosting, and slightly more than three in 10 had experienced or committed breadcrumbing in the last 12 months.” They added that “empirical investigation is needed to understand these online behaviors, their incidence, and the variables related to them.”
Identifying behaviors and labeling them is a significant step towards reining them in, according to the research. “This is because the moment you put a name to it, you can distance yourself from it, examine it and try to change it,” says Adriana García Andrade, a professor of Sociology at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) in Mexico City and an expert on relationships. The basic question, she adds, is “what they are like, how we perceive them, how these relationships have evolved, and what we expect from them.”
The tendency to jump from one relationship to another
In The End of Love. A Sociology of Negative Relations (Katz, 2020), French-Israeli sociologist Eva Illouz discusses how “the abandonment of relationships, the inability or unwillingness to enter into a relationship, and the tendency to jump from one relationship to another, are an integral part of the new commodified form that sexual relationships have assumed.” She writes that today’s hyper-connected world “seems to be marked by the formation of quasi-proxy or negative bonds” and that “personal freedom is relentlessly exercised by way of the right not to engage in relationships, or to disengage from them” in a process she describes as opting out of relationships at any stage.
When relationships are created virtually, without a common environment, abandonment is facilitated. Psychologist Maria Torres says that the speed in which we live, “the culture of immediacy in which bonds are created makes them false bonds, because we have not given them the process or the time to become solid.” And there are those who leave, hurting those who stay, sometimes without responsibility or guilt.
“You have to learn or relearn in new contexts,” Torres says, referring to what is healthy and tolerable and what is not. She isn’t sure to what extent what we have learned until now can be applied to the current context: “There are things that can be, because they are very clear and visible, such as aggression, whether verbal or written, but there are other mechanisms that are new and in this digital scenario we are still in a transition period, and we must learn to understand what elements are harmful.”
Patriarchy, feminism and the construction and deconstruction of romantic love
What do patriarchy, feminism and the construction and deconstruction of romantic love have to do with the intensification of old and the creation of new behavior? On the one hand, the idea of romantic love appears to concern those it continues to subjugate most. “Men tend to separate sexuality from emotions far more easily, while women tend to consider themselves much more emotionally competent,” writes Eva Illouz in The End of Love.
It is also women who more easily identify what is going on, explains García-Andrade: “One of the great contributions of feminism has been to identify romantic love as a cultural construct, so that it can be deconstructed, socialized [in a healthy way] for new generations who can be made aware that relationships can be different."
Add to this a lack of balance regarding learning about relationships from the perspective of equality, banishing structures of power, domination-submission and control. Stribor Kuric, a researcher at the Queen Sofia Center’s FAD Youth Foundation, explains that “the position between boys and girls has always been quite polarized” and that, according to his most recent research, this gap has widened: “The percentages of women who consider themselves feminists has continued to increase,” he says. “From 47% in 2017 to 67% last year. However, in the case of men whose departure point was just 23.6% in 2017, it increases quite a bit in 2019, up to 37.3%. But in the last two years, it has fallen again to 32.11%.”
Kuric also flags up the difference in how men and women perceive violence: “20% of men say that it is an ideological invention, 15.4% that it is not a problem if it is of low intensity and 24% that although it is undesirable, it is inevitable.”
Although FAD does not have specific national data on how “the rituals, the establishment and rupture of relationships work, in the end all these types of gender constructions are based on experiences that have consequences in the real world.” The imbalance between men and women and the social advances of recent years “have caused many men to feel that they have lost a series of privileges that they consider their right and they react in a misogynistic or antagonistic way, let’s say, towards women in general, and specifically towards feminist women.”
Liv Strömquist picks up on this idea in the graphic novel I Feel Nothing (Reservoir Books, 2021). She writes about how the way in which men have maintained their masculine status has changed in the last century and a half: “Traditionally, masculinity manifested itself in three contexts –at work, at home and in exclusively male gatherings,” she says. But in recent decades these spaces “have been conquered” by women “and the status of men has been distorted thanks to the advances of modernity and feminism.” Women work, earn their own money and occupy public and leisure space.
Strömquist quotes Illouz: “Sexuality is transformed into one of the most significant status symbols of masculinity.” In other words, men have been transferring the control they previously exercised in more traditional domains to sex and sexuality: “The sexual field has become the arena in which they can express and exhibit their autonomy and their mandate,” she says. And so it is that detachment has come to symbolize the autonomy and control that some men equate with masculinity.