Ever since digital technology came along to enhance and further complicate our lives, modern romance has seen an influx of new dating terms and behaviors. The most famous of these is, of course, ghosting: when the person you’ve been seeing cuts off contact without warning. Other variations of this include love-bombing, when somebody inundates you with messages and attention, then goes AWOL , and fizzing, where the communication simply peters out, often mutually.
And then there’s submarining.
Also known as “zombie-ing,” submarining is a form of ghosting where a person drops off the grid, only to then get back in touch months later—perhaps just as you were finally getting over being ghosted in the first place. It’s pretty poor dating form, and it’s likely that more than a few people have experienced a submarine while in lockdown.
“People may choose to resurface for a lot of reasons, but more often than not, it’s out of insecurity or boredom,” says Gigi Engle, a certified sex coach and author of All the F*cking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life. “Maybe they just stopped seeing someone, maybe they’re sick of being trapped indoors, or maybe they just need some validation and are hoping to get it from you. Whatever the reason, it’s pretty unlikely that it’s because this person actually cares about you. It’s more likely that they want someone to talk to and make them feel good about themselves.”
Submarining is no better than traditional ghosting, because it involves the same apparent lack of awareness or concern for other people’s feelings. The internet disinhibition effect theorizes that the anonymous nature of instant messaging means we sometimes forget there is a real person on the other end of the screen, leading to us neglecting to extend the same empathy or consideration that we might in a real-world interaction.
Not that this is any excuse.
“If someone is actually into you, they don’t disappear out of nowhere,” says Engle. “If someone did just get ‘scared’ or whatever and disappeared, that’s a red flag in itself. Someone who doesn’t have enough emotional intelligence to at least send a polite text that they aren’t interested in moving forward is probably not someone you want to get serious about.”
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As for what to do when someone reappears unexpectedly, that’s your call. Maybe they have an explanation for why they dropped off your radar completely for so long. But if you do decide that they’re worth a second chance, don’t forget that you’ve already witnessed them pull off that disappearing act once before.
“You can respond however you see fit. If you really want to give this person another chance, that’s up to you,” says Engle. “Just be aware that this is likely not going to end well for you. I would advise not getting involved again, as it’s likely to wind up ending in disappointment again. If you’re feeling gutsy, you can reply to their submarine text and tell them that this is a lame thing to do and if they wanted to chat with you, they shouldn’t have been so rude to you.”
Breaking things off with somebody is never easy, but having that conversation is an important step in giving both parties closure. And if the thought of composing a “we need to talk” message brings you out in hives, you can always use a chatbot simulator to practice.
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