What to do when the person you're dating 'zombies' or 'submarines'

Jenna Birch
Contributing Writer
Add “zombieing” to your dating dictionary. (Illustrated by Hannah Jacobs for Yahoo Lifestyle)

On October 2, female-centric email newsletter the Skimm made the term “submarining” their “thing to know” for the day. So what is submarining, exactly? “When someone you’ve been dating ghosts you. And then decides to pop back into your life without any explanation. You know. The ‘hey, what’s up’ text, apology not included,” they explain.

By their definition, submarineing sounds remarkably similar to zombieing, which is when someone you’re dating fades away, only to “come back from the dead” to try and resurrect your relationship. The attempted resurrection generally comes super casually via a “Hey, how have you been??” text message.

In the early stages of dating, you never know if a prospect who goes MIA is just busy, dealing with personal stuff, playing the field, or legit ghosting, and never planning to contact you again. Welcome to the ambiguity and confusion of modern dating.

So, what’s a dater to do? Here’s how to deal with all the disappearing acts and reemerging prospects in today’s dating pool.

Have low expectations early on, but make an effort.

The modern dating landscape is so crowded and chaotic, it’s important to keep your expectations low. People disappear, meet other propsects, date without the intention of getting serious, etc. If you’re looking to build a potential relationship, then you have to locate a compatible someone who’s exhibiting the same effort you are.

All that said, you should definitely make an active effort to communicate clear interest in those you want to get to know more. No playing it cool, or playing hard to get. The daters who succeed are the most in touch, set up dates, text, call, and find reasons to get closer to those they’re into. Consistency matters. And frankly, it stands out.

If someone disappears and comes back, remember your agency.

If you are dating someone who suddenly exits the scene, it can be a bummer; ghosting is a trauma most modern daters have come to accept. However, an alarming number of ghosts will become submarines or zombies, popping up sporadically or reentering your life when the relationship looked dead in the water. There’s something so alluring about trying to figure out what happened! I’m sure you wanted to know, at the time of the disappearance, what was really going on in your prospect’s head, right?

Before you dive back in with a zombie or submarine, ask yourself if this connection was strong enough to really be worth it. Inconsistency signals risk. If this person is coming back to ask you out again, you’re in the driver’s seat now. Make sure it feels like a risk worth taking. If it was a so-so connection (or likely a slower-growing one), honestly, you’re better off looking for someone else.

Before you get proceed, ask what happened during the disappearance.

Today, a shocking number of people won’t be upfront and say things like, “Work was so crazy, I had to take a step back,” or, “I was dealing with some personal issues, but I’m all sorted out now.” There’s also a chance the person chose to pursue someone else — not because they didn’t like you, but maybe just because they met them first and that relationship was progressing faster. Since they didn’t have a “reason” to break it off with you, they left it open-ended as a “maybe later.” This is all common in the rapid app/online dating landscape, and it’s not a deal breaker per se.

However, if you’re going to entertain someone who submarined or zombied you, you’ve got to clear the air. When you see them again, just say something like, “I was surprised to hear from you again, but happy you reached out. Do you mind if I ask what happened?” Anyone who can’t give a clear, honest answer probably doesn’t have the communication skills you need to build a relationship. Make sure they are transparent.

Before you commit to someone, make sure their pattern is one of consistency.

I think it’s normal (and OK) to give zombies and submarines one more chance at getting to know you, but they can’t continue to bail or be inconsistent. Psychologically speaking, someone who provides intermittent reinforcement (sometimes responsive, other times not; sometimes happy, other times not) is the most addictive prospect — and also the most toxic. Trying to figure someone out and wondering if they’ll show up for you? That is a mind game, not the stuff of strong relationship foundations.

Anyone you date seriously should maintain a pattern of consistency before you commit to a full-blown relationship. When you call, they pick up. When you setup a place to meet, they show up on time. When you text, they shoot back a reply in a timely fashion. They are open, active, honest, and responsive to you (as you should be to them). If the person you’re seeing drops off the grid more than once? Yeah, drop ’em.

If you can’t trust a submarine or zombie, only date people who never disappear.

Apps and online dating are saturated with people who date around, and you need to prepare yourself for that reality if you’re someone who doesn’t like to pursue multiple leads at once. If you only date via online, filter for people who are consistently interested and in touch. No matter how much you like someone, if they keep you guessing, you might not be able to develop the necessary trust.

Don’t forget, you can meet people in real life too. Vary your strategies for meeting prospects, from parties to clubs, bars to friends. People are so reliant on technology these days to reduce the risk of rejection. But if you hate online dating, it’s time to go the old-school route.

Jenna Birch is a journalist, a dating coach, and author of  The Love Gap (Grand Central Life & Style, January 2018). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to jen.birch@sbcglobal.net with “YAHOO QUESTION” in the subject line.

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