Yesterday morning I was introduced to the term “cushioning” and nearly had a meltdown.
The act of cushioning — when people in monogamous relationships stay in casual contact with people they may want to date in the future — wasn’t at all new or upsetting to me. My friends used to call it “planting seeds.” Everyone who’s ever dated is familiar with the practice (unless you’re Mike Pence, whose self-imposed ban on dining alone with women who aren’t his wife seems less insane in light of the term’s recent popularity).
What’s bothersome is that some self-serving internet personality felt compelled to attach a term to this common practice, and that everyone else on the internet ran with it, debating its merits and exactly how widespread it is.
The internet seems intent on reducing nearly every dating behavior, no matter how ordinary, to a meme. Not only is it annoying, but in most cases, it actually detracts from the point that’s trying to be made.
This trend arguably started with the introduction of the “friend zone,” shorthand for when a man wants to date a woman, but she relegates him to friendship status.
“Friend zone” has become part of the modern lexicon, and is indeed handy for describing situations of unrequited love and all the accompanying anxiety. But it’s also inspired a generation of writers to try to coin their own dating terms.
Later came “ghosting,” to describe when someone abruptly loses interest in a romantic partner and cuts off all communication. This was only slightly different from the “fade out,” which is more gradual.
Last summer, New York Times writer Jessica Bennett popularized the term “breadcrumbing,” which is periodically sending someone a flirtatious message, but not bothering to keep steady contact or ask them on a legitimate date. Around the same time, New York magazine told us “benching” is the new ghosting, and that it involves sending someone the occasional text just to keep them marginally interested. Shortly thereafter GQ told us, no, “mooning” is actually the new ghosting, and that it’s kinda like benching and ghosting, except it involves your phone’s Do Not Disturb feature.
What’s the difference? Who the fuck knows?! All these terms mean essentially the same thing, which is to say they mean nothing at all.
I understand this is a deeply cynical view of people who come up with these dating terms, and a little hypocritical coming from a guy who earlier this week tried to get everyone to call forearms “fores.” But that was largely a joke — unless “fores” or “planting seeds” take off, in which case you read them here first, and must pay me a royalty whenever you use them.
But online writers are so eager to coin or popularize new dating-related terms that they end up stuffing them down our throats, and insisting that these nonexistent trends are some terrible phenomenon when they’re really just routine.
Case in point: Callie Byrnes, the Thought Catalog writer who earlier this week tried to convince us that the hot new dating trend is “breezing,” the term she’s invented for, uh, “throwing out the mind games and just being real,” or as some call it, “dating.”
The worst part about these terms is they’re meant to expose and root out the dating behaviors they describe, but end up having the opposite effect — they normalize them.
Ghosting would sound a lot worse if we called it “being an immature coward.” And breadcrumbing would have a much different connotation if we called it “being emotionally manipulative.”
The most egregious example, though, is “stealthing,” a term that makes light of men surreptitiously slipping off their condoms mid-sex and not telling their partner—a practice some have likened to rape.
It’s a pedantic argument, sure, but words matter in this respect. I’m reminded of Neil Strauss’s The Game and the terminology pickup artists use for their seduction strategies. It’s not bragging, it’s “demonstrating higher value” (or DHV for short). It’s not making a conscious effort to lower a woman’s self-esteem; it’s “negging.”
Reducing these practices to cute memes detracts from what they really are: Being shitty to the people you date.