On Valentine’s Day, the language of love: Seven dating terms you should know, three reasons why such words are coined | Explained News

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So how is your Valentine’s Day going? Did you manage to rizz up your dream date? Are you setting #couplegoals on Instagram? Or are you feeling the pangs of being ghosted by someone who initially came across as a green flag? If the latter, are you likely to cobweb your way to sunshine? Or did you have someone benched for just this eventuality?

Love in the times of social media has become much more complicated. So has talking about it. While there is a confounding multiplicity of potential partners online, there are also scores of new terms cropping up every day to neatly label, describe and share your experiences.

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How do these terms come up, and why do so many of them exist? Do they actually make talking about one’s experiences easier? We take a look at some of the more popular terms, and the phenomenon of their coining.


This term has been around for almost a decade. ‘Ghosting’ refers to a person suddenly cutting off all contact with someone they were interacting with. Its usage has expanded beyond the sphere of romantic relationships to now also include friends, acquaintances, and even prospective job-seekers.

While the exact origins of the term are unclear, it became popular in 2015, when actors Sean Penn and Charlize Theron broke up, with her allegedly ghosting Penn.

Being ghosted is obviously annoying, but it can also have more serious consequences, with the victim feeling abandoned and questioning their self worth.


If ghosts come, can haunting be far behind? Haunting is when someone who has stopped responding to direct communication still hovers over your digital life, watching your Insta stories or ‘liking’ your posts, but not holding conversations.


Rizz, the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year 2023, is “a colloquial noun, defined as ‘style, charm, or attractiveness; the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner’,” according to the dictionary.

Importantly, rizz is not just about conventional physical attractiveness, it is more a quality. According to Oxford University Press, the term “emerged from gaming and internet culture. The American YouTube and Twitch streamer Kai Cenat is widely credited online with popularising the word in 2022, offering advice to people on how to have rizz. The word then rose in popularity on TikTok.”


Bread-crumbing is when someone throws enough crumbs of attention your way to keep you hooked, without fully committing to the relationship. This can mean a ‘like’ here, a comment there, some nights of long conversations, occasional meet-ups, with no follow-through. When you start losing interest in this person, they step up their efforts.

The term has been around for a few years now, and according to Psychology Today, has its origins in the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, who created a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way home. In a world where a lot of people are lonely and attention can be addictive, ‘breadcrumbing’ can be effective and manipulative.


When you are in a primary relationship but keep someone on the bench as a backup option, it is called benching. This can also occur when your primary relationship is inconsistent, and so you turn to the bench or the cookie-jar for a brief dose of feel-good. The origins of the terms are not clear.


The Cambridge Dictionary describes ‘situationship’ as a “romantic relationship between two people who do not yet consider themselves a couple but who have more than a friendship”. This is not ‘friends with benefits’, where it is clear that the two people are primarily just friends. This is a more undefined state, where the two may not necessarily be friends and could be moving towards becoming romantic partners, or they could not.

A situationship could be the result of both people not looking for labels at the moment, or one person simply not finding a way to have ‘the conversation’ with the other yet. According to Time magazine, the word was coined by freelance writer Carina Hsieh in 2017.


Probably the most common practice of all mentioned here, ‘phubbing’ is a portmanteau of phone and snubbing, and refers to someone ignoring their partner for their phone. The word was coined in 2012 by the Australian arm of the advertising agency McCann.

Green flag and cobweb, used earlier in this article, refer to a person who seems to be wholesome enough for you to want to proceed towards them, and getting rid of your ex’s memories and mementos so you can move on, respectively.

Why so many terms?

The list given here is not even a drop in the ocean of dating terms that come and go every few months on social media. Why do so many pop up? Broadly, there are three reasons.

First, many of our conversations are now being held in the giant, sealed-off bubbles of social media. The coining of such words is a way of finding a common language to describe experiences occurring in very different contexts and geographies, and uniting around those experiences. Also, the widespread use of such words can help people identify patterns of harmful behaviour, while telling them they are not alone in their experiences. The nature of social media facilitates this — certain words will become popular in the online ecosystem you inhabit, and even if no one outside of that ecosystem has heard of them, you will remember what they mean even after their 15 seconds of virality are over.

The second and related reason is that the use of such words helps you ‘identify your tribe’ in the world of online dating. When dating apps had just taken off, many people kept their profiles as generic and broad-based as possible. Experience by now has taught them that rigorous elimination is the first step towards happiness. Thus, if someone uses the same ‘dating lingo’ as you, you know they consume the same type of content as you and at least the algorithm thinks you are a match.

The third reason is a lot of words from the realm of therapy making their way to the world of romance. As seeking therapy for mental health issues becomes more acceptable — and a signifier of emotional maturity — a lot of terms from psychoanalysis have become commonplace. On social media, these are being used by laypersons to describe behaviours in a relationship. This can at times be harmful, as those using the words may simply be wrong, or diluting the gravity of the term.

A common example is gaslighting, which means “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts and perception of reality”, but on social media, can be thrown around simply when two people have different versions of an event.

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