Even though people still meeting in bars and going to see movies together, dating today would be largely unrecognizable to people 10 years ago; changes in how we find our dates, how we treat them and how we describe ourselves to them have radically altered the dating landscape.
To many, modern dating can seem like a minefield of technical jargon; the phrase “My poly pansexual situationship ghosted me so I’m breadcrumbing this snack I had a half-night stand with last year, will you be my emergency call if he wants to Netflix & chill?” will be clear as day to some and unintelligible to others.
If you find yourself in the latter category, this glossary of dating terms is for you.
Being asexual doesn’t specify whom you’re attracted to, unlike other terms on this list. It specifies you don’t experience sexual attraction. But this doesn’t mean you can’t have sex — only that you don’t feel the need in the same way. Dating an ace person? Expect to check in regularly with them re: their desires and boundaries — just as you would when dating anybody else.
Knowing that “a-” means “without,” I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what “sexual” means.
Benching is when you’re not into someone enough to commit to officially dating them, but you don’t want them to move on and find someone else either, so you string them along juuuust enough to keep them waiting on the sidelines for you.
Etymology: You know when you’re on a sports team but not actually playing, just waiting on the bench until the coach needs you? Yeah, it’s the dating version of that.
Breadcrumbing is when you send flirty but non-committal messages to a person when you’re not really interested in dating them but don’t have the guts to break things off with them completely. The breadcrumbee is strung along for the sake of sparing the breadcrumber a confrontation.
Etymology: Think of the phenomenon of getting a small creature to follow you by laying a trail of breadcrumbs here, and you’ve got the right idea.
Somewhere in between f*ckbuddies and going steady is the casual relationship, in which two people typically hang out regularly and have sex but don’t partake in the hallmarks of a serious relationship, like exclusivity, ongoing commitment and spending time with each other’s friends and family.
Etymology: This one’s pretty straightforward in meaning: it’s a romantic relationship that’s not too serious or committed.
Catfishing is one of those dating terms that has legitimately made its way into the mainstream, thanks to the TV show and movie of the same name. Messaging with someone who’s pretending to be someone else? You’re being catfished! These setups tend to end badly. But until then, move your conversation with your crush to the phone/IRL/video chat of some sort as soon as you can muster. If they’re resistant, they might be catfishing you.
Etymology: The term gained popularity after the release of the 2010 documentary on the then-burgeoning phenomenon, Catfish, but the real reason for the name is harder to come by.
Cuffing season is the period between early fall and late winter when everyone starts to shack up with the nearest half-decent single person to ward off loneliness and cold during the cooler months. Cuffing season typically implied a short term, mutually beneficial arrangement that’s strictly seasonal, and it ends as soon as the leaves start turning green again.
Etymology: Cuffing, as in “handcuffing”, because you’re chaining yourself to someone else — at least until winter’s over.
Getting curved is being rejected, shot down, turned aside, said no to, dissed and dismissed. Yes, it sucks. When you get curved you need to take a moment to properly absorb all of the “no” that just hit you. But there’s also something beautiful to a well-done curve; it’s a memento to a failure, big and small, that you can carry around with you and use to prop up or tear down narratives about your dateability.
Etymology: A curve is often subtler than a flat-out no (think: Your text gets “Seen” but not responded to), so even if it hurts the same, it carries a name that implies a redirection rather than an outright rejection.
As above, cushioning is the process of staying in contact with one or more romantic prospects as a backup in case things don’t go smoothly with your main squeeze. The “cushions” are usually kept on the periphery, eg. texting rather than full blown cheating.
Etymology: Cushioning, as in, keeping a person or several people around to “cushion” the blow if your main relationship doesn’t work out.
A demisexual is a person whose sex drive is tied not to an immediate visual or physical attraction but to people’s personalities once they’ve gotten to know them. As a result, demisexuals are poor candidates for one-night stands and casual relationships — which may make them feel a bit alienated in our current dating climate. But they’re no more or less capable of deep, loving relationships as the rest of us, so if you’re prepared to take things slow sexually, demisexuals can make for great partners, too.
Etymology: Demi means half, or part — positioning demisexuals between asexuals and people who do typically experience sexual desire.
A DM slide is when you direct message your crush using the private messaging functions available on all of the major social media networks, eg. Twitter and Instagram. You usually need to be mutuals first — ie. follow each other — to avoid your message ending up in an “other” folder, and DM sliding tends to occur after some public interaction, eg. liking each other’s pics or @ replying.
Etymology: DM stands for “direct messages”, and “sliding” is the process of entering someone’s direct messages to flirt with them.
A DTR conversation is a pivotal moment in a relationship: It’s the moment you discuss what you are. Are you a for-real couple, or just friends with benefits, or a situationship? Timing is huge, here. Have your DTR too early and you risk scaring the other person away; too late and you might discover they’ve been casually dating around the whole time, assuming it wasn’t serious.
Etymology: There’s no great mystery here — DTR simply stands for “define the relationship.”
This is the dating version of the one-way fire door — on rare occasions, someone will come out of their shell to contact you, but won’t respond if you attempt to get in touch. It’s a setup that only works in deeply unequal situations — if you’re getting firedoored, you’re constantly feeling frustrated and only occasionally satisfied. If this is happening to you, get out and close the door behind you. There are tons of people out there who won’t do this to you!
Etymology: A fire door is a one-way door — it allows you to exit (on rare occasions) but never allows anyone to enter.
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
Friends with benefits is the relatively classy way of saying you know someone and care about them and are regularly engaging in sexual acts with them, but not within the context of a relationship. It implies a certain looseness of arrangement. You probably don’t see each other as often as a real couple; don’t tell each other all the details of your lives; don’t put each other down on emergency contact forms (or mention each other on social media profiles). That doesn’t mean you’re cold, unfeeling robots; it just means a relationship isn’t exactly what you want.
Isn’t that… basically friends with benefits? Yes, arguably, they’re pretty similar. At the same time, though, the use of the F-word in one of the terms (compared to the very euphemistic “benefits” denotes a very different sexual ethos. One is classy, old world, and stuffy; the other is crass, lewd and very present. So, arguably, one is for the type of people who are ashamed of such a sexual arrangement, and one is for people who aren’t. Or maybe how you describe your setup depends more on who’s asking. Whatever works.
Etymology: F*ck means sex… buddies means friends… should be pretty straightforward.
Can be applied to people who feel outside the gender binary, or it can be applied to persons who feel that their gender isn’t fixed, but variable — changing from day to day. Unlike nonbinary persons, a genderfluid person might identify as male and female, on different days, whereas a nonbinary person will usually identify as neither male nor female. Someone’s gender identity has nothing to do with whom they’re attracted to, or what they look like on the outside, or what physical sex they were born as. Gender is a mental conception of the self, so a genderfluid person can present as any gender or appearance, based on how that term feels for them.
Etymology: Gender, as in, your gender. Fluid, as in flowing, non-stable, movable, changeable.
is when you disappear out of someone’s life because you’re no longer interested in them, instead of telling them directly. It’s more abrupt than breadcrumbing: the ghoster will suddenly stop replying to texts and won’t answer calls, and the ghostee is usually left hurt and confused.
Etymology: You know the disappearing act ghosts are known for? That, but it’s your crush instead of a poltergeist.
The traditional one-night stand involves meeting a sexually-attractive stranger and taking them home for a night of unattached sex: they leave in the morning and you don’t see them again. Well, the half-night stand cuts out the staying over part: the late night guest leaves straight after the sex is over.
Etymology: A half-night stand is 50 per cent of a one-night stand — get it?
Coined by dating app Hinge, Kittenfishing is when you portray yourself in an unrealistically positive light in your online dating profiles. We all do this to some extent, but kittenfishing crosses the border into dishonest territory: think photoshopped or very outdated profile pics, or listing “lawyer” as your occupation when you’re really a first year law student.
Etymology: You already know about catfishing, when a person pretends to be someone they’re not online. Well, kittenfishing is the lite version of that.
Love bombing is when a new partner shows extreme amounts of affection early on and expends serious energy in a deliberate attempt to woo you. However, once you’ve committed to a relationship with them, the love bomber will withdraw all that affection and let their true, ugly colors shine through, leaving you stuck in a nightmare relationship. This one’s really not cute: love bombing is manipulative and abusive.
Etymology: Like its literal counterpart, a love bomb is awesome and spectacular at first, but ultimately very destructive.
NETFLIX AND CHILL
In its original inception, “Netflix and chill” was a euphemism for a stay-at-home date that led to sex pretty quickly. The idea being: You invite your crush over under the premise of “just watching some Netflix and chilling” and then either abandon the movie pretty early or perhaps never even get to it, as hooking up becomes the main attraction.
No Strings Attached. People who are looking for no strings attached want a casual sexual encounter without any sort of commitment. When you’re in an NSA relationship, you usually try to limit your interactions with the other person to just sex, depending on what you two agree on at the beginning. You’re also free to date and sleep with other people — just make sure everyone practices safe sex and is honest about what they truly want.
An open relationship is a committed, romantic relationship that contains an arrangement where both parties can sleep with other people. It’s not cheating, because both parties are honest with each other and have the same freedom to engage in sex with other people. Open relationships often contain specific rules and boundaries, just like monogamous relationships, but “no sex with anyone else, ever!” isn’t one of them.
Etymology: The opposite of a traditional, “closed” relationship, an open relationship relaxes the rules on monogamy.
As you can probably deduce, pie hunting is an unsavory dating phenomenon in which a person (the “hunter”) deliberately dates “pies”, or heartbroken, vulnerable people with messy dating histories, who are perceived to be easier and lower-maintenance.
Etymology: A “pie” is a person with a disastrous dating history familiar with rejection and heartbreak. It comes from “pied off”, British slang for being stood up or dumped.
In its various forms, polyamory has been a part of human culture for millennia, particularly in the form of polygamous marriages, but it’s enjoying a resurgence in modern dating culture as millennials (children of divorce faced with untold levels of choice) break with monogamous tradition and begin exploring their options. It’s not a free-for-all — there are still rules, and cheating does exist — but consensually dating (and loving) multiple people at once could represent the future of dating.
Etymology: Polyamorous comes from the Greek poly (many) and amor (love), meaning many loves.
Roaching is a new dating trend where people hide the fact that they’re dating around from a new partner and, when confronted, claim to have simply been under the assumption that there was no implication of monogamy to begin with. In today’s more poly-friendly dating culture, this is a slick tactic to shift the blame to the person confronting them, but the truth is it’s both parties’ responsibility to be at least baseline open about seeing other people if that’s the case. Roaching, as a result, deeply messed up.
Etymology: Roaching refers to the adage that if you see one cockroach, there are a ton more that you don’t see — just like this person’s sneaky side-dealings.
Perhaps most infamous for the time Tinder CEO Sean Rad confused it with the word “sodomy,” sapiosexual is a word that’s gained increasing currency in recent years. Meaning someone who’s turned on by a person’s mind rather than physical appearance, it’s a neat marriage of style and substance, as only huge nerds would dare self-identify as sapiosexuals. Not to be confused with any of the other sexualities, this isn’t a clinical definition of an innate quality, merely a descriptor meant to state a preference.
Etymology: The “sapio” part comes from the Latin word “sapiens,” which means “mind.”
In use on Black Twitter since at least 2014, a “situationship” is Facebook’s “It’s Complicated” relationship status come to life. Similar to a casual relationship, a situationship is a sexual relationship that stops short of constituting a serious relationship, but it’s not nothing either.
Etymology: It’s not a friendship, or a relationship, but something in between: it’s a situationship.
The slow fade is the process of ending a lackluster relationship or fling by gradually reducing contact and response times. Like a smoother version of breadcrumbing, the person doing the fading will taper off contact, like gradually turning down the volume on a song and starting a new one without anyone noticing.
Etymology: Similar to breadcrumbing, the slow fade is letting someone down gently… without actually saying so.
A snack is a babe, a honey, a stunner, a smokeshow, a jaw-dropping vision. A snack inspires DM slides and thirsty texts. A snack is a powerful force in the universe whose mere presence can cause those in proximity to them to lose their minds entirely. In short, a snack is someone so attractive, you almost want to eat them right up. Of course, some snacks are SO attractive, you have to call them a full meal. Because let’s be real, Beyoncé is more than a handful of tortilla chips.
The de facto term for consensually sleeping with someone outside of your marriage while your partner does the same, swinging has lost some cultural currency in recent years as millennials opt for the “poly” lifestyle instead. Still, swinging is alive and well for Gen Xers taking advantage of increasingly liberal sexual mores as society shifts slowly away from the restrictive confines of absolute monogamy and towards something a little bit more flexible.
Etymology: Swingers are people who ‘swing’ from one sexual partnership (their spouse) to another.
Swiping, swiping, swiping. For some singles, it might be difficult to conceive of any other way, but it’s worth remembering that swiping didn’t even really exist before 2012. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (and if so: congratulations, you lucky duck), you’ll know that swiping is the physical interaction you have with your phone (a single finger moves intentionally across a thin piece of glass covering an electronic brain) when deciding whether you’re attracted to someone’s profile picture or not. From Tinder it spread to Bumble and a few thousand copycat apps. It’ll be replaced eventually, but until then, swiping is how we as a culture perform love — or at least our aspirations thereto.
Tindstagramming is the process of contacting someone through Instagram’s direct messaging feature after you have seen them on Tinder but not become a match. It’s an annoying and generally poorly-received way of bypassing a left-swipe, and women in particular get fatigued by the messages that pile up in their “Other” folder when they link their Instagram account to their Tinder profile.
Etymology: A mashup of “Tinder” and “Instagramming,” Tindstagrammers try to make the most of both platforms.