Have you ever had someone continue to pay attention to your social media content long after they stopped contacting you? Welcome to the orbiting dating trend.
That’s what happened to Alice, 30, a Toronto-based publicist, a few months ago.
“I was seeing this guy in the summer for a bit who fully gaslighted me,” Alice said. “He was so romantic and sweet until we slept together, and then insinuated that we weren’t on the same page—even though he had never asked me what I wanted or if I wanted a relationship. That’s after he had come over to my house and cooked me a full meal with herbs from his garden. And then basically ghosted me. I unfollowed him, but he watches every single one of my [Instagram] stories to this day.”
Unfortunately, this dating trend is a massively common one, and if you’ve gone through a breakup of any degree of seriousness in the past year or two, there’s a good chance it’s happening to you right now.
What is an orbiter and why do they do it?
There would be no orbiting dating trend without a whole lot of orbiters, so it’s worth thinking about the motivations behind the action (or lack of action, rather).
What is an orbiter, really? It’s someone who ends things with a romantic or sexual partner, but continues to keep close tabs on them via social media—never engaging in any real contact, but watching Instagram stories, liking posts or tweets, and otherwise allowing their presence to be known.
According to New York-based dating expert Marisa T. Cohen, Ph.D., there’s nothing especially sinister about orbiting—necessarily.
“It may be natural curiosity, in which the person who has left the relationship still wants to keep tabs on the person that was left behind,” said Cohen. “Or, it may evolve into a yo-yo dating situation, in which the person who initiated the breakup goes to seek out other people, and then may come back to [the other person] later on.
“That can be very painful for the partner left behind,” she noted. “In the latter scenario, it may even be worse than ghosting, because the partner may be under the impression that the person who left is still interested. This may cause the partner to wait around under the impression that the relationship may be repaired.”
More likely, however, is the person being orbited finds the behavior confusing, annoying or even creepy.
Is orbiting the same as ghosting?
With all the newfangled dating slang out there, it can be hard to keep track of what’s what. If you’re familiar with the concept of ghosting—silently ending things and letting the other person figure it out, rather than having an actual breakup conversation—orbiting does have some things in common with it.
“Orbiting is similar to ghosting,” said Cohen. “In the case of ghosting, the person stops responding and disappears altogether. With orbiting, the person stops engaging, but watches you from afar (i.e., on social media).
“In addition, in both scenarios there is no sense of ‘closure,’” Cohen added. “I put closure in quotations, because what is closure, really? Basically, it’s an illusion that we hold in feeling that we have control as to how or why our relationship ended. This can mean very different things to different people.”
“However, with both orbiting and ghosting there is ambiguity as to whether or not the relationship has ended, and if so, why it ended.”
In fact, if you recently got ghosted, it’s possible that the ghoster may begin orbiting you soon—or, if you’re being orbited, they may disappear for good, making it a full ghosting. Regardless, neither scenario is particularly pleasant.
How to handle an orbiter
What you decide to do about an ex or ex-fling continuing to silently engage with your social media presence while refusing to actually talk to you is up to you.
“This is tricky; there’s no simple answer,” Cohen said. “Technically, if you ignore it, you may be reinforcing the bad behavior.”
On the other hand, she noted, “If you reach out, hoping to get that elusive closure and don’t get a response (or get the response you want), you may feel worse. You may also reach out to a person, get a response that placates you, which in turn may cause you to hang on to the relationship even more.”
The best thing to do, according to Cohen, “is really think about what it is that you want from confronting the ghoster/orbiter, and prepare yourself for what will happen if that scenario doesn’t work out in your favor before taking that action (whether it be confronting or blocking).”
Luckily, because this is so common, you’ll likely be able to talk to someone else you know (or many people) about what they think the best strategy for you is, given your specific circumstances.
It might be emotionally fulfilling to send the person an angry message; it might be simpler to just block them. You can also soft-block them, which is blocking and then immediately unblocking someone. That unfollows them without making your account invisible or hiding your content. It may also be wise to run an online people search on them to try to see what other accounts they may be associated with.
Or maybe you want to just zen out and let them continue to orbit you, and picture all the world’s exes orbiting social media accounts of people they no longer talk to like silent little moons. The choice you make is up to you.
We’re all made of stars
The aptly named “orbiting” is the future of dating. If anyone asks you something like, “I really like this guy, but why does he only Snapchat, me but not text?” You can mumble something about planetary alignment and be confident that you’re at least half-right.
And as for Alice and her satellite guy, that little hunk of space junk?
“I’m not sure why I haven’t blocked him yet, to be honest, because it really bothers me,” she said. “I did confront him via text about the ghosting, and he kind of sent me a nonresponse. But I’ve tried to not let people get away with that kind of [bad] behavior without at least attempting to teach a lesson. Dating culture is rough right now.”