Picture a young 20-something-year-old lounging in a lofted bed in the wee witching hours of the night. It’s dark, and the only light in the room is coming from an iPhone screen. The air is cold, and there's a spooky tinge wafting around the cramped dorm room. The scent might be from the week-old dining hall food rotting in the fridge or from a dead body. At this point, the smells are one in the same.
Only hours before, this young and spritely college student posted a vague thirst trap on her Instagram story when a spectre from the days of old suddenly appeared in her DMs. The horrifying message from an old hookup who ghosted her read like a bad omen in blood. Cue the scary music from “The Exorcist.” It was official: not only had she been ghosted, she was now being haunted.
Ghosting has been embedded within Gen Z’s lexicon for a while now. At this point, we’ve all had a possible date disappear out of nowhere without a trace. It sucks, but it has become a very common part of hookup culture in a person's teens and 20s. With this in mind, there seems to be a new trend following on the heels of ghosting — haunting.
Haunting is when a past relationship prospect that didn’t quite work out momentarily comes back from the dead to slide into the DMs, watch social media stories and even randomly like posts on social media.
It is jarring, never warranted and always temporary. Just like a poltergeist, the ghosts of hookup past come and go, resurrecting whenever they see fit. The only real way to exorcise the relationship demon is to either block them, which is a tad overdramatic, or wait for them to skulk around a new Instagram account.
When one walks through the hypothetical mental process of ghosting, it at least makes a little sense. People our age tend not to be huge fans of confrontation, and at the end of the day it is much easier to disappear from a person’s life than actually tell them you’re just not that into them. I won’t lie, I’ve done it myself. Often.
Haunting, however, eludes my understanding and empathy right down to my two-sizes-too-small, tar-black heart. If I make the cowardly move to never talk to a person again — which I have — I am fully committed to the idea that I am fully dead to them, and dead I shall stay. The only conceivable reason I can think of that would lead to a person resurrecting a dead relationship would be either boredom or regret, but that’s just coming from my perspective as a lady.
According to a group of my dude-bro friends that I will affectionately refer to as “the harem” from here on out, the reason guys might ghost and then haunt has a lot to do with insurance. They don’t want to lose you as a possible option, but they don’t want to give you the commitment of consistent contact. It’s breadcrumbing at it’s finest and indicates that you should run like a bat out of hell.
If someone knows they can slide into your DMs and you’ll respond to the ever-annoying “heyy :),” there is a chance you’ll respond to the very common and eternally grotesque “U up?” text. This doesn’t make a person evil, but it does make them a tad manipulative. While self-centered dating behavior is common in one’s 20s, it’s up to you to decide how much you’re going to put up with your own personal Blumhouse production.
If the random resurgence of these ghosts of hookups past don’t particularly get to you, you can always engage with little enthusiasm or a smidge of mischief. I tend to go for a silent approach and let their message live forever unopened in my message history. However, if their presence is a stressor for you, it may be advantageous to simply block them and exorcise the spirits once and for all.
Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Any action is valid when it is done in the name of self-care. Who knows how ghosting and haunting will fare in the future of Gen Z’s dating woes. Perhaps it will disappear or evolve into an even more terrifying monster. Whatever the case, all we can do is arm ourselves with holy water, self respect and the block button when these ghouls decide to come back from the dead.