'Nellie, hey, how’s it going?'
A notification from Happn flashes on my phone. I hide it from the boy I’m (kind of) seeing.
'Sorry about not being in touch. How are things anyway?!' types Nick from Happn. Nick who told me three weeks ago it was best if we stopped messaging because he was 'kind of seeing someone.' Nick is his real name. Sorry Nick, outing you here, but I think we can all be a bit total Nick every now and then, so you can serve as the zombie ambassador for now.
'Oh heyyyyy Nick' I type under the table. 'Fancy hearing from you again. I’d pronounced you dead.' I look up, the boy I’m seeing is staring at me with his mouth half open, fork suspended in the air. A quick coffin emoji and I tuck my phone into my fluffy handbag and kick my food around my plate with my knife. Nick you total prick I think to myself. Might see if he wants to go for a drink next week I think to myself. Yeah, sexy Nick. Nick, who’s just risen from the dead.
Dating apps are digital dens of nefarious activities you don’t need me to tell you that. And not fun sexy activities. I’m talking shitty, bad mannered, wouldn’t-do-that-in-person, below the belt wickedly rude behaviour. Fact. I’d bet my last Rolo that most people aren’t using Tinder to get laid. They’re using Tinder as an emotional cum rag (sorry) as and when they need it with no intention of meeting most of the people they message. Which is why I’ve banned myself from using apps on a Sunday. Because I’m one of the hundreds of thousands of shitty little cretins looking for attention (and nothing more) on a Sunday evening. What this kind of pathetic comfort seeking leads to, are conversations with people that you have little or no interest in. This will of course then end in a micro-break-up. We have new fun terms for all the myriad ways in which we savagely dump strangers whose jokes we laughed at and anecdotes we shared in last Sunday: breadcrumbing, gaslighting, ghosting, stalking or muting. And now we have zombeing- perfectly demonstrated by Nick from Happn.
They might sound like a list of trendy new sex acts to try but the reality is so much more bland. They’re just fun coded euphemisms for how mobiles are making us worse people. Maybe you’re a gaslighter and you didn’t even know it. Maybe you’ve been Hansel and Grettling someone’s ass with your breadcrumbing or maybe you’ve fallen victim to ghosting more than once.
It might sound like a silly buzz term that someone who works on a bean bag in a creative agency done thunk up - "zombeing"- but I think most of us who use a mobile phone probably zombie people more than we care to admit, and, actually, it's pretty apt terminology for the behaviours it describes.
To zombie someone is to go cold, to disappear, to ghost, only to then, after a matter of days, weeks, months or years, reappear in their inbox. In short this is what rising from the dead looks like in the iPhone ages. These people reappear into your lives out of the blue and it usually happens almost at exactly the same time you get over them (the Gods are cruel).
I find that almost as soon as I feel rid of someone, like, totally over their dead body, onto the next hot body, they appear mirage like at a moment you least expect- at a house party, on Oxford street, in your inbox or even...your DMs. This ladies and gentlemen, is zombeing.
Here is where I hold my paws up. I am your number one candidate for a zombie move. My most recent zombie act went spectacularly wrong and I got my full comeuppance. Window shopping, as on does, one Sunday evening upon Happn, I stumbled across pretty-boy Charlie. I won’t even bother changing his name, because most boys on Happn are called Charlie, fact. Two weeks later we’d been on two dates and I was already ignoring his Whatsapps. At first I made excuses, then I stopped replying. 'Are you ghosting me?' he asked. 'No, don’t be utterly ridiculous.' And so the ghosting continued. Finally backed into a corner, and deciding to exercise some compassion, I told him 'things with my ex' had been 'a little bit weird of late' ( I haven’t had a boyfriend for 5 years) and that deciding to date in the first place had been a bad decision (I was dating other people).
Fast forward to a week later and five cocktails into a Friday night and I’d started texting Charlie asking him if he ever felt like getting a drink. He responded telling me that 'messaging at 1am on a Friday after ghosting someone doesn’t look that good.' I got bored and start texting someone else.
The next day when I woke up and went back through my horrible little text exchange it struck me that I’ve been treating men like I used to treat my sea monkeys. Let me explain. Circa 1997 I invested in a super-size Sea Monkey tank. I bred the bastards like it was going out of fashion and my favourite Monkey was whichever happened to be the biggest at the time (which was nonsense as sea monkeys share a homogenous beauty as well you may know). Anyway what would happen is, I would go through phases of tentatively manicuring and maintaining the tank, followed my some terrible zoo keeping thereafter. I’d neglect them for a week at a time, focusing instead on football or my sticker collection. When I would inevitably return to my Sea Monkey farm the whole colony would have perished. Fallen Sea Moneys congeal into the bottom of a fish tank like silty, murky drain water. Undeterred, I would then summon them from the dead by swirling a spoon through the brown mushy graveyard to see if any lived. Because see Monkeys are entirely ersatz forms of life, miraculously, there were always a few who kicked back to life, and they were always my new favourites.
Men of course, are not Sea Monkeys. After I’d re-read oh-so patient Charlie’s response I thought it was time to have a sit down with myself and address my bad behaviour. Why had I done that? Why had I sent Charlie a text on a Friday night knowing full well, I had no intentions of ever meeting up with him again. I fall into these Zombie loops, because I am a Millennial, and as a generation we’re really bad at being alone.
We're so used to being at the end of a phone 24/7. Being at everyone’s (be that employer, boyfriend or friend’s) beck and call at all hours of the day which means we’re actually rarely alone, sans phone, just doing life. We’re programmed to believe that alone time directly correlates to loneliness. Instead of relaxing into these quiet hours, we fill our time with notifications and brunches and exercise classes, scared, that if we stop, we might have to do something we’re not all that used to: enjoy our own company.
And whereas loneliness was once represented by a quiet house; physically being alone, now it means a quiet phone or two blue ticks and no response. No likes on a selfie. A missed call. The problem is we’re no longer equipped to deal with the down time and instead of relaxing, we naturally reach for our iPhones, and, maybe, get back in touch with an old fling on a Sunday night, or peruse for a new one on an app.
What apps mean is that the large majority of people active on them are talking to multiple people at once. And that, is a lot of people dating differently to how we were even five years ago. The Telegraph reported last year that a quarter of Britons use dating apps, even when in a committed relationship. This naturally leads to zombeing as a phenomenon. If you’re talking to three of four people on apps, you quite simply might not be able to make the time to respond to each of them within a polite frame of time- especially if you’re doing it secretly. I once messaged someone back after a month. That is quite simply rude, whatever way you look at it.
And if I’m being really candid, I know I zombie people when I’m feeling claustrophobic. When someone has told me they 'really like' me, or I’ve worried that I’ve been catching feelings - that’s when I zombie and reach out to love interest of Christmas past - which isn’t very healthy behaviour.
So I've decided to set myself a new rule that might help me cut the zombeing out- for good. I would not start a conversation IRL with someone, walk of half way through the sentence, and, return four working days later with a 'hey' and a winkey face. So from now on, I'm going to try to behave over text as I would in person. As much as I can, this will be my new aim.
I also came to the conclusion that part of fighting the zombie moments, is about leaving buried romances six feet under, not encouraging any wannabe Lazarus’ and making more of an effort to be more present in my actual so called life. I also had to take a moment to consider that the person I’m seeing (that pains me to even write that - yes, I’m seeing one person for now - gross) might care. And I care that he cares. Fuck.
Follow Nellie on Twitter @nelliefaitheden
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.