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When a ghost becomes a zombie: The dating phenomenon, in one screenshot

In August, the author was ghosted. Twice, her ghost has tried to come back as a zombie. (iPhone screenshot via Instagram/Lisa Bonos)

When you’re being ghosted, it takes a while to recognize.

Last summer, for example, I was casually seeing someone. We made plans to hang out on a Friday night. Friday rolls around; I check in. (First green bubble above.) Nothing. By Sunday, it was clear I’d been ghosted. I gently called him out on it. (Second bubble.)

After complaining to a mutual friend about how rude this guy had been, I moved on.

About four months later, however, I woke up one morning to a “Hey stranger, long time no talk” text sent the night before.

Ha! Want to know why we stopped talking? Dude, scroll up.

Three months later, with zero contact in between, he popped up again. “Hey! How are you?” he wrote, then sent a YouTube video for a song we used to joke around to.

I still love that song. But I don’t correspond with ghosts — or zombies. That’s right: Attempting to resurrect a dead relationship is so common that there’s a name for it. About a year ago, the website PrimeMind defined the term: “To be zombied is to have someone you care about disappear from your life altogether only to have them bring a relationship back from the dead with an out-of-the-blue text or interaction on social media.”

Francesca Hogi, a dating coach in Brooklyn, says zombie-ing is “incredibly common.” She’s had zombies in her own life, long before there was a name for it. And plenty of her clients, she says, have also had ghosts trying to sneak back into their hearts.

“As our technology advances and it becomes easier to contact people out of the blue, we see it more often,” Hogi says. “All these very casual ways of reaching out and contacting people, I think it gives [people] permission to say: Hey, the risk is very low. She’s not going to curse me out on the phone and hurt my feelings. She’s just going to ignore my text message.”

Zombie-ing can be as a simple as an ex who disappeared liking something on your Facebook or Instagram, or sending a request to connect on LinkedIn. (Subtext: I don’t have the courage to end our relationship respectfully, but please help me find a job!) The next, slightly more overt level is direct communication, like my zombie above.

Without some apology for or acknowledgement of the past, zombie-ing is, as this Salon essay puts it, an “an exercise in entitlement. As if time has stopped since you left this person hanging however long ago and you can pick up where you left off, like reaching for a record you shelved but wish to revisit. The zombie doesn’t feel the need to explain their re-entrance in your life because they didn’t feel the need to announce their exit in the first place.”

But this tack isn’t always doomed. A self-aware zombie might acknowledge that he disappeared, explain and ask for another shot. Hogi’s sister, for example, had been out with a guy a few times; it faded. Years later, he tracked her down on Facebook, apologized for dropping the ball and admitted that he’d never stopped thinking about her. They’re now together.

“If you are thinking of someone you lost contact with or might have ghosted,” Hogi says, “you should reach out to that person if you have any regret or curiosity … but acknowledge the passage of time and your responsibility for it. … Just do it respectfully and like a grownup.”


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