Spider webbing and polter ghosting: Two new terrible dating trends and what to do if you think you’re a victim

Be aware of two terrible new dating trends, spider webbing and polter ghosting - plus how to deal with them, according to a relationship expert
Spider webbing and polter ghosting dating trends explained and how to deal with them, according to a relationship expert. Photo by NationalWorld/Mark Hall.Spider webbing and polter ghosting dating trends explained and how to deal with them, according to a relationship expert. Photo by NationalWorld/Mark Hall.
Spider webbing and polter ghosting dating trends explained and how to deal with them, according to a relationship expert. Photo by NationalWorld/Mark Hall.

When you’re single and looking for love, there’s many things you need to be aware of and think about - especially if you are using dating apps like Bumble and Tinder to help in your search for the one.

We’ve officially entered cuffing season, for example, so it’s a good idea to check you’re on the same page as your matches when it comes to the kind of connection you want. Then, if you are looking for the same thing you’ll need to make sure you’ve asked all the right questions before you agree to a first date, to ensure they could actually be a good fit for you.

Unfortunately, there’s also a risky side of dating apps as they can leave people vulnerable to romance scams, such as a recent one where fraudsters are pretending to be famous people to dupe their victims out of thousands of pounds. Daters are also being left heartbroken by a TikTok dating trend called zombied, which is when a match disappears without warning after connecting online, and then also reappears in a similarly quick and unexplained way.

Now, there’s two new dating trends that have emerged - and they will certainly, sadly, lead to even more heartbreak. They’re called spider webbing and polter ghosting. NationalWorld has spoken to relationship therapist Dipti Tait to get to the bottom of exactly what these terrible trends are, just what makes people act them out and, crucially, what to do if you think you might be a victim of one of them. Keep reading to find out more.

What is spider webbing?

Spider webbing is a new toxic dating trend which see’s individuals implement manipulative tactics to lure in dates. Taking inspiration from the intricate and purposeful design of a spider's web which is used to trap its prey, the trend weaves together a collection of harmful dating behaviours including  gaslighting, breadcrumbing, love bombing and therapy baiting. You can read more about each of these behaviours, and exactly what they are, below.

Spider webbing and polter ghosting dating trends explained and how to deal with them, according to a relationship expert. Photo by NationalWorld/Mark Hall.Spider webbing and polter ghosting dating trends explained and how to deal with them, according to a relationship expert. Photo by NationalWorld/Mark Hall.
Spider webbing and polter ghosting dating trends explained and how to deal with them, according to a relationship expert. Photo by NationalWorld/Mark Hall.

What is polter ghosting?

Polter-ghosting refers to the act of not showing up for a planned date in real life. Dating app Bumble has declared the act so problematic that it’s announced that it will ban people who do it. 

 To protect daters from the impacts of polter ghosting, Bumble has updated its community guidelines to have a strict line on no show dates. Intentionally standing someone up for a planned date now falls under ‘Bullying and Abusive Conduct’, which people on the app can choose to report. If someone is reported multiple times, they may be banned from the app.

What should I do if I think i’m a victim of spider webbing or polter ghosting?

Tait says: “With both trends, it's essential to remember that understanding the psychological and neurological factors at play can empower individuals to recognise and protect themselves from these manipulative dating behaviours. Awareness of these tactics and their impact on the brain can foster healthier dating experiences, based on genuine connection, transparent communication and respect.”

Effective communication is crucial when dealing with issues like spider webbing or polter ghosting in the dating world

Here are three communication tips and the best things to say to address these situations, from relationship therapist Dipti Tait:

  • Express your feelings calmly and clearly Start by calmly expressing your feelings and concerns. For example, you could say, "I've noticed some inconsistencies in our communication, and it's making me feel uncertain about where we stand.”
  • Seek clarification and understanding Encourage open dialogue by asking for their perspective. Say something like, "I'd like to understand your point of view. Can you help me understand why things have been this way?”
  • Set boundaries and expectations Clearly communicate your boundaries and expectations moving forward. You might say, "I believe in open and honest communication in a relationship. If we continue, I'd like us to be more transparent and consistent with each other.”
  • Remember that effective communication involves active listening as well. Give them the opportunity to express themselves, and be open to finding common ground. By addressing these issues with understanding and assertiveness, you can navigate these dating trends more successfully and foster healthier relationships.

Why are people spider webbing?

From a psychological viewpoint, Tait told NationalWorld that spider webbing represents a complex array of manipulative behaviours that individuals use to lure in their potential dates. She said this trend is “a fascinating blend” of psychological tactics that resemble the “cunning” strategy of a spider weaving its web. 

One of the key elements in spider webbing is gaslighting.This involves manipulating someone's perception of reality, causing them to doubt their own thoughts and feelings. In the brain, this plays with our cognition and emotions, Tait says, leading to confusion and self-doubt. She adds: “The brain chemistry involved here includes the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can have detrimental effects on one's mental and emotional well-being.”

Breadcrumbing is another element in spider webbing, where individuals leave a trail of seemingly promising messages or actions, only to disappear later. This behaviour triggers a rollercoaster of emotions, activating reward pathways in the brain. When the rewards suddenly stop, it can lead to frustration, disappointment, and even addiction-like behaviours and tendencies, warns Tait, as the brain craves more of that positive reinforcement.

Love bombing is also involved. This is the intense, overwhelming affection shown at the start of a relationship.Tait says: “The brain chemistry here is fascinating as it involves a surge of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and oxytocin, creating an addictive emotional high. When this behaviour suddenly shifts or is used to manipulate, it can lead to emotional turmoil and unhealthy co-dependency.”

Lastly, 'therapy baiting' is a part of spider webbing, which involves manipulating someone's emotions by posing as someone in need of therapeutic support. This preys on empathy and the brain's natural inclination to help others, says Tait, engaging the brain's empathy and altruism circuits.

Why are people polter ghosting?

Polter ghosting involves not showing up for a planned date in real life, leaving the other person in the lurch. From a psychological standpoint, Tait says this act can be seen as a passive-aggressive way of avoiding confrontation. She adds: “The brain chemistry behind this may involve the avoidance of stress-related hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, which surge when faced with uncomfortable situations.”

For the person who's stood up, she says, the emotional response can be a mix of frustration, sadness, and embarrassment. The brain's reward and social circuits might be activated, leading to feelings of social rejection and self-doubt.

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