Zombied: what is meaning of dating trend being discussed on TikTok? Is it linked to ghosting?

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People’s dating ghosts are trying to come back from the dead

When we decide to date someone, we hope that they will provide us with love, joy and support. So, if a relationship doesn’t work out, we are often left upset and disappointed - and that’s if only we understand why it has come to an end. Sometimes, however, we do not as the person we were dating just disappears with no warning or explanation - something we have come to know as ghosting. That can leave us feeling confused, hurt and rejected.

But, what happens when the ghoster comes back into their former partner’s life? This is a dating trend which seems to be happening more and more frequently in 2023, according to what people are discussing on social media. In fact, that hashtag #zombieing is now trending on TikTok.

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Put simply, zombieing is when a ghoster returns to try to revive a relationship which has died - hence the name of the act. But, just why are ‘zombies’ rising from the dead weeks, months or even years after they disappeared, and what should you do if your ghost wants to reconnect with you? NationalWorld has spoken to two dating experts to get you all the answers you need. We’ve also spoken to one woman who has shared her experience of being zombied. 

For more information to help you date successfully, check out our guide to 22 questions you should ask before agreeing to go on a Tinder, Bumble, Match, Hinge or Plenty of Fish date.

What is zombieing and is it linked to ghosting?

Zombieing is indeed linked to ghosting. For those that don’t know, ghosting is where a person suddenly cuts all contact with you with no warning and no explanation given. It can happen in any form of relationship, but is usually associated with people who have been romantically involved. Zombieing is what can happen after ghosting - when the person who has ghosted then decides to reappear in someone’s life, again without warning and usually without any explanation for their actions.

Internationally certified matchmaker and relationship coach Alex Mellor-Brook told NationalWorld “this usually happens after a significant amount of time has lapsed, and they’ll contact you via social media, messaging or any other means”.

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People are discussing a new dating trend called 'zombieing' on TikTok - here experts explain what it is and what impact it can have.People are discussing a new dating trend called 'zombieing' on TikTok - here experts explain what it is and what impact it can have.
People are discussing a new dating trend called 'zombieing' on TikTok - here experts explain what it is and what impact it can have. | Adobe Photos/NationalWorld/Kim Mogg

Why do people ‘zombie’ their dates or partners?

Zombieing appears to be a very confusing thing to do and Mellor-Brook suggests that it may be fuelled by a person’s “emotional immaturity and inadequate communication skills”. As a result, they may have ghosted someone originally because they want to shy away from addressing issues at hand, but then return because they do miss the person - although that then leaves the connection in limbo.

Mellor-Brook, who is also a dating expert at dating agency Select Personal Introductions, also suggests that The Fear of a Better Option (FOBO) also emerges as a potent catalyst. He said this ignites an “intense longing” within to rekindle connections. He explains: “Driven by an insatiable desire to keep all doors open, a person may remain ever vigilant in their pursuit of potential opportunities, seeking the elusive ideal match that promises to fulfil their deepest desires.”

Lisa Spitz, a counsellor and psychotherapist, said she believes people ‘zombie’ their partners because they don’t have the communication skills to have emotional conversations. As a result, they often go on to flight or fight mode - and choose flight, only to then wish they’d chosen to fight.  She told NationalWorld: “Take someone that is feeling overwhelmed in a relationship, maybe they are developing feelings for a person and that scares them.  They disappear rather than tell their partner how they feel, but after a period alone they might reappear wanting their partner back - but they may not be able to say what happened.” 

What impact can zombieing have on people?

Zombieing can be extremely damaging to the person on the receiving end of it. Mellor Brook warns that carrying out this behaviour can “leave a trail of emotional wreckage”. He says: “Emotionally, it can create instability and confusion as well as a sense of uncertainty about the direction of the relationship, potentially leading to a feeling of rejection, low self-esteem and unimportance.”

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Internationally certified matchmaker and relationship coach Alex Mellor-Brook.Internationally certified matchmaker and relationship coach Alex Mellor-Brook.
Internationally certified matchmaker and relationship coach Alex Mellor-Brook. | Alex Mellor-Brook

It’s not just their individual relationship the ‘zombie’ may be impacting either, according to Mellor-Brook, as this behaviour could have such a profound effect on the victim of it that it may fuel trust issues for them in all of their future relationships as they fear it happening to them again.

One person who knows about the painful impacts of zombieing is Mia. We’ve changed her name to protect her privacy, but she told NationalWorld how “devastating” it was for her when she was a victim of this cruel behaviour - even before it became a trend. She says that she’d been happily in a relationship for a month, during which time she saw her new partner, who she had met on dating app Bumble, several times a week and communicated with him daily via text, phone call or social media. “It was honestly idyllic,” she says, “We couldn’t get enough of each other and spent as much time together as we could. He’d take me out for meals or drinks, we went on day trips, he complimented me a lot, and spoke of me meeting his family. He was also the one who asked to be exclusively with me and delete our dating app profiles. I felt so special.”

But then Mia went on holiday and everything changed. “Before I went away he was telling me how much he was going to miss me and promised that he’d be there to greet me when I got home. But, during the holiday he stopped texting me as much and then made an excuse as to why he couldn’t come see me when I got back a week later. I asked for an explanation and he admitted he thought he’d rushed into our relationship too quickly and needed some space to think about it.”

Looking back now, I realise his actions said far more about him than me

Mia

Mia was heartbroken by her boyfriend’s admission, but agreed to give him the space he had requested in the hope that the time apart would lead him to make a positive decision about the future of their relationship. Then, two weeks later, having not heard from him at all, she suddenly found that he had deleted their relationship status on Facebook. “I was absolutely devastated,” she says. “It might sound silly to some, but he had asked me to “go Facebook official” with him and I took it as a good sign that he wanted to publicly announce that we were together. I was in the early stages of falling in love, so I agreed, but looking back now I realise he could have been love bombing me.  

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“For him to then end our relationship by deleting that Facebook status was so shocking. It was so public and I felt humiliated, rejected, abandoned and ashamed. I also felt powerless as I had no control over how things had played out and it was like my thoughts and feelings didn’t matter. I couldn’t believe someone who had once been so caring towards me didn’t even have the decency to even send me a private text message to tell me he no longer wanted to be with me, let alone have the respect to meet me in person and have a proper conversation. It was such a cowardly and cruel thing for him to do.”

She was so upset by the incident that even though she had only known the man for six weeks it took her six months to feel confident enough to give dating apps a try again and feel emotionally ready to be open to the idea of trusting another partner. She says: “Looking back now, I realise his actions said far more about him than me, but at the time I convinced myself that if I’d somehow been a ‘better’ person he wouldn’t have zombied me. I truly felt worthless and unlovable and it took a long time for me to have the courage to put myself back out there again and trust that someone else wouldn’t do that to me.”

Mia moved on with her life, and was surprised when she awoke one weekend more than four years later to find a message from her estranged boyfriend on Instagram. He was asking her how she was and, angered by his seemingly brazen attitude, she called him out on his behaviour. She says: “Again, I couldn’t believe what he was doing. I told him I wasn’t prepared to have a normal conversation with him and ignore the elephant in the room. Only then did he apologise for his actions. He admitted he’d blocked me and took the easy way out of our relationship because he didn’t know how to deal with his emotions or speak to me about how he was feeling. He then claimed his mistreatment of me had bothered him for years, hence the reconnection”. 

Mia didn’t fully accept her former partner’s apology, believing that if he had been truly sincere then his opening message to her would have included saying he was sorry, but she was pleased to get some closure on the situation. She also believes she was able to regain some of the power she felt she had lost in 2017. “I kept calm and remained polite as I don’t think getting angry would have done me any favours, but I made sure I told him exactly how disgusting his actions had been and told him I had no interest in speaking to him any further - then I blocked him. So, it might have taken four years, but I came out strongest in the end. I still shy away from having my relationship status on social media though.”

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What has been said about zombieing on TikTok?

Lots of TikTok users are currently talking about zombieing on the platform, and videos with the hashtag #zombieing now have over one million views. Many of the videos offer explanations of what the term means, while some show people explaining what happened to them when they experienced it first hand. One person questioned: “Have you ever noticed that they all zombie you at the same time? Like, why are four guys from my past all hitting me up on the same day?”. In one particularly shocking comment, one woman told how her ex-husband zombied her after 20 years of silence. Another user said her ex-partner had zombied her for two years, but then asked her to move in with him quickly after reappearing in her life.

How can you handle it if you are a victim of zombieing?

Mellor-Brook suggests five ways you can handle the impacts of zombieing.

  • Be cautious.

  • Consider if you really want to return to this relationship. Ask yourself these three questions to help you make that choice: How did that experience make you feel? Did this type of behaviour align with your own morals and values? Could it happen again?

  • Spend time with friends and family because people that you trust and will give you an honest opinion on the situation.

  • Set clear boundaries.

  • Be unambiguous about your expectations moving forward.

Mellor-Brook added: “When faced with zombieing, remember that it reflects the person's own inner struggles, not your self-worth.”

Spitz explains that the zombieing victim has a choice - they can either take their former partner back or not. She advises if there can be an honest discussion about what went wrong previously and how things can be different going forwards then giving someone a second chance may be a good idea, but if not then she warns to “steer clear”. She added: “There is always the romanticism of rekindling relationships but relationships live and die in the real world.”

But, she says, if you’ve been zombied and made a decision that you want to stay with that person then you must trust them and move on. She says: “The ability to trust that the ghoster won’t ghost again is hard, but if you’ve decided to take them back then throwing it back in their face won’t lead to the happily ever outcome you want.”

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