Recently I posted a video by Esther Perel where she provides a brief guide about communicating about love in this day and age. In the video, Esther discusses the phenomena of ghosting, icing, and simmering. In this post, we’re going to look at these terms, why to stop engaging with them if you’re a culprit, and how to deal with the emotions of being ghosted, iced or simmered.
Rejection has always been a part of the relationship landscape. But are the new trends of ghosting, icing and simmering increasing our acceptance of ambiguous ends? These tactics of maintaining unclear relationships and prolonging break-ups all produce what I refer to as stable ambiguity. When we are stably ambiguous, we're too afraid to be alone, but unwilling to fully engage in building intimacy. This behavior creates a holding pattern that affirms the undefined nature of the relationship, which has a mix of comforting consistency AND the freedom of blurred lines.
Esther says that "we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to have someone available to cozy-up with when it’s snowing, but if something better comes along, we want the freedom to explore."
In this relationship culture, expectations and trust are constantly questioned. The state of stable ambiguity will undoubtedly create an atmosphere where at least one person experiences a constant cloud of uncertainty, and neither individual feels truly appreciated or nurtured. We do this at the expense of our emotional health, and the emotional health of others.
"Ghosting, icing, and simmering are manifestations of the decline of empathy in our society — the promoting of one’s selfishness, without regard for the consequences of others," says Esther. There is a person on the other end of our text messages (or lack thereof), and the ability to communicate virtually doesn’t give us the right to treat others poorly.
So what is ghosting, icing, and simmering really? Let's take a look.
Ghosting is simple. The other party simply becomes a ghost. They stop responding to calls, texts, or DMs. Typically, ghosting happens once you’ve already met the other person.
If someone just stops responding to your messages within an online dating site and you haven’t met yet, it's probably one of three things:
Do you ghost?
People who are “into you” don’t “just get the hint” when you stop responding. In some cases, they actually worry. If you’re someone that ghosts others, consider stepping up a little and treating people with a bit more respect. Everyone wants to be respected. You’re not going to be respected if you don’t respect to others. That’s just the way the world works.
Have you been ghosted?
Being the victim of a ghoul sucks. Plain and simple. Many ghostees live in within the gray area between anger and worry. Particularly if they really liked the ghost.
But, it’s not you. That didn’t help, did it? But the reality is, is that someone who can’t send you a message letting you down isn’t someone you want to be with in the first place. How far do you want to go with someone unable to take responsibility for their own decisions?
A client of mine recently came in to their session in tears because the person that they had been seeing for last two months finally reached out to them a week after they left them a voicemail, saying they'd gotten busy. My client hadn't been ghosted. They'd been iced.
Icing is when someone suddenly behaves very cool towards you. Their responses become sporadic and will become increasingly more generic than specific. Trying to make plans will yield responses like “let me get back to you.”
Do you put people on ice?
Stop. Really, people are not toys. It’s OK to call it like it is. Keep a good friend vs. just being a jerk.
If you're prone to icing people, try; this instead: So, here’s the thing: I like you. I like that you _____, and you would probably be great to be friends with.
Warning: If they agree to be friends, make the next four or five connections be group interactions. Test that friendship is going to work. Constant advances aren’t OK. Maintain your agreed upon boundaries.
Have you been put on ice?
I guess the good news with icing is that the other person is kinda into you. They do like you. Otherwise, they’d ghost. But chances are, they aren’t so sure whether the like you like you. That’s worth a little bit of effort, right? So that's why you're on ice.
Icing is weird. People do get busy. But if someone wants to spend time with you, they make the time. At very least, an “I wish I could see you, but I’m booked” text will fill the space and help take the edge off.
Dealing with icing takes a bit of commitment. Give yourself a strategy and stick to it. Set boundaries and limits. A strategy that I teach my clients is 2/4. I recommend that they reach out twice, four days apart. So, if my client reaches out to someone – phone, text, email, DM – and they don’t respond in four days AND they really like them, call and ask a hard “when can we get together again?” But, that’s it.
If my client is truly being put on ice, their second call is going to go to VM. If their crush answers, chances are icing isn’t what’s going on – something else is.
If that second call is met with something other than a “let’s get together x,” most likely it's not worth continued pursuit.
Simmering is the worst. It is literally putting a relationship on the back burner and letting it sit there. And you're in the pot. You're plan B. They're really looking for x but, if the can't find it, maybe they'll settle for you.
Do you let people simmer?
If you’re a simmerer, just say you’re not interested. Maybe you kind of are, but do everyone a favor, just say you’re not. If you’re not interested right now and have the courage to state it, you might have the chance with the person later if you become interested, because you were honest before. But, if you simmer someone, you’re just being a jerk. Even if you believe you have good intentions.
Are you on the back burner?
When you’re being simmered, you have to be the strong one. That puts you in the awful position of having to bail on someone you actually like.
But, here’s the thing: you’re only around for their ego. Even if things would escalate to a relationship, chances are, you’re only arm candy for their ego.
Don’t tell the simmerer, but the reality is quite simple: they’re just not ready for an adult relationship. In an adult relationship, you like someone and you want to give it a shot… or you’re not willing to give it a shot. For some reason or another, simmerers just aren’t willing or ready to give it a shot. And that's okay, but you don't need to stick around until they are ready.
Ghosting, icing, and simmering are manifestations of the decline of empathy in our society — the promoting of one’s selfishness, without regard for the consequences of others. There is a person on the other end of our text messages (or lack thereof), and the ability to communicate virtually doesn’t give us the right to treat others poorly. (Esther Perel)
I encourage you to end relationships respectfully and conclusively, however brief they may be. Act with kindness and integrity. This gives both people the chance to enter into their next relationship with more experience and a clear head, rather than filled with disappointment and insecurity.
Ideas to incorporate into a final conversation:
Of course, couples living in the realm of stable ambiguity don’t always end in a breakup. Sometimes this state is the training wheels period needed for one or both parties to realize they want something more. This is normal for a brief, beginning phase, but not as the defining mode of a relationship.