The State of Unclear Relationships: Ghosting, Icing, and Simmering

January 4, 2021 by Justin Lehmiller

“Rejection has always been part of the relational landscape, but are the new trends of ghosting, icing, and simmering taking us to new, ambiguous ends?” – Esther Perel

The rise of online dating has given us a new way to connect with other people—and to meet people we probably wouldn’t otherwise encounter in our everyday lives. It has also given us more romantic options than ever before. Perhaps not surprisingly, with all of the changes online dating has brought to our intimate lives, we’ve also seen some new relationship trends develop. These include the phenomena of ghosting, icing, and simmering.

Ghosting is when you develop a relationship with someone (online, in person, or both) and then totally disappear and cut off all contact—no explanation given.

Icing is when you put a romantic prospect on ice—you convey your interest, tell them you can’t be with them now, but leave open the possibility of getting together in the future.

Simmering is when you express your interest in someone, but string them along at a comfortable distance. It’s like icing in a way, but involves more active efforts to maintain their interest in you while you figure out what you want to do.

These relationship trends have probably always been around in some form, so it’s not necessarily the case that they’re completely new—however, they’re probably occurring with greater frequency than they were in the past because online dating makes it easier to do all of them and to juggle multiple romantic prospects at once.

What all of these trends have in common is that they make our relationships with others unclear. They create what sex therapist Esther Perel refers to as states of “stable ambiguity” where we leave someone else in a holding pattern. They allow us to keep our options open without committing fully to a course of action.

So what’s behind all of these relationship trends? What do they say about us and about the nature of modern love? And should we be approaching our relationships in a different way? Check out the video below in which Esther Perel offers her perspective, then weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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