First, let me just say that daters who gradually extricate themselves from a romantic interest’s life by doing what’s known as the “Slow Fade” get a bad rap. They’re often called selfish insensitive jerks, but more often than not, they hate disappointing people and don’t realize they’re being cowardly and confusing. Rather, they think they’re being nice.
To understand this classic breakup maneuver, it’s important to distinguish what the Slow Fade is not. It’s not “poofing” after you’ve said you had a really good time and wanted to see a date again. It doesn’t involve blowing off emails or texts. Slow Faders always respond, which is exactly what makes them so exasperating. The Fade usually takes place after a couple of good dates, just as you think there’s some romantic momentum. Slow Faders will send occasional texts wishing you “Happy Tuesday!” or “Good luck on your 5K.” Sometimes they will make vague references to “getting together soon” or seeing you when “their crazy work schedule calms down.” But – and here’s the big tipoff – they never actually ask you out. Or if you’re the one doing the asking, you receive a murky “Sounds fun, but it’s a busy week. Perhaps next week?”
So why are Slow Faders so annoyingly evasive? Here’s the likely scenario: The Slow Fader likes you and all, but he or she doesn’t want to continue dating you. However, that person spent just enough time with you – maybe on your couch or at your dinner table – that the Slow Fader would feel super guilty ignoring you. So instead of telling you they don’t want to see you again, they maintain infrequent and distant communication for a few weeks before finally dropping off the face of the earth. Slow Faders think this is a kinder, gentler way of backing out of your life. They sincerely believe that by executing a soft landing, they won’t hurt your heart. Maybe you’ll even forget about them.
Ah, the stuff of dating dreams! Here’s how their passive little plan usually goes down. (Okay, I I’ve been faded on a few times.) First, you question what the Slow Fader meant by “See you soon.” Did it mean this weekend? Maybe you ask a couple friends to decipher the message. Then you wonder if the Slow Fader received your text response “Sounds great! Look forward.” You remember the time in the summer of 2012 when the networks jammed, and you received 30 texts all at the same time two days after people had sent them. Then you think about whether you’ve overbooked your weekend, in case they did mean this weekend. Another few days go by, and you start to replay the last date in your head and ask yourself if they took offense to your snarky joke about Republican lawyers and if they really did like your ginger apricot vinaigrette. And you start to hate yourself because you can’t stop checking your phone (even in the middle of a movie). The worst part is that you’re not even sure how much you even like the person. But now the Slow Fade is slowly driving you crazy, and you find yourself screaming at your phone on your boring Friday night, “If you’re not into me, just tell me!” You don’t think that the Slow Fader was trying to be nice.
So Slow Fader, I am asking you to do the right thing and just tell your dates if you’re not interested. You will save everyone a lot of slow-baked angst and free them to spend their energy on someone else. You have your choice of time-honored curb-kickers: “There’s not enough chemistry” or “You’re not ready to pursue a relationship” or “You met someone else.” You can sweeten up the message with a few compliments, but make it clear there is no romantic future. Yes, rejecting someone is never easy, but you can handle it. And so can they! The spurned person probably won’t write nasty messages in lipstick on your windshield or strike back with a wounded “No worries. I didn’t like you that much anyway.” And in my experience as a dumpee, the sting lasts for an afternoon (okay, maybe a weekend), but we all eventually move on.
Do not use a Slow Fade campaign to “keep someone on the line.” You might think it’s a good strategy to keep your options open, in case you’re interested in resuming the romance later. But that’s not likely to happen if your Slow Fade recipient was left flopping around in your dank pool of wishy-washiness. Make a clean break, and you’ll have a better chance of getting a warm reception later on. (You can always blame the earlier flame-out on bad timing.) Your date will appreciate that you were decent and endured a little discomfort to truly respect their feelings.
Have you been victim to the Slow Fader? Do you agree it is better to just tell the other person you aren’t interested, rather than skirting around the issue?
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate and Salon.