What is Orbiting in Dating?

Rita

Last Updated: May 31, 2024

Dating Tips

In today’s dating culture, there’s a phrase for just about every behavior, pattern and practice you can think of. And the latest one has us asking: what is orbiting in dating?

This digital-age dating phenomenon can be confusing and frustrating, so in this article, we’ll talk about what it is, why people do it, and how you can avoid it.

What is orbiting in dating?

Let’s wind the clock back to a time before the internet. In this pre-digital age, if a couple broke up, they may have continued to see each other but only in passing at work or parties. If they got the itch to check in on their ex, they may have asked mutual friends for updates about one another, or even browsed the wedding announcements in the newspaper just to keep tabs. In other words, the reality of the time created some physical distance that would hopefully translate into emotional distance as well.

Today, though, social media has put an end to all of that! Nowadays, after you’ve broken up with someone or even just have a very “meh” first date, you can still continue to be virtually connected. Wondering how your ex is dealing with the breakup? Check his Instagram stories! Curious about what name your ex-sister-in-law chose for the baby? Check the Facebook baby shower photo album!

This practice of engaging with someone’s online content after you’ve stopped interacting with them directly or in real life is what’s called “orbiting.” It can be as hands-off as simply viewing the other person’s content or may also include engaging with it through likes and comments.

Is orbiting really the “new ghosting?”

When the term orbiting came out back in 2018, it was described as the new form of ghosting (i.e. the modern dating practice of stopping all communication with a romantic interest without formally breaking up.) And indeed, the two do have one important feature in common: they both come from a place of emotional unavailability. In other words, this is a person with whom a healthy, romantic relationship is not currently (and may never be) an option.

The big difference, though, is that traditional ghosting gives both parties the space to go through the necessary process of loss and healing. Eventually, the heightened emotions wear off. You can start meeting new people. Life goes on.

With orbiting though, that person has never completely left your life. And, this is why the name can be considered so apt, because it’s hard to move on when you’re still tethered to the gravity of your last love interest.

Is orbiting dangerous?

In most cases, orbiting is a behavior that we should try to avoid because of the impact on our mental health. But every once in a while, it’s important to consider that orbiting can actually be dangerous, namely in the case of abusive relationships. If someone who was physically or psychologically abusive in a relationship continues to orbit their ex, it could be a red flag of continued manipulation and intimidation. In other words, orbiting may not only be a way to check in on the ex but actually to gather information about where they are and who they're with as well as send the message that they’re still watching.

In this case, the person who is being orbited should immediately block the account in order to protect their mental and physical safety. They may also want to make their account private and only engage with accounts they know and trust.

What is orbiting in dating doing for people?

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So, why do people orbit in cases where there was no abuse? There are a few possible explanations:

  • Mindless scrolling. One of the simplest explanations for orbiting is that your ex never bothered to unfollow you. This is common for someone that you may have gone on one or two dates with but didn’t really hit it off. They’re not necessarily emotionally connected to you, you just happen to still be in their feed.
  • The hope of getting back together. If the relationship was more serious, there’s a chance that one or both of you has fantasies about getting back together. Staying involved in each other’s day-to-day activities, even without interacting directly, keeps that spark of hope alive.
  • Addiction. Some studies suggest that breakups trigger the same part of our brains that is activated by drug withdrawal. Seeing pictures of our exes is painful, but we can become addicted to that hit of dopamine that comes when we see their face pop up on social media. So, even though we know that it’s bad for us and that the relationship is over, it’s very common to still want that daily or even more frequent check-in to satisfy the brain cravings.

What should you do if you find yourself orbiting someone

Now that we know what is orbiting in dating and why we do it, you might realize that you’ve become something of a satellite for someone online. What should you do about it? Here are some useful steps:

  • Ask yourself why you’re orbiting this person. You may fall into the camp of “I forgot that we ever dated and now their stories pop up on my feed” or maybe you’re actively checking in on the person you thought was the love of your life. Either way, we can bet that it’s not serving you to continue keeping tabs on them. Consider whether taking yourself out of orbit will free up some head and heart space!
  • Don’t beat yourself up over it. Maybe you’ve realized that you’re actually addicted to seeing your ex’s stories or that you’ve been harboring a dream of getting back together. Instead of making yourself feel bad about it, acknowledge that this is a very common experience after a break-up! It doesn’t make you weak or a bad person. Instead, try to move forward with self-compassion. You deserve to live without the emotional turmoil that comes with orbiting your ex.
  • If you can muster up the courage, hit the block button. It can seem like a big step, but creating a virtual wall between yourself and the person you’re keeping tabs on can be helpful. If you’re not ready for that step, consider muting them, instead. That way, their content won’t automatically pop up when you open the app.
  • Take up a hobby that gets you away from social media. One of the best ways to stop checking in with an ex online is to get offline! And we would recommend hobbies that are phone-unfriendly, such as ceramics, gardening, swimming, sewing, breadmaking, or bike riding.
  • Flood your feed with more positive content. Maybe you don’t want to take a step away from social media, but you would like to rethink the kind of content you’re consuming. For instance, you may feel less inclined to watch your ex’s stories if your favorite influencer just posted a new tutorial. And, you may still use Facebook to find local social events and activities instead of using it to check in on your ex.
  • Rely on your friends and family. Is there a family member or friend in your life that you can text, call, or even just send memes to in the moments when you’re fighting the urge to check in with your ex? This could help you rewire your brain to seek out loved ones when you’re craving connection.
  • Talk to a professional therapist or counselor. Break-ups can be made easier with the help of a trained professional!
  • Focus on the benefits of ending the orbit. You may be able to motivate yourself to stop orbiting by thinking about the positives that will come with your digital detox. Think about how you’ll feel when you’re not constantly checking in with this person and what you’ll do with all that extra time that you’re not scrolling! Eventually, you’ll stop thinking about those benefits and actually start reaping them.

What should you do about someone who orbits you?

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You don’t have to be the one to be doing the orbiting to be negatively impacted by this kind of behavior. In fact, seeing your ex lingering around your social media can also make it difficult for you to move on. Or, you might find yourself attributing feelings towards your crush who sees all your stories when they haven’t shown any real interest in pursuing something with you. So, if you’re being orbited, consider the following steps:

  • Don’t speculate on why they’re orbiting you. There’s no way to know whether they’re following you because they still have feelings for you or because the algorithm has put your stories in their feed. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. You spending your mental energy wondering why they’re still connected to you doesn’t change the reality that they’re not available for a romantic relationship.

  • Don’t engage. Whether you like their likes or respond to their comments, you’re sending the message (to them and to yourself) that this person is still welcome in your life. This can create emotional confusion that prevents you from moving on.

  • Make content for yourself, not for your satellite. Ask yourself whether you are making content that you are hoping they will engage with. If the answer is yes, consider shifting your focus toward your own goals and hobbies.

  • Spend more time offline. Just like spending time offline can help if you are orbiting someone, it can also help when you’re being orbited. Time away from your phone has a number of mental health benefits and will create distance between you and your ex.

  • Block them. As difficult as it may seem, one of the best things you can do if someone is orbiting you is to cut the connection completely. They don’t add any tangible benefit to your life and actually may be harming you. So, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to cut them loose and focus on healing.

  • Find your own closure. Sometimes we allow someone to orbit us because we didn’t get the closure that we wanted from them. With the door slightly ajar, we’re able to continue having them in our lives, hoping that eventually, they’ll offer that closure we’ve been waiting for. Instead, work towards finding closure for yourself! Be honest and realistic about why it didn’t work out and focus your efforts on healing and moving on. After all, the best closure is the kind we’re able to give ourselves instead of waiting for external closure that may never come.

You don’t have to engage in orbiting anymore!

Now that you know all about orbiting, have your thoughts on your own online behaviors changed? Maybe you can think about whether your follower and following lists are reflective of the kind of social media interactions you want. If not, it might be time to make some changes so that you can enjoy a healthier, more positive online experience.

Whether you’re orbiting or being orbited, are you ready to release the virtual connections that are no longer serving you?

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