Everything about Daisy Testa’s first date indicated there would be a second. The pair lingered over dinner and drinks for hours, took a walk in the park, and even kissed on a swing set. “We both are interested in seeing each other again,” the now-31-year-old academic counsellor in Chicago wrote on her blog at the time.
But texts during the following weeks never turned into plans, and the guy eventually stopped texting Testa altogether. As someone who went on one to three dates a week back then, it wasn’t her first or last experience with a “slow fader” (a.k.a. a romantic prospect who slowly drops out of contact), though she wishes it was.
“The slow burn is even less attractive than ghosting because it gives the illusion of hope,” says Testa, who’s been with her current boyfriend for about a year and a half.
However infuriating, enduring a slow fade is a reality for many singles these days, says Megan Bruneau, RCC, a therapist in New York City who specialises in relationships and other issues facing her millennial clientele. She’s even been slow-faded by a guy she was dating for months. “It’s a way of both avoiding the discomfort of having a difficult conversation and mitigating guilt of ghosting,” she says.
And while a slow fade can reveal you’re dealing with a jerk—or at least calls into question their self-awareness, morality, integrity, and compassion, in Bruneau’s opinion—it may mean nothing more than you’re dating in the digital age, when the next catch is one swipe away. “You get distracted, and the person you should be open and honest with just fades from your memory,” Testa finds.
So yeah, getting slow-faded sucks. Here’s how to tell if it’s happening to you—and what to do about it:
1. They take more and more time to respond to texts.
Did they used to respond within seconds and now it’s hours? Next week, it may be days. “There’s no ‘right’ amount of time to respond to someone…but what you want to look for is a change,” Bruneau explains. “Don’t compare this person to the last person you saw—compare them to the person they were when you first started seeing each other.”
2. Their responses are shorter and less enthusiastic.
Similarly, the thing to notice here is a behavioural change. If they used to send you news clips and tell you how excited they were to see you, and now you’re lucky to get more than an emoji, something’s probably up. “When you’re dating someone, you shouldn’t have to wonder when you’re going to see them or when they’re going to text,” says Andi Forness, an online dating coach in Austin.
3. They stop making concrete plans.
You might not want to admit it, but someone saying, “Sure, let’s hang out,” is totally different from asking, “Are you free to check out my friend’s art exhibit Thursday after work?”
Slow faders may have some interest in seeing you again, but not so much interest that they’re actually firming up plans—or, at least, plans that require any sort of effort—to make it happen. For Bruneau’s slow-fading boyfriend, for example, what used to be frequent, thoughtful dates became infrequent Netflix and chill sessions (ugh).
4. You always initiate the conversation—and it falls flat.
Typically, if you toss the conversational ball, an interested potential partner will catch and throw it back. But a swing and a miss—several times over—could signal trouble, says Christie Tcharkhoutian, PhD, LMFT, a Los Angeles–based senior matchmaker with the matchmaking service Three Day Rule.
“If you are always the one texting or calling your potential significant other, and their responses are one-sided and closed rather than engaging and asking you more questions, they may be trying to slow fade away from you,” she explains. Take a look at your most recent convo, and if you’re swimming in blue (or green) texts, it’s probably best to move on.
5. You’re not a priority.
Slow faders will keep you around, but they won’t prioritize you. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to have no one (“People don’t like to be alone,” Forness says); maybe it’s because you seem like someone they should be dating.
Either way, their energy is spent elsewhere. “Because of apps, everyone knows there are about 200 other people they could probably go out with,” Forness says. “The person [the slow fader has] chemistry with is going to get priority.”
6. Your gut tells you they’re distancing themselves.
The whole art of the slow fade is that it can be easily chalked up to something else: a vacation, new job, or illness that understandably makes dating less of a priority. So determining whether you’re dealing with a slow fader or a genuinely busy (or just flaky) person mostly comes down to your gut, Bruneau says. “When you start to notice a shift in energy, you’re probably right.”
Okay, you’re getting slow faded. Now what?
Stop chasing him or her and wait to be chased, experts say. “If they truly are not slow fading, they will reach out or try to connect at some point in some way,” Tcharkhoutian says. At that point, feel free to say something like, “If you want to keep your VIP texting privileges, you need to ask me out in the next 24 hours” or some other concrete time frame, Forness suggests. That’s a bold move, sure, but at least you’ll (finally) get a straight answer.
If they don’t reach back out, “they are accepting the reality that you may be The One That Gets Away,” Tcharkhoutian says. If they’re cool with that, you don’t want to be with them, anyway.
It’s also relationship expert–approved to confront the slow fader as soon as you sense that shift in energy or responsiveness. Forness suggests saying something like, “I feel like you’re pulling away—do you need some space or more time?” If the answer is yes, honour that. Smothering someone who moves at a different pace never works. Plus, it’s important to maintain your own identity and interests while dating, Forness says. “The other person should be like dessert,” she explains. “You are the main course.”
However, if the slow fade triggers a disinterest on your end (fair), confront the person by noting the shift in communication, what that signals to you, and why you’re not into that, Tcharkhoutian says.
For example: “Hey, I’ve noticed that your communication has decreased a lot, and you take a long time to respond. I think that may mean you’re no longer interested in seeing where things go, and I’m looking for a relationship that’s built on honesty, communication, and respect. I wish you the best.”
Boom. You’re free to find someone who’s actually worth your time.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.
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