Undead Lovers: A Poly Land Field Guide

a vintage photograph of two-haired short people posing with a skeleton
Image by simpleinsomnia / CC BY

Poly Land is by and large, a beautiful, magical place. There are a number of benevolent creatures that inhabit its wilds.

However, just like anywhere else, Poly Land has a dark side. And creatures who don’t mean nearly as well. Who are out just to get what they want and screw the consequences.

Yes, I’m talking about the undead. Just like the neighboring kingdom of Mono and the roving caravans of Ambi, Poly Land is no stranger to the legions of the night.

In this Field Guide, we’ll cover a few to watch out for.

The Ghostest with the Mostest

Just about everyone has heard of ghosting. But if for some reason you haven’t, ghosting is essentially when you end a personal relationship you have with someone else suddenly and without explanation. Instead of announcing your exit or giving any indication that you’re moving on or severing the association, you instead simply cease communication with the other person.

By and large, ghosting is considered an unwelcome new addition to modern dating life. But a prevalent one. In my experience, I’ve found that as much as others decry it publicly (and will likely do so in comments responding to this article, “I’ve never ghosted someone and I never would, it’s cruel!”), it’s actually quite rare to find someone who hasn’t done it at least once to someone else.

And I’ve found other instances where I directly witnessed a person that I know ghost someone else (and talk to me about it while they were doing it) and then turn around and later make comments on a public Facebook post on an article about ghosting that stated that they had never done such a thing and never would.

So do with that info what you will. I’m not sure if they just forgot, if it weren’t salient to them when they did it to someone else and much more salient when done to them. Or if they’re yet another case of a person whose public and private personas diverge wildly. So it goes.

But a lot of people ghost. And it can be for a variety of reasons.

When we want to break up with someone, clean breaks are typically for the best. And it’s far too easy to be avoidant, to push away inevitable conflict, to the detriment of someone else.

However, it’s not always this simple. When it comes to ghosting, there can be valid reasons to cease contact with someone suddenly, perhaps even without communication. The exceptions that spring immediately to mind are situations where you suspect your safety is at risk.  And perhaps not just emotional safety, but your mortal safety (especially in situations where there’s a threat of domestic violence).

In addition to ghosting, there are a few other intermediate forms of relationship limbo or social ambiguity that can trap you or someone else in the spectral realm. There’s also icing, simmering, and breadcrumbing. I’ve talked more extensively about the first two in another Poly Land article on how these kind of behaviors interface with polyamory. But briefly:

  • Icing: Making up reasons to suspend the relationship, i.e., to put it on ice. This can involve saying that you’re busy when you’re not.
  • Simmering: Seeing someone less often, scheduling fewer dates, and consciously decreasing the frequency of the communication. Very much like turning the heat down on the stove, bringing something from boil to simmer. (Different from conscious relationship deescalation, a lowering of entanglement which is ideally mutually agreed upon and announced.)
  • Breadcrumbing: Doing the minimum necessary to keep someone interested in you (via intermittent contact and attention), when you have no real intention of having a meaningful relationship with them, like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that they follow. I guess the real question here is whether the crumbs go to the witch’s cottage or back home? In Hansel and Gretel, the birds ate them; maybe that’s what they were going for.

Spooky, right? As I mentioned in that earlier article, there are times when polyamorous life can artificially produce these patterns. When researching these phenomena, I recoiled in horror (the horror!) looking through some of the example statements given, particularly by people who ice and simmer (“work is super crazy right now,” “can we reschedule?,” etc.). Because I have said them in the past (and have had them said to me by my partners)… but because I was actually busy (and so were they… at least as far as I know).

I work a lot and tend to date multiple people who also work a lot and date multiple people. Because I date interesting people, and interesting people usually have a lot going on.

Things come up. It happens.

So I typically have to trust what my partners are telling me about their schedules. And they have to trust me back. That we actually have those conflicts and that we intend to circle back around when we can.

I have to trust them in this particular way even more than I did when I was monogamously dating.

Zombie Relationships Come for Your Brains

While most people have heard of ghosting, zombie relationships, sometimes also known as  zombieing, is a little less commonly known.

Essentially what happens in this scenario is that you date someone for a while, things end, and then there’s radio silence for quite some time. But after a bunch of time passes, that ex texts you or something, you resume contact, and BOOM you’re sucked back in before you know it, redating them.

And just like that, your past relationship, the one you thought was over forever, has risen from the dead.

There do seem to be some risk factors that set the stage for zombie relationships.

Interestingly, the zombie move seems particularly popular after the relationship originally ended in ghosting. Particularly in cases where the sting of the ambiguous initial ending has faded over time and has been forgiven as a miscommunication or “just one of those things.”

In addition to this scenario, folks who are more prone to love amnesia, a kind of dating bias that predisposes them to forget the bad things from past relationships and remember the good, are much more likely to take back their exes after time has passed, regardless of the original parting terms.

And sometimes there’s basically a freak chemistry accident at the lab. You just have this odd connection with someone. Where it’s just the right balance of perfect and terrible. And it makes it so easy to say, “Eff it, I’m raising this relationship from the dead. They won’t eat my brains, not on my watch. I’ll just keep my shotgun handy.”

You do you, fam.

Emotional Vampires

The third creature we’re covering today is arguably the deadliest.

Vampires are well known for their seductiveness, their strange power. They’re evil AF, but somehow we mere mortals cannot resist their charms.

It doesn’t matter that they’re clearly predator and we, prey. We’re hopelessly drawn to them. Even though they may very well end up sucking the life from us.

Depending on the particular iteration of the myth, many different things can happen when a vampire bites you:

  • The vampire can feed upon you in a way that sustains them but allows you to keep on living, basically as their ongoing food source.
  • They can feed upon you and suck every last ounce from you, killing you.
  • They can turn you into a vampire. In most versions, this involves a blood exchange, meaning that the vampire has to give you some of their own blood in return, co-mingling your blood supplies.

In the realm of mortal relationships, emotional vampires are the people in our lives who consistently drain us, leaving us perpetually exhausted. Some emotional vampires essentially manipulate everyone around them into the role of unpaid therapist, doing everything they can to get the people in their life to perform emotional labor that they never reciprocate.

Other emotional vampires are provocateurs and will even start conflicts or inflame ongoing ones in order to feed off the emotional energy from a distance. These are your proverbial pot stirrers who amplify any drama around them, bring popcorn, and plop down to watch the action.

But whatever the case and for whatever reason, these people seem inclined to feed off the emotions of others — no matter what the cost.

And sadly, many people are inexplicably drawn to these folks. Some of them can actually be very charming, especially superficially and in short doses. But if you watch them for long enough and carefully enough, a pattern of maladaptive relating to others will become evident.

Unfortunately, for many people by the time that happens, it’s already too late.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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