It's not cheating, it's 'ethical non-monogamy'
What the heck is frogisation?
Every time I walk into a mall, I see a sea of bucket hats, cropped sweatshirts, crochet tops, tiny sunglasses and even tinier handbags. The only oversized items — my preferred style — are the shoes. Unfortunately, this translates to chunky sneakers and platform shoes that look like they belong in an orthopaedic clinic. I always have the same reaction. “Ugh, Gen Z has ruined everything.”
There is a generational battle when fashion identifies its newest, trendiest consumer group. It took me some time (and actually talking to the younger generation) to understand that underneath my disdain for Gen Z fashion lay a bit of envy. But the same can’t be said for the complicated world of Gen Z dating.
For millennials, the only dating slang we had to wrap our heads around was ‘Netflix and Chill’. But this generation has developed a way to categorise all their escapades. Gen Z is a tribe of tech-savvy individuals, navigating the complex maze of relationships and dating, armed with smartphones and a dialect of their own.
I’d be lying if I said that my conversation with psychotherapist Nishita Khanna, about changing relationships and dating trends, didn’t turn into a therapy session of my own. We observed Gen Z’s need to label everything they do. With boomers or Gen X, there weren’t many options, so there wasn’t much need for nuance. From that generation’s black and white vision, millennials had to swim through muddy grey waters. “We wanted to ask questions but were afraid and stayed confused in these grey areas. Perhaps, since our parents didn’t appreciate too many questions, we remained silent,” says Khanna.
Gen Z is a lot more confident and self-assured. For them, Khanna says, grey isn’t an acceptable option. Labels, new terms or slang, while sometimes overbearing, are a way to define things otherwise left unsaid.
Ancy Thomas (23) echoes my inference from Khanna’s chat. “It’s easier to put a name to it. I don’t think anyone has the patience for games, trying to decode the true intention behind someone’s text message. Millennials leave too much to the imagination. Who has the time? Open any dating app, and you’ll see there are so many other fish in the sea. It does take the right kind of bait, though, and that can be tricky.”
The first Gen Z dating phenomenon she introduces me to is ‘kittenfishing’. As opposed to old-school catfishing, where you create a false online persona to deceive others with fake information and photos, kittenfishing, Thomas says, is more subtle and “harmless”. She describes it as catfishing’s younger cousin. A milder version that employs some white lies, like the right camera angles for selfies, exaggerating your height or interests – all in the hopes of hooking a potential date.
Mohit Debakar (21), Allanna Deshpande (24) and Zaina Hussein (20) gave me a crash course on Gen Z living, and body positivity is an important aspect of it. They say that while the body positivity movement may have picked up steam with millennials, it’s a lived experience for them. Gen Z has a level of self-love that I, at 30, still struggle with maintaining.
More confident when it comes to setting boundaries, Gen Z has redefined what they seek out of dating too. For this new generation, being single is intentional. Gen Z puts more value on boosting their own self-confidence and self-worth rather than depending on a partner to fulfil those needs.
But not every thing is golden in the world of Gen Z dating. Meghna Raizada (21) says that while we’ve adopted many of the beliefs and Gen Z dating slang from the West, our reality is still very Indian. “We go in with so-called modern, westernised expectations, but sooner or later, you see a lot of the more old-school beliefs crop up. Some are still very sexist, conforming to gender expectations, and how class and caste place us in the social pyramid.”
I thought ‘situationships’ would be the most complicated dating term of the lot, and we did our deep-dive into it. But now Gen Z dating has a language so bewildering for the uninitiated, it’s like taking a test you had no idea you were meant to prep for. So much so that Tinder went the extra mile by compiling a dictionary of Gen Z dating terms coined by the app’s younger user base. This guide was a response to recent findings that 62% of individuals aged 18 to 25 feel they communicate in a completely distinct language compared to older singles.
My new crew of Gen Zers helped me break down, and not have a breakdown over, some of the new dating slang that we should familiarise ourselves with. Just in case we ever want to enter this new dating world ourselves.
Gen Z dating slang and what it means
Surat native Sukriti Goyal (21) says the first major red flag (more on the flags later) to keep an eye out for is love bombing. “A person will shower you with attention, adoration and gifts right from the beginning,” Goyal says, as a manipulative method of quickly gaining trust, in order to be able to control you. “They then flip and withhold that affection, so you panic. ‘What did I do wrong?’ ‘Did I say something?’ They want you to constantly feel small and run after them for approval and affection again.”
Khanna says that the act of love bombing can be an early sign of a partner with a tendency for emotional abuse and coercive control.
Have you ever been attracted to someone from a distance, only to find that electricity quickly fizzle the minute they start liking you back? You, my friend, may have experienced what the young ones call ‘frogisation’. The phrase ‘frog-isation’ or kaeru ka gensh in Japanese literally translates to ‘the phenomenon of turning into a frog’.
“It’s the opposite of The Princess and the Frog. Here, the ‘Prince’ or ‘Princess,’ quickly turns into just another guy or girl once they reciprocate your feelings,” says Kritika*. Khanna attributes this phenomenon to the human propensity for fantasising. “Once you know the person for who they are, or they give you that attention, the magical fantasy or thrill of the chase dies, and you lose interest.”
Given its overuse and abuse, the word woke may have a bad rep, but Jaspreet Singh (21) says there’s no denying that Gen Z – at least in tier I and II cities – is more progressive in their views than previous generations. ‘Wokefishing’ he says, is when someone intentionally and falsely presents themselves as a progressive person as bait to reel in matches on apps.
“This has unfortunately happened to me a lot. Being on queer dating apps, I have come across men whom I connected with. But if you reject them or question any action or reaction of theirs, they can suddenly flip and show you who they really are. It came with a lot of anger and slurs directed towards me being an openly gay man in India.”
Deshpande once questioned someone she thought was wokefishing. “He said ‘because you woke girls are loose.’ He found it funny. I think people do it so they can sleep with someone and don’t expect anyone to actually ask them questions about who they are. But they mostly end up getting caught.”
All the flags
We may have thought red and green were all the flag colours there were to know when it came to relationships. But Gen Zers have taken things to the next level of behaviour observation.
“Pink flags would be warning signs of things that could go bad. Like a red flag in the future. So not quite bad yet, but something that could potentially go full red flag if there’s no course correction,” says Hussein.
Beige flags confused me the most when I first came across the phrase. Pink to red makes sense in terms of the colour wheel. But beige? Would it turn into a white flag of surrender or a black flag of anarchy?
As online dating coach Max Alley explains, a beige flag refers to peculiar behaviours displayed by your partner that fall into the realm of strange but don’t quite venture into downright bizarre.
“It’s a super niche idiosyncrasy that is kind of funny, weird and unique, but not necessarily bad or good.”
According to Hussein, this new addition to the relationship flag family simply comes down to compatibility. “This person might quote The Office at the drop of a hat, but you deeply dislike the show. So it’s not a deal breaker, but it could be bothersome. So, how much can you tolerate, or adjust, would be the real question to ask yourself.”
Zombieing is the absolute worst, say Singh, Thomas and Goyal. Ghosting is more welcomed – when the person you’re talking to or went on a date with disappears into the blue. “It would be great to get an explanation, but it’s still better because it’s definitive. I’ve been ghosted and also done some ghosting. But zombieing takes ghosting to another level,” says Thomas. Zombieing is like ghosting, except the person keeps popping in and out of your life as they chose. “It adds insult to injury because they usually pretend like they didn’t ghost you in the first place,” says Singh. Quite literally coming back from the dead with no explanation as to how or why.
Khanna says that such actions are usually driven out of boredom. “The person wants the attention again, especially if they know that you were interested in them. They weren’t getting what they wanted somewhere else, so come back to their previous source of attention to get some validation. If you’re getting zombied, then it’s time you did the ghosting.
Are you even in a relationship if you haven’t posted a picture with your partner on Instagram? Many people are shocked when they learn I’ve been in a relationship for seven years and even more taken aback when I say I haven’t posted anything on Instagram since 2018.
Posting a photo with your spouse/partner/significant other would be a ‘hard launch’ of your relationship on social media.
A soft launch keeps things mysterious, says Raizada. “It would be pictures with their face obscured, or blurred in some way. You’re dropping hints everywhere without ever showing their face or revealing their identity.” Then the messages and comments start coming, asking who the person is. Are you dating? Is it serious? Is it the girl they once saw you with at the mall?
It allows people some privacy while making it known that you’re dating or committed, but, she adds, it’s also “great for social media engagement.”
Goyal says that while a lot of people can be put off by it, she is a fan of the ‘daterview’. Imagine a job interview but in a romantic setting. You go beyond the small talk and get to the real meat of things.
It can be romantic or flirtatious, but you’re not sticking to the usual questions of how their day was or what their hopes and dreams are, but “it can be about what they’re looking for, their finances, what they want out of life, or dating or a relationship. What do they expect in their sex life? Monogamy or not?” She says that daterviews only work if it’s agreed upon by both parties involved and you go in with an open mind and heart.
Ethical non-monogamy (ENM)
ENM or Ethical Non-Monogamy is a word you might spot in a lot of dating profiles, says Debakar. You may wonder, as I did, if that’s the same as an open relationship or polyamory, but there are distinctions. Debakar said that people consider ENM an overall term that encompasses polyamory. “ENM would mean a person is involved with many people romantically and/or sexually, and they’re all aware of it and accept it. In an open relationship, on the other hand, partners may have sexual relations with others (who may or may not be aware of each other) but might not be romantically involved. Each of these come with their own rules that the couple decides together.”
Khanna says that Gen Zers are definitely changing the traditional notions of what a relationship looks like. While polyamory and open relationships are things that people have explored in the past, they might not have been this open. “The emphasis here for them is definitely on the ‘Ethical.’ All parties are consenting to being a part of the relationship on their own terms.”
Goblintimacy is probably the one Gen Z dating trend I will openly advocate for. The term jumps off 2022’s word of the year, ‘Goblin mode’. Induced by the pandemic and lockdown, where we unapologetically gave into self-indulgence, living our best sloth life and rejecting norms regarding societal image and expectations.
Gen Z dating has this phenomenon too, of presenting their most authentic selves on dates. No primping to look perfect to make a good impression. “It’s not that you don’t care about what you look like or act selfishly,” says Raizada, “Rather, it’s about rejecting the notion that a date has to be flawless in order to be good. You present yourself – warts and all – to the person and are open to them showing you their true selves. Not what you think the other person wants to see or how they want you to behave.”
Is there anything more authentic and relatable than getting goblintimate with each other?
Benching is a Gen Z dating trend that Deshpande wishes would fade away. We, millennials, called it ‘keeping someone on the hook’.
This dating phrase is about being kept ‘on the bench’ or ‘benched’ while the person you are interested in checks out other potential dating options, leaving you in a state of limbo. They don’t ghost you; instead, they linger through non-committal messages to keep the communication open in case they want to explore something with you in the future.
It’s not going to stop with Gen Z. Every generation ahead will create their own way of communicating to find a sense of normal in an unfamiliar, complicated world. What Gen Z has managed to do is transform awkward situations into something tangible, offering a sense of control in a realm of absurdity. I’m going to ask my mother for some techniques to utaro nazar and be thankful that I’m in a committed relationship, not having to keep up with every new thing that dating culture throws up. Who knows what linguistic marvels they’ll conjure up next? I can’t say I’ll be ready.
* some names changed on the condition of anonymity.