They stagger towards you, slack-jawed and hollow-eyed, flaps of skin hanging off their haggard corpses. They are zombies, the undead, ghosts returned from lives past, here to disrupt your equilibrium, and throw you into confusion.
Well, maybe not your equilibrium, but certainly mine. I've been zombied. And it is very unsettling.
"Zombieing" is a dating term, of course, coined by PrimeMind writer Sophia Kercher.
To be zombied is to have someone you care about disappear from your life altogether, only to have them bring a relationship back from the dead with an out-of-the-blue text or interaction on social media.
I was zombied years ago, before I even knew what it was. A man I'd been seeing just cut off contact, only to return a couple of months later with an out-of-the-blue text.
"How are you?" he wrote cheerily, as if weeks of radio silence hadn't happened.
I was younger then, (OK, three years younger) and naive. I didn't recognise the decaying flesh hanging off his bones, or the putrid smell rising from his bald scalp. And so I jumped right back in, and was eventually ghosted and zombied again.
Now I am older (OK, three years older) and wiser. So when I was recently zombied by a different man, I recognised it for the weird and inappropriate behaviour it is.
I'd been seeing the guy briefly, and really liked him, but he left me to go back to his ex. That's never fun, but you can't fight a pre-existing relationship, and so I retired gracefully from the scene. (OK, so I got drunk and wrote rambling journal entries and cried on the phone to my friend, but I did it with tremendous grace.)
The guy disappeared, which is the correct thing to do. After all, if you dump me for your ex, it is only polite to pretend not to exist. Forever.
But then, a few weeks later, he liked one of my Instagram photos. And a few days later, he liked another. And it was hard to pretend that he didn't exist when his name was popping up in my feed.
Why was he liking them? What did it mean? Was he still with his ex? Was he trying to get my attention? Did he want to keep me as an option?
Or were they just really brilliant photos?
I didn't know. I still don't know. (Though, looking at the photos, they are pretty great.)
I do know, however, that he was a zombie. An ex, back from the online dead, come to eat my brains and make me crazy.
Zombieing is very much a product of modern dating. Before social media, relationships were a binary concept – you were either with someone or not. If you were dating, you'd spend time together. If you weren't, you might bump into each other from time to time, or even send a card on a birthday, but that was it.
There was no ambivalent online contact, because there was no online world. You couldn't stalk an ex unless you waited outside their house. You couldn't read their posts, because it was a crime to open their mail. And you couldn't like their photo unless they were showing you their album, which wasn't very likely if you'd dumped them in the first place.
But today, there are a hundred ways to interact with an ex without really making contact. You can favourite their tweet. Comment on their update. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Like their pic. But it is meaningless communication. It says nothing, other than: "Here I am! Still alive!" It is indulgent, and selfish. It is a missive from the undead.
If you want to contact someone, do so in a real way. Don't text and say "How are you?" as though nothing has happened. Don't like a photo, just to make your presence felt. Pick up the phone, be brave, and say, "I'm sorry for what happened."
Or be a good corpse, and stay in the ground where you belong. No-one wants their brain messed around by a zombie.