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Remember when you were little and you saw a toy commercial for some robot dog you really wanted and you begged and begged and begged your mom for it every day and every night? Remember how she didn’t want to tell you no because she didn’t want to make you sad, but she sure as heck wasn’t going to tell you yes, so she just kept saying variations of “maybe” until you got bored and moved on to the next animatronic nightmare?

Well, now you’re a grownup and instead of lusting after a fake futty friend you’ve probably got your sights set on something, someone, more substantial and much taller, like a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. Or a special friendly friend you like to cuddle and cook pasta for. You’ve been after this friendly friend for a while, and you think the friendly friend likes you a lot too and would be interested in putting a facebook relationship status on it, but lately they’ve been acting weird. Like Furby level weird. They’re texting less and canceling more and you’re feeling very confused and very frustrated and very unsure as to why you’re getting more concrete answers from your magic eight ball than you are from your boo. This my friends, is the fade-away phenomenon, wherein baes decide to play it cool and slowly disappear (ghost) rather than tell you one way or another how they feel about you. It’s petty and it hurts, but unfortunately it’s an unescapable part of the modern dating scene. Here’s how to tell if you’re being slow-faded, because

Their text game has grown weak and flimsy

Like it or not, texting is a huge component of relationships nowadays. It’s how you make plans, check in on each other, and send cute puppy gifs on Mondays when you’re both feeling sad. Some people are truly terrible texters, but I’ve found that even the worst ones will be responsive and considerate if they really care about you and your feelings. If your friendly friend started off texting you on the daily and responding immediately but now you’re lucky if you hear back from them three days later, you may be being slow-faded. If anything text consistency should increase as you get closer and more comfortable with each other, not fall off completely. It may be worth having a conversation just in case there’s something you don’t know about, like work stress or limited phone battery. But in general, poor texting and communication is the first sign of the ghost.

They’ve been canceling a lot lately

Sometimes things come up and you have to bail out on plans you were totally intending to keep. Sickness, work, broken bones, all very acceptable reasons. But if your bae has been regularly flaking, something fishy is afoot. When you like someone you want to see them and spend time with them. You make a genuine effort and rearrange your schedule because you care enough to miss a nap or two if it means seeing them in person and holding their hand. But if you don’t really want to see someone, you make plans knowing you’ll cancel later. It’s easier than saying no, and you feel way less guilty mustering up a fake cough than hurting their feelings outright. Again, there may be a totally reasonable explanation for why you’ve been getting so many “sorry, can’t make it :/” texts, but if honey bunny is canceling and not making a sincere and persistent effort to reschedule, you’ve got yourself a slow-fade.

They get really uncomfortable and change the subject when you mention future plans

Discussing the future is scary, no matter how long you’ve been dating someone. But I’m not talking about “I think I’d like two kids and a dog named Chimichanga” stuff, I mean more along the lines of “We should go see the next Hunger Games movie together” or “Would you want to go to the pumpkin patch with me next month?” You know like the kind of plans you feel totally comfortable making with the girls in the bar bathroom. If your sweetie pie gets real nervous and sweaty when you mention plans two weeks out, but Crystal from stall three is totally willing to drive up the coast with you next August, it may be time to cut your losses and walk away (and over to Crystal’s because you have plans to make).

You’re the one making all the plans (future and otherwise)

If you’re the one reaching out and texting first all the time, then something isn’t right. When you like someone you make an effort to make them feel wanted and valued. You text them about their day, you invite them out to the movies, you introduce them to your friends and let them pet your dogs. If bae seems ambivalent about whether or not they see you and only agrees to plans that you make and schedule and drive them to, then you may have yourself a fade-away, or at the very least someone who’s just not that into you.

Your date nights have devolved into late night hookups

At first you were going on romantic dates and partaking in “get to know you” activities, but now you’re getting erratic 10pm “You busy 😉 ?” texts. If someone likes you then they’re going to want to see you in the daytime sometimes, fully clothed. I know that getting comfortable with someone means you can drop some of the formal dating stuff and start wearing the middle school sweatpants, but if you’re only hooking up and never going out into the public sphere where the people are and the sun is shining, then something is off.

They’ve been actively online dating or texting people they probably shouldn’t be texting

The biggest problem with the slow-fade is that is usually happens just before you’re officially in a relationship. You’ve been seeing each other long enough to feel protective and attached, but not quite long enough to be exclusive. So when bae is still on tinder or texting his exes, you feel like you can’t say anything and risk being called crazy. But guess what: if someone likes you they’re going to want to lock it down, and they won’t be messing around on dating apps because they know that it would hurt you if you found out. Even if you’re not official yet, they’re not going to risk doing anything that could mess it up before it starts.

They evade all “serious” questions

I’ve actually called a couple of guys out on ghosting and have had my concerns met with placating rehearsed assurances that they liked me a lot and that it was all in my head. It’s not. If you feel funny or weird about where your relationship is headed and the levels of attention and affection you’re receiving then you have the right to speak up. If they don’t take your feelings seriously or try to modify their behavior that’s making you nervous then they don’t care. If you try to have a talk about exclusivity and are shut down or put off, then it’s time to walk away. The best relationships are based on trust and honesty, not on halfhearted promises and memorized compliments.

The best way to know for sure? Just put it out there

The only way to really know for sure whether or not you’re being ghosted is to have a real talk in person about what your relationship is and where it’s going. However, if you’re shy and scared and honestly just kind of done with feelings then you could try the always effective strategy of just not texting first anymore. If you stop reaching out, and you don’t hear from bae ever again then you got your answer. If someone likes you then they’re going to talk to you, they’re going to see you, they’re going to care and get concerned when they don’t hear from you. If they don’t, then they’ve been gone for a long time and finally got their guilt-free escape route. It hurts, but now you can find someone new who will totally answer your texts and want to meet your mom, because she’s awesome, even if she didn’t buy you that robot dog.

[Image via Flower Films]