Written by Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

Forget the days when one seemingly minor issue was enough to ditch someone for good. In the age of ‘half-masting’, we’re taking time to reflect on how we feel before kicking potential partners to the curb.

Name: half-masting

Meaning: I know what you’re thinking – but it’s not that. At all. Instead, half-masting refers to a more nuanced approach to dating. We’re no longer doing that thing where our friends scream ‘dump them!’ at the first potential red flag or sign of imperfection – half-masting is all about taking a step back and thinking about what’s actually happening before making any rash decisions.

Origin: we’ve got none other than dating expert Alix Fox to thank for this one – she coined the term in partnership with Plenty Of Fish as part of the dating app’s 2023 trends report. If you’ve ever heard of ‘caspering’ – a kinder form of ghosting in which someone explains the reasons for their lack of interest before disappearing off into the distance – you’re already familiar with Fox’s penchant for wordplay. 

So, you’re telling me it really has nothing to do with anything else? No. Put the urban dictionary definition aside and focus – half-masting is pretty deep, all right?  

Fine. Tell me more. Thank you. To summarise, half-masting is, as Fox puts it, about “a move from binary attitudes to more nuance”. In short, it’s about giving people the benefit of the doubt. For example, if someone does or says something that feels a bit off, you might take a back seat in the relationship for a while (by not actively organising dates or pushing things forward) while you consider whether said problem is a complete no-go or whether you’re just being dramatic.

I do have a tendency to do that. We all do – and that’s why half-masting is really cool. Life (and all the situations it throws at us) is rarely as simple as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – and taking a step back to consider what has happened can give you the space to appreciate that.

How do you actually half-mast, though? It’s a difficult line to tread. You don’t want to ghost someone – after all, there’s a chance that the relationship may not be as doomed as you think – but you also don’t want to move the relationship forward any further. A good way to try it out could be reducing the amount of effort you put into the other person and taking that time back to think about where your feelings of discomfort are coming from. At the end of the day, it’s less about the other person and more about how you feel about their behaviour – is your reaction the result of anxiety or over-analysis, or is it a problem you won’t be able to get over? 

I get that. But what if someone is a walking red flag? If someone’s giving you major bad vibes, you probably don’t need to half-mast. Half-masting isn’t about subjecting yourself to unsafe, triggering or abusive situations – in those cases, walking away is an absolute must.

Cool. And what if the problem really does prove too big to get over? Well, then you can put an end to things – in whichever way you see fit. If it’s not that big a deal, you might want to give the person you’ve been seeing a reason for why things didn’t work out. But if they’ve been an absolute idiot, then it’s probably best to just tell them you’re done and walk away.

OK, I think I’ve made up my mind. About what?

I’ve decided that I need to half-mast you. Excuse me?

I don’t like your tone – it’s too condescending. It’s time for me to consider whether it’s something I can get over. I really need to stop teaching you these terms, don’t I? 

Image: Getty

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