Cause-Playing: The Superficial Dating Trend Explained

Thanks to technology, dating in an internet-obsessed era is getting increasingly dynamic and convenient. The synchronization between technology and romance is such that the moment we unlock our phone, we unbolt our heart. The popularity of dating apps and social media gives us more options in choosing a suitable partner, allows us to screen potential suitors' profiles, and effectively narrows our playing field before we have even met. And yet, the dating realm is still a world of hit or miss.

While technology has helped us date smarter, it can't protect us from awful dating trends that come with online dating. Think: ghosting, cloaking, haunting, and pocketing — which are all cowardly moves that give modern dating a bad rap. Another less-known but pretty common dating phenomenon that has been added to the glossary of the worst dating trends recently is "cause-playing." This trend is not as categorically nasty as ghosting or cloaking, but it is annoying. So, have you been cause-played?

What is cause-playing?

Coined by Plenty of Fish in 2019, cause playing is defined as: "When a casual relationship fizzles out, only to have one person later circle back with a favor to ask (usually about supporting a good cause)." The website also mentions that 61% of single people have experienced cause-playing. 

For example, if you've received a message from an ex or someone who ghosted you in the past asking you to endorse them on LinkedIn, donate to their YouTube channel, or come to their gigs, you've been cause-played. More often than not, people cause-play their former flames unknowingly.

There's nothing wrong with asking someone for a favor, but it will be less insensitive if you're asking it from someone you're on speaking terms with. Nothing's more immature than leaving someone on read, breaking their heart, and suddenly popping back up on their radar requesting an olive branch. "Perhaps I have selective memory, but I'd like to think I've never cause-played someone myself," designer Kathleen Lee told HuffPost. "In general good, bad or ghost, I like to stay far away from my exes. Even those I maintained a semi-platonic friendship with, I don't want to give any mixed signals or feel on the hook by asking favors."

Is it okay to ask your ex for help?

It's not socially acceptable to reach out to someone you broke up with, which comes across as sending mixed signals and can be confusing for the person. They might think that you're trying to lead them to believe that the door to a relationship with you is still open. Whether you ghosted the person or you broke up amicably, keep in mind that they probably worked very hard to get over you and have moved on.

Unless you and your ex, like Ross and Rachel, stay good friends after a breakup, your requesting a favor might be considered as a tactic to keep your ex on the hook as a backup plan. If you're considering cause-playing an ex, ask yourself: "Would I want to get involved with someone who left me mired in a perplexing bundle of hurt and disappointment?"

By the same token, if your ex who treated you with disrespect has reached out to you asking for a favor, remember to keep your boundaries firm. If you're still not over the person, do yourself a favor by not raising your hopes. Maybe the person was just wobbling and contacting you out of sheer vulnerability, which is never a good sign. If need be, choose not to respond to the person. Your healing matters most and by not responding — you're communicating a loud and clear message to the person that you don't take kindly to cause-playing.