And it's terrifyingly common.
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Spooky season is upon us, which means eery haunted houses, trick-or-treaters running through the streets, and Halloween costumes cluttering your Instagram feed. But perhaps the one thing even scarier than the latest slasher horror movie to hit the theaters is the ghost of a partner past. And with cuffing season ushering in right behind Halloween, it's practically guaranteed there will be several haunters hiding in the cobwebs of your digital presence.

You know what I'm talking about: a former fling starts rearing their head in your social notifications, whether it's a story view, an Instagram like, or a TikTok comment. Dating experts have appropriately (and festively) coined the term "haunting," and what's frightening is it's super common and doesn't discriminate among past lovers (i.e. it could be an ex of four years or that one-date-wonder who followed you on the 'Gram.)

So in order to avoid lurking evil spirits of the past or prevent temptation from doing the creeping yourself (come on, we're all guilty), we're breaking down exactly what this new dating term really entails and how to avoid falling victim to it.

Dating Defined: Haunting
Credit: Getty Images/InStyle

What Is Haunting?

Do you ever have that inkling that you're being watched, or rather followed, on the inner-workings of the deep dark internet? (a.k.a. social media) Yes, I'm talking about that former flame who pops up in the views or likes on your social platforms. Well, according to OkCupid's Chief Marketing Officer and dating expert Melissa Hobley, you can define that kind of behavior as dating's newest trend: haunting.

She describes the exchanges as: "No meaningful interactions; just a lingering presence." And it can be any type of social media from Instagram and TikTok to Snapchat or even Facebook and LinkedIn (for real!). The worst part? It's super common.

"In this digital age, it's not always as easy to cut ties," she says, adding that it's especially hard when you have mutual friends because you still pop up on each other's feeds.

Who Is Haunting?

The opportunities are pretty much limitless. It's anyone you used to be romantically involved with who still lingers in the confines of your social notifications. Afraid yet?

"Imagine your ex who occasionally likes your posts on Instagram," explains Hobley. "Or a person you broke up commenting on your TikTok or that guy you were really into, who ghosted you, likes a LinkedIn post." Sounds super confusing right?

The most terrifying part is you may never know why someone is haunting you. Do they still have feelings? Do they want to get back together? Are they jealous that you're doing well? Do they just want to make sure you haven't moved on? Hobley says there's really no use in trying to interpret what it means.

"If it was a serious relationship and your ex is still showing up on social media, it's not always clear why," she says. In fact, she adds that the "why" is pretty much obsolete at this point. "My advice: the reason why doesn't matter. What matters is how much it's affecting you."

How You Can Avoid Haunting

If you find that you're a little spooked from the haunting there are severals ways you can handle or avoid it. Or if you're the one doing the haunting, there are also ways to prevent yourself from falling into haunting patterns.

If it's bothering you to see their name pop up in your likes or you find yourself tempted to start creeping on every story they post, it's time to take action. The first step, if you haven't done so already, is to cut the digital tie: unfollow them, advises Hobley. She says this will give you a clean break from this person in every regard, including on social media.

She says a good rule of thumb to know when it's time to hit that unfollow button is if it "doesn't feel healthy for you for any reason." Maybe you need a pause from social media altogether to give yourself time to breathe and heal after a relationship. "Do a digital detox," suggests Hobley. "Take yourself off Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, or whatever you need to in order to get some space."

Let's say it was just someone you went one or two dates with and you didn't form feelings or any kind of attachment... but they're still haunting you. Hobley suggests reconsidering sharing your social handles until it gets more serious.

"There are two types of daters: those that share their social media upfront, and those that keep it private until things are serious," says Hobley. "There's no right way to do that, but if you find yourself impacted by exes or former flings who like or comment on your social media, then you should keep things more private to start."

And if you're not looking to take a drastic measure like unfollowing or blocking your ex, Hobley recommends the "mute" feature, which you can find on most social platforms.

The bottom line? Haunting can be confusing, extremely irritating, and downright chilling because, I don't know about you, but I don't have time for tricks (only treats). So block out those ghosts of lovers past, so you can both move on once Halloween is over.