A few years back, Kathleen Lee, a designer who lives in Truckee, California, was scrolling through her emails when she saw a subject line that took her aback: A guy who had basically ghosted her after months of dating was requesting to connect with her on LinkedIn.
Yes, that LinkedIn, the site where coworkers and business acquaintances add one another and vouch for each other’s leadership and communication skills, not some alternative universe LinkedIn, where f**kboys make one last bid for contact and ask you to vouch for... nothing.
“I got this request several months after he told one of my friends how stupid he felt for messing things up with me,” said Lee, who co-hosts a Kardashian-focused podcast called Say Bible. “I didn’t contact him. Communication is not a skill I can endorse in good conscience.”
There’s a word for what had happened (because isn’t there a word for everything that happens while dating these days?): Lee had been cause-played.
Not to be mistaken for cosplaying, cause-playing involves no costumes, no manga or anime, just your ex thinking it’s socially acceptable to hit you up and ask you to donate to his shitty podcast’s Patreon page.
Named one of the top dating trends to look out for in 2020 by Plenty of Fish, cause-playing is a catch-all term that can be applied to all types of asks: A request to donate to your ex-girlfriend’s Facebook birthday charity fundraiser; an invitation to your ex’s improv show simply because they need people in seats; a request for an endorsement on LinkedIn. (Yikes.)
That might be fine if you have a civil, amicable post-split relationship, but when things have ended on a sour note, it’s awkward as all get out. Lee knows that firsthand.
“Perhaps I have selective memory, but I’d like to think I’ve never cause-played someone myself,” she 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.”
Clearly, those reservations aren’t shared by others. According to Plenty of Fish, 61% of singles they polled have had someone break up with them and eventually circle back to ask them for a favor.
The job or career request is incredibly common. Alex Ludwig, a student from San Antonio, Texas, has been cause-played multiple times, but one request stands out for how audacious it was.
“My ex and I had been broken up for roughly three months before he texted me asking if my dad, a landscaper, had any jobs available,” she said. “We had actually ended on decent terms, but not to the point where I would feel comfortable having him work for my family.”
The ex won’t be trimming grass with Alex’s dad any time soon. But he did get a courtesy reply from her: “I honestly didn’t bother asking my father and just told my ex that he didn’t and wished him luck,” she said.
Ludwig also took the request in stride because, really, who hasn’t worked the cause-play angle just a little, given how abysmal job-hunting can be?
“I was a promoter for half-a-decade or so, so I’m certain I’ve sent some flyers to be shared with an ex or two,” she said. “But besides that, I’ve never felt the need to ask an ex for any big favors… yet.”
It could be worse; at least the cause-player is direct and relatively transparent about what they want. Orbiting, another one of the many “dating trends” we’ve heard about in the last few years, is probably more frustrating.
An orbiter is someone you dated casually and/or who ghosted you who continues to look at your Instagram or Snapchat stories, ad infinitum. Why “orbiting”? They’re like some puny creeper planet orbiting around you, the sun who’s living their best life. A cause-player has no such reservations about reaching out: They’re mercenary. Every dollar counts!
Cause-playing isn’t always frowned upon. There are times where people are all too happy to donate to an ex’s fundraiser, especially if the ex isn’t expecting it. Isabella, a single woman we spoke to from Chicago, considers donating to a good cause the ultimate power move in the wake of a breakup.
“My ex, who I had dated for two years, reached out on Facebook to get donations for her flag football team’s cause, which was ALS that year,” she said. “I donated to sort of establish dominance; we hadn’t talked in a while but thought it might be funny if the only thing she heard from me was me donating to her cause.”
Plus, Isabella said, “I was the one sort of demonized in the breakup and wanted to prove that even though I wasn’t set on the relationship, I’m still a good person.”
And sometimes, you just have to admire the cause-player’s hustle.
Out of the blue, Alessandra Conti, a celebrity matchmaker in Los Angeles, heard from a guy she had gone on a few dates with years ago. Things had fizzled out amicably but there had been radio silence since.
A few weeks ago, she got a text from a random number, from someone asking if she could leave a five-star rating on their new podcast about cryptocurrency. Conti did a quick reverse phone number search and realized it was the same guy she had casually dated.
“I didn’t reply because it was a strange, random request, but I admire his hustle,” she said. “Is it in the best taste? No. But it brought awareness to his podcast, and he tried to tap me as a resource in his network, which I really cannot shame him for.”
Like most of the people we spoke to, Conti thinks cause-playing is only really kosher if you’ve left things on a good note.
“You might not be trying to hurt the person you dated ― you’re just attempting to utilize your network ― but wow, are you going about it the wrong way.”
“If you’re breaking up and want to remain acquaintances for work, you should verbalize that then,” she said. “It makes it a lot more acceptable to cause-play them in the future.”
If the breakup was contentious ― or if you ghosted your ex ― keep your cause to yourself.
“It comes off as being desperate and careless, and truly diminishes the cause that you are trying to promote, even if the cause you’re involved in is wonderful,” Conti said. “You might not be trying to hurt the person you dated ― you’re just attempting to utilize your network ― but wow, are you going about it the wrong way.”
If you’re on the receiving end of an unwanted cause-player, don’t take it personally. Roll your eyes, take it in stride ― hell, donate, if the cause actually speaks to you ― and try to give your ex the benefit of the doubt: They probably weren’t reaching out with any malicious intent ― or with the intent to hook up with you.
“Think of it as receiving a mass email or a reply-all, and don’t take it as an invitation to rekindle,” Conti said.
Causes are fine depending on how things ended, but a LinkedIn endorsement request is patently too much. Don’t send those, Conti said, and if you do end up on your ex’s LinkedIn page (sure, you weren’t stalking, “it just happened”), for the love of God, go on private view mode. (What, you didn’t know people could see when you’re searching them on LinkedIn? Yep. Now go change your privacy settings.)