Ghosting: The Not-So-Pretty Side of Modern Dating
Take it from someone in the trenches: The rules of singledom are changing—and becoming curiouser every day. Add to the already-volatile experiment of love the variable of dating app technology, and you have yourself a topic ripe for interesting debate. Enter ghosting, an apparently widespread phenomenon of modern dating, in which someone you’ve gone on anywhere from one date with to many, many more with completely disappears. Gone. Zap. Poof! As if he or she were never there, and with no explanation as to why.
The ghost, or slow fade, is staged via recurrently canceled plans, decreased communication, and, ultimately, the final act of vanishing. Though stereotypes might have you believe that men are the perpetrators, it’s actually not so imbalanced an act. An Elle.com survey found that 26% of women surveyed have both ghosted and been ghosted, while 33% of men reported the same two-sided experience. Yes, this female author (hi!) has ghosted before. No, it is not my most shining moment of decency and compassion. So, why are we doing it? Is our society totally doomed? Is technology to blame? We interviewed a handful of singles to find out…
There is, to borrow a phrase from a New York Times article exploring the practice, a “crisp simplicity of ghosting” that is certainly appealing. One of our interview subjects, Katherine, 29, says she can almost appreciate ghosting “because it’s a pretty strong, clear message. It is a message that says, ‘I don't care enough about you to even say that this is not something I want to continue.’” T.D., 32, has resorted to ghosting when things got so bad that he “couldn’t stand any further contact.” But it’s a two-way street. On another occasion, after a couple of months of dating that involved a trip to the zoo, T.D. was ghosted without explaination. Months later, he managed to confront the offender. “She showed no remorse or shame,” he shared.
In a Slate article, writer Amanda Hess referred to the slow fade as “the elegant way to break up.” She argues, why complicate things when the message is so undeniably clear? “When it comes to modern digital relationships, the rhythm of the exchange tells us as much as its literal content, and it doesn’t take any specialized skill to read between the lines,” she states. “If you’re initiating all the texts in the relationship, the recipient just isn’t that into you; if you’re not getting any texts back, the recipient isn’t into you at all.”
“What do you say to a stranger who might not like you either, anyway? In these circumstances, it’s sort of a mutual ghost, and I think that’s really appealing,” says Kat, 30. Molly, 27, seems to be grappling with a similar question: “Telling someone you don’t think it is going to work out after just a date or two is a little self-indulgent, I think. I’m not sure I’d appreciate being told that, to be honest. I think I actually might prefer a slow fade. Letting someone who you really don’t know down easy, is, I think, a little less cruel, than going full-on honest Abe just to make yourself feel like a good person.”
Natalie, 28, tends to agree. “I’m not sure if I’d prefer someone tell me they’re not interested after one date. If I don’t hear from someone, I assume they’re not interested. It’s not ideal, but probably just as annoying as hearing ‘not interested.’”
Breaking up is hard for both parties involved, the person ending the relationship included. If you’re someone who can be easily swayed by others or who finds it difficult to express tough emotions under duress, the option to ghost is appealing, even safe-seeming.
M.B., 31, chalks it up to insecurity. “I think it can be tempting to ghost if you are insecure and maybe afraid of getting hurt. Ghosting is an easy option of ending things in a way that might minimize heartbreak for the ghoster.”
The more casually we date, the more likely we are to ghost. The more we ghost, the more the practice becomes habit and widespread phenomenon. We become increasingly desensitized to the act as time goes on. We accept being ghosted, and so we ghost.
Nina, 29, sees ghosting as “an ugly surrender to the digital disconnection of modern-day communication.” Jake, 28, who has ghosted and been ghosted, agrees: “The general sense I get is that this is a pretty direct result of technology making it easy to both communicate and ignore at will and not feel the hurt.”
Natalie notes that this “weirdly acceptable norm” is facilitated by technology. “We avoid confrontation because technology allows us to. We can be the bad guy without feeling bad, because when you disappear there’s no one to hold you accountable.”
The reasoning in simple enough: Casual dating creates an environment of abundance—of options, alternatives, of distractions. In an article for Time, as an accompaniment to his book Modern Romance, comedian and author Aziz Ansari makes an important observation: “Today, if you own a smartphone, you’re carrying a 24-7 singles bar in your pocket. … It provides you with a seemingly endless supply of people who are single and looking to date.” Though this isn’t an inherently bad thing, it means that we may likely be less considerate of our actions because, well, we can just try again. Not to mention we feel less accountable because we have access to a swathe of individuals who we run less of a risk of running into.
The general thought here was that you’re not necessarily a bad person if you ghost: You’re just letting yourself fall to the common denominator of how we chose to treat each other. “You teach people how to treat you, and all relationships are cumulative,” says Brooke, 30. “If you truly can’t find a way to end things in a way that honors the other person, what does that say about you? Showing up authentically requires self-awareness, empathy, and courage—all things the dating scene could use more of.” Tiger, 33, agrees: “Ghosting someone who you have established a relationship with over the course of time shows a lack of character and is borderline megalomania.”
Though “ghosting” in its most basic form—standing someone up—has long existed, the pervasiveness of mobile apps and online services like Tinder, OKCupid, Hinge, Bumble, and so on adds insult to injury. They reduce our prospective partners—humans, just like us!—into mere dating profiles. In a Huffington Post piece on ghosting, a 25-year-old shared that “Even after one or two dates, they are still just a profile to you, not a person. I don’t feel the normal empathy I would for someone I met organically.”
But Nina expects better: “Just because no one is watching your texts doesn’t mean it’s a free pass to communicate without courtesy. We have to be more accountable to ourselves and other people.”
It’s undeniable that hunkering down to have a conversation about why things aren’t working, or even sending that quick text to that person you went on one date with, means work—it really ought to be the least we can do in our quest for reciprocal love.
Nina believes that “while we may think that non-confrontationally slipping away will make the other person feel better, it’s really only making us feel better. Bucking up to say, “Hey you’re awesome, but I’m just not feeling it romantically,’ is the kinder, if more difficult, thing to do.”
Ghosting prioritizes the convenience and comfort of one party over the feelings of the other, and that is not only selfish but also plain lazy.
Though proponents of ghosting claim that the message ought to be loud and clear, others felt that the “limbo” state created by never being told why the courtship, or relationship, ended is cause for concern.
Nina would rather hear the truth straight up: “Being ghosted feels so much worse than someone letting me know they’re seeing someone else or not interested or their cat died, because it leaves me wondering what scenario caused that person to disappear. Was it me? Was it them?”
Clearly, that pattern of thinking can make moving on difficult—which might function to serve the ghoster quite well, maintaining a tenuous connection, but a connection still, to the ghosted party, able to bring the relationship back to life should the desire arise again.
Ultimately, even research has suggested that ending a relationship by ghosting, though perhaps a quick out in the short term, is the worst way to go about it, and may lead to bigger, more dramatic confrontations later on. Probably not what ghosters have in mind when they decide to try their hand at a disappearing act.
Have you ever ghosted or been ghosted? What do you think about all of this? Share your thoughts in the comments below and be sure to take our poll!