As someone who communicates for a living, I am at a loss when it comes to the "ghosting" phenomenon (wherein dates allegedly fail to respond to follow-up texts). I have never failed to reply to a message, even if it takes me two weeks (I'm busy, okay?.) I have never been on a date with someone who faded into the ether without so much as a death rattle. I don't see the appeal.
Perception is a reality. Why would one willingly leave it to blind chance? Language is the lone gift that allows us to control the narrative. Far and away my favorite idiom about the human psyche is All human behavior is useful. Maybe not noble, maybe not cool, but if it's happening, there's a payoff somewhere for somebody. If ghosting, aka the absence of behavior, has value, what is it?
In behavioral psychology, doling out random rewards without pattern or warning is an effective technique to get an animal to repeat a behavior at will. Is the sporadic lack of response a power play to keep you on the hook? Or in our overly documented, social media–consumed lives, does silence speak louder than words?
I turned to the most time-honored of research traditions to find out: the focus group. Plied with promises of anonymity and free beer, I texted my band of brothers. My selection process was strategic: choosing a range of single friends across the full spectrum of male stereotypes, from well-meaning playboy to overly articulate nice guy. These were real-life men I could trust to shoot me straight.
I was expecting a causal response. What I got was a string of woeful diatribes lamenting the emotional land mines of casual relationships. Not a single guy failed to reply. Participants contributed everything from lengthy, self-reflective prose evaluating their life decisions to bulleted lists of real-life dating scenarios gone awry. Not only have I ranked the top 10 responses from males here for you, but in the interest of fair play, I also showed the responses to a separate group of single ladies and let them sound off. Pull up a chair; we're going to take this "he said, she said" ghosting thing apart for you brick by brick.
First things first: Let's get the white knights out of the way. To directly quote Matt, 34, of Los Angeles, "The only person I do not respond to over the phone is a debt collector. That is the only human being deserving of that level of disrespect."
Multiple men answered along the same lines of "I'm a gentleman. I always text back." Take a moment to really clap for their integrity. Chivalry is not dead. Mad respect for the bravery it takes to tell it like it is and keep things on the level.
Now back to reality. We're all flawed human beings, and we make many a mistake in the name of self-preservation. Even outlaws live by their own moral codes. There is honor among thieves. Here are the top other excuses for never texting back.
This falls in the niche category; however, in the interest of being thorough, I shall include anomalies. My favorite reason cited for not texting a girl back involved the guy being literally afraid of her sexual advances.
In all seriousness, lack of sexual chemistry was a running theme among our male audience. We have to wonder though, if it wasn't good for you, do you really think she was over the moon?
Our best guess is this is a Y-chromosome affliction. Before you roll your eyes, science says men are indeed slower and less organized than women when switching between tasks. A review of controversial neural circuitry maps revealed the male brain fires strongest between the front and back regions of each hemisphere. Women’s brains have more heavily connected circuitry between the left hemisphere (logic) and right hemisphere (intuitive thinking.) The female brain is theoretically more capable of processing things like emotions and memory. Men have the upper hand on coordination and perception. Maybe he was shooting hoops and all reason went out the window.
I say this with love and the spirit of true sisterhood, ladies: Stop blindsiding dudes with emotions. If you've been on two dates with the guy, you do not get to have a four-hour conversation about why it's not working. (This was an actual complaint from one of our males.) Guys: Don't feed the bears. You don't ever need to make future plans with a woman out of a sense of obligation. Our dance cards are full. We do not need you taking up prime real estate on our overpopulated calendars if it's not a must.
We're actually fans of this one (with a time limit caveat.) If you’re out on the town with another babe, bravo for giving her the courtesy of putting your phone away. News flash: The girl you're avoiding is probably doing the same thing.
Want to keep it causal? Just ask. She may not be looking to lock in an exclusive contract with you. If you are going to make an assumption, the only safe one is that the woman you're seeing is entertaining other offers. You are stack ranked, bro.
"Not texting back is smug," says Olivia, 26, of Austin. "Odds are your intellect, humor, game, or sexual ability isn't enough to satiate me either. I'm texting other people, probably the same text I'm texting you. Respond if you want to be near the top of my list."
Same. (See above.)
Yes, battle fatigue in the technology realm was an actual response. We feel you. Phones are for suckers. "I don't want to use my phone either," says Emma, 32, of Manhattan. "I'm busy using it to run power plays all day. The one time I actually text you back, you should send me a digital thank-you card. If you hear from me, it's a courtesy, and you're welcome."
If it had been a multiple-choice quiz, "Pimpin' ain't easy," would have accounted for a large percentile of our answers. Most the guys we interviewed who were dating multiple girls at once, however, favored a direct approach to communication. On the whole, I found players respect the game; nice guys overthink it.
What do we do with the nice guys having a moment? Show no mercy, and move on says, Kyle, 31, of Portland.
"Don't be more proactive, and don't advise your girls to be more proactive. That’s a waste of time. If a guy is really interested in you as a person, and not just passive-aggressively trying to go to bed with you, he will set a time to see you–and that time won't be 10 p.m.," says Kyle. "The problem with dating nowadays is most people can find someone to sleep with as quickly as they can order a pizza or something on Amazon Prime," he continues. "You are not a pizza, and Prime doesn’t have a return policy for your dignity. Don't waste your time."
If anything gets a bye from us, it's this one. Floating in the limbo of a fledgling romance is tough to navigate. A couple of our guys admitted to meeting incredible women at a time where they were in no way emotionally available. A full retreat was the only recourse.
For what it's worth, it took some of these guys several days to ponder exactly why they weren't texting girls back. I got a slew of "I need to go think about my decisions, and let you know" texts day one of my query.
Far and away, the universal response for not texting back ended up being to "avoid emotions." Some of our men even admitted to only texting back while in the throes of the "Sunday Scaries" (the raw cloud of emotion that creeps across male brain in the twilight hours between Saturday night revelry and Sunday-evening regret.)
"Feelings on Sundays" were a potent incentive for our boys to issue an out-of-the-blue recovery text to a girl or two. What’s more: All of the guys who admitted to ghosting confessed it was due to avoiding emotional repercussions. In response, 100% of the ladies we polled told them to chill. Could the pervading answer really be, "He didn't have anything nice to say, so he didn't say anything at all"?
Let’s assume the premise the slow fade to black leaves less of an emotional scar than the cold hard "no." For argument's sake, we shall set aside the opinion most women share that a lack of response is "disrespectful" and assume the men of this study meant no disrespect.
Here's the real problem: Not texting back is inefficient. As a happily single female whose self-worth is in no way predicated upon the approval or esteem of a man, I take umbrage with the idea of any guy assuming I would be dejected or hurt by a lack of interest on his end. I'm not what you're looking for? Great! You're holding up the line. Welcome to 2017, dudes. You’re living in the age of girl gangs and Beyoncé visual albums. We have companies to run. Our number one complaint with ghosting is that has no discernible use.
What would it look like if we all collectively agreed to stop taking things personally and instead fill the silence with the simple act of making a request for what we really want? Negotiating on the backend is just plain bad business.
Then again, maybe ghosting points to a lack of emotional depth, and there's no harm done throwing small fish back to sea. We asked our favorite energy healer and Reiki master, Jenni Finley, for her perspective. "When the universe swipes left, listen," she said.
Outsourcing, eh? Now, that's efficiency.
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Have you ever been ghosted? Or did you ghost someone else? Share it with us.
This story was originally posted on May 17, 2016. Updated by Sacha Strebe.