It wasn’t that long ago that internet dating was a taboo subject. Isn’t meeting up with a complete stranger dangerous? Doesn’t finding dates online make you a desperate weirdo?
The invention and growing popularity of apps like Tinder and Bumble have made online and casual dating far less stigmatized. In fact, dating app and website usage nearly tripled between 2013 and 2015 for users aged 18-24, according to the Pew Research Center.
Dating culture is ever-evolving. As dating customs change, so, too, does our behavior toward would-be lovers. Once upon a time, you only “courted” someone if you were intending to marry them—and love wasn’t necessarily part of the equation, either. Thankfully, marriage eventually evolved to include affection; similarly, premarital relations became less scandalous as dating for the sake of dating became more popular.
Today’s casual hookup culture seems like a world away from the dating practices of even 20 years ago, but its most problematic aspects are nothing new. The best example of this? Ghosting.
What is ghosting?
Ghosting is a term used to describe a sudden and unexplained end to contact during dating. You know, like spending weeks chatting with someone on Tinder only to have them suddenly stop responding with no explanation. Like a ghost, they’re gone before you can call out again.
As a matchmaker, Meredith Golden poses as her clients on dating apps to help them find love online. The former therapist and founder of SpoonMeetSpoon says she procured more than 1,200 dates in 2017 alone on behalf of her roster. Having navigated the dating realm on behalf of so many others, Golden knows all about ghosting.
“Whether you’ve gone out with someone a few times and they vanish without explanation or a dating app convo just ceases with one person becoming unresponsive—or deleting the connection all together—both forms of ghosting stink!” she says. “It would be great if the uninterested party provided an ‘excuse’ or explanation why it isn’t going to work out, but sometimes it’s just easier to not say anything at all. Hence ghosting.”
You’d be remiss to think that ghosting is a 21st-century phenomenon. Back when phones were still attached to walls, unlucky souls would often pine over why their date never called them back.
“Ghosting has been going on forever, but apps have increased the dating pool, creating more opportunities to meet more people, and the chances of being ghosted,” says Golden.
So although ghosting isn’t anything new, it’s becoming more common as dating does. While we’re more socially connected than ever thanks to things like smart phones and social media, it’s also incredibly easy to clip that connection. In a survey of 800 millennials, Plenty of Fish discovered 79 percent of them had been ghosted.
Ghosting someone sends a clear message: loss of interest. But despite its clarity, it’s not exactly the most compassionate way to let someone down.
Logically, you might know that it’s not your fault someone ghosted you. But that doesn’t stop it from hurting, nor does it calm those subconscious feelings that maybe you weren’t good enough. Because when there’s no explanation, you’re left only with guessing games.
There’s even some people who consider ghosting emotional abuse. In her piece titled “Ghosting Is Emotional Abuse And Our Generation Needs To Stop Doing It,” blogger Hannah Sundell wrote that the advancement of technology has eroded accountability, and that ghosting, whether of a romantic partner or a friend, is disrespectful. She wrote that it’s avoiding a difficult but necessary conversation.
“Don’t be a schmuck,” she wrote. “Just, don’t do it.”
“Ghosting is not the definition of kindness, good manners, or great communication, but it isn’t abuse!” replies Golden. “People are permitted to go on a few dates—two-to-five—and see if there’s potential and figure out feelings. This, of course, is very different from being in a long term committed relationship and ending it by ghosting.”
Why People Ghost
If you’re a millennial who’s familiar with dating apps, then chances are you know firsthand just how hurtful ghosting can be. But to understand this pervasive trend, we may just need to look at the cause rather than the effect.
It’s easy to accuse someone who ghosts as heartless or even manipulative. If someone seemed totally into you one day but couldn’t care less the next, then were their feelings ever genuine? Were they just playing shallow games?
This is the question that Netflix series Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On sought to answer in an episode titled “Love Me Tinder.”
The episode follows James Rhine, an avid user of multiple dating apps and a serial ghoster. The Las Vegas resident’s love life is so active that he writes the name of his conquests in a book, and he’s rarely seen not swiping his thumb left or right across his phone screen.
Despite initially acting the gentleman—holding open doors, sending good morning texts—for months, he’s quick to suddenly cut contact with the women he was once so interested in.
“This is a superficial app, therefore my behavior is superficial, because that’s the f***ing point,” Rhine says during the episode, in an attempt to justify his attitude. “It does not represent me as a person.”
It would be easy to dismiss Rhine as a stereotypical Tinder jerk. But after he’s confronted with the consequences of breaking it off with two women in his life, he realizes that his behavior has hurt a lot of people.
“They just wanted closure. They just wanted this guy who they thought was super nice that they were dating, that was treating them well, to say why he stopped talking to them for whatever reason.”
Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone who’s ever ghosted.
“Ghosting isn’t necessarily a reflection of a person’s worldview or character,” says Golden. “Often it just means the person simply isn’t interested.”
This is exactly what happened with a woman who spoke to Urbo who, having been the “ghost,” chose to remain anonymous. Her initially great Tinder match was undermined by someone else.
“I had a really lovely date with a really lovely girl from Tinder,” she says. “And we went to see Death Becomes Her … I was looking forward to seeing her again. I had a couple of holidays, and when I came back home, I fell in love, hard and fast, with the most amazing woman. It never felt like the right thing to do to write to Tinder girl and tell her this, or make something up, so I just ignored her until she went away.”
She felt that being honest with “Tinder girl” would have seemed like gloating, and as someone who doesn’t like lying, she didn’t want to make up some excuse. So she didn’t say anything at all.
“I don’t see ghosting as that rude, actually,” she says. “It’s like, why would you want to know why someone didn’t want to see you again? People have different ideas of you, and it can only lead to hurt having a break-off explained to you. Some of my friends, when a guy stops seeing them, are like, ‘I’m gonna meet up with him and make him explain.’ I’m like, why?!”
She believes it’s not the responsibility of the other person to manage your feelings when things don’t work out.
“I’ve had people not call me back before when I thought we had a good time,” she says. “Like, you just deal with it like a grownup.”
While both cases are very different, they prove a similar point. People aren’t always going to share your beliefs on commitment. But some people, like Rhine from Hot Girls Wanted, might be unaware of the damage they’re doing. While this doesn’t excuse their behavior, it does provide an explanation that isn’t simply, “they’re a jerk.”
It’s time to ghost ghosting.
A more casual approach to dating isn’t inherently bad. If anything, it’s great that society is moving beyond some rigid preconceptions about connection and commitment. But as dating culture moves toward a more relaxed mindset, less importance can be placed on attachment.
Much like casual dating, detachment doesn’t have to be damaging. But there is a right and a wrong way to go about it.
When your only connection to someone is an app on a phone, it can be hard to see the person behind the screen. But they’re there. More importantly, they’re human. While you technically don’t owe anyone anything, it also doesn’t cost anything to maintain respect of people’s emotions. Communication is key in any relationship, no matter how fleeting.
And if you find yourself being ghosted? Remember not to make assumptions. Don’t assume that they stopped talking to you because you did something wrong or aren’t good enough. It may sound harsh, but pining over a connection that barely existed is a waste of your time.
If anything, you probably dodged a major bullet. Just think about it: Would you want to be involved with someone who can drop you so easily? Didn’t think so.