When is it Cool to Ghost Someone? (9 Minute Read)
Updated: Feb 6
We all know the feeling of being ghosted. It’s not uncommon. You've finally found someone that excites you. You both seem engaged and the future looks bright. Then one day, you send a message and they don't reply at all. You get a little nervous. They wouldn’t do that to you, right?! Maybe you try again, but you end up getting left on read. Poof. They're gone. A small wave of anxiety wells up inside of your chest, making you think, "where did it all go wrong?" And then we end up swallowing it in acquiescence. It sucks. We all hate it, yet are all guilty of it as well. We ask for transparency from others, but can barely afford to give it ourselves. Given the sheer number of people we interact with online, most of us can’t be bothered to “break up” with all those who don’t fit what we are looking for. So that begs the question, when is it cool to ghost someone?
Lets first define ghosting so all of us are on the same page. Ghosting is when someone ends a relationship (in this case, a romantic one) by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing all forms of communication. Disappearing like a ghost. Ergo, ‘ghost’-ing. It's usually a result of fear or apathy and can happen before or after you’ve ever met someone in person. Other subsets of ghosting (that are arguably worse) include:
Haunting: when a person who has once ghosted you makes a reappearance by interacting with you in some way. Except this time, it isn’t a direct interaction. They may follow you, like a post, or reply to an Instagram/Snapchat story, but with no intention of ever actually seeing you. They will interact with you until you bring up seeing each other. Then you may continue to be haunted.
Benching or Bread-crumbing: this involves a person decreasing the amount of contact they have with you to a level that is just acceptable enough to keep you hanging around. They are effectively putting you on the bench while they explore other options. They keep you as a back-up until it's convenient for them.
Ghosting, and its subsets, are usually lazy, cowardly, and unempathetic, but I believe there are two scenarios where it can be acceptable. This is what I call ‘The Ghosting Flow Chart.’ There are naturally three possible scenarios when two people begin interacting. If both people are on the same page, whether that be in agreement of wanting to go out or not, ghosting doesn’t become an issue. It is only when there is a dissonance between two people does ghosting become a problem
*This chart exists under the assumption that the relationship is in the beginning or early stages. Because if you ghost someone you’ve been dating for a while, you just suck.
Scenario 1: Both People Want to Go Out
If both people want to go out, yay. Perfect scenario. Go on a date and start the cycle again!
Scenario 2: Both People Don’t Want to Go Out
If they want to mutually ghost each other, this is also okay. Both people wanted out early enough in the relationship that the separation doesn’t need an emotional goodbye or explanation. They didn’t have to chat about it and it likely works best that way. This is the first acceptable ghosting scenario.
Scenario 3: One Person Wants to Go Out and the Other Doesn’t
The most common scenario. If one person wants to go out and the other doesn’t, then we need to look at how much time each person has put into the relationship or interaction to determine if ghosting would be acceptable or not. If you haven’t put much into the interaction, then this is the second acceptable situation for ghosting. If this is the case, you haven’t even established enough of a repore to need to communicate an end to things. Neither person cares much because they haven’t made a substantial investment. If you’ve talked to somebody for weeks or more, or have gone on a date with someone and they want to go out again, then you should simply say you’re not interested anymore. Replying is incredibly easy, you don’t even need to see the individual in-person, and you don’t need to explain yourself or your feelings if you don’t want to. But leaving people hanging sucks and you’re wasting their time. I know it’s hard to reject people, but gather some courage and let them off the hook.
In general, there are two trains of thought around ghosting. You either think ghosting sucks, or you don’t think it's a big deal. If you don't think it’s a big deal, that's likely because you either:
Don’t care or are apathetic towards the other person
Don’t know what you’re doing or unaware of your own actions (this is rare)
Believe that ghosting is a message in and of itself - by not replying, that's the same as ending things with someone
You avoid conflict
You believe the situation doesn’t deserve anything more than that
I understand the appeal. Hell, I’ve done it. You likely have a lot of reasons around why you no longer want to message a person anymore. Some may be personal and some may be related to the other person. You likely don’t want to go too much into either of them. Sometimes it's simple and the situation doesn’t warrant anything more than that. Either way, it's much easier to just leave it and hope that it dies on its own. Why be vulnerable or be honest when it's so easy not to be? Technology provides us with layers of protection that we’ve become accustomed to, because there is usually no one but ourselves to hold us accountable for our actions online. But the path of least resistance isn’t always the greatest path to travel down. Being honest is like brushing and flossing your teeth. Yea it’s a nuisance and no one wants to do it, but everyone is better off if they do. Both take zero time. Both suck. Both are necessary.
It’s one of those things that is extremely easy to implement into your life, but can potentially make a big difference for others. We should be actively taking steps to better our communication, instead of avoiding it altogether. We shouldn’t take advantage of the platforms we use simply because there aren't any repercussions. I don’t expect people to be transparent and clear all the time. But what I do hope for is people to be empathetic. To consider others feelings. We are negatively biased and therefore selfishly avoid pain at all costs. But in relieving ourselves of that pain, regardless of its size or significance, we effectively offload it onto someone else, and that can become heavy over time. You may think ghosting someone is the best strategy, but the best thing you can do for someone is communicating the situation and how you feel. Just be honest. That may sound dramatic, but it doesn’t need to be a big reveal. It can be incredibly empowering for both people just to know where they stand.
The digitization of the dating world has made relationships into a game, much like politics. Rather than say things truthfully and authentically, we take the route of protection and try to strategically dodge conflict. We look out for ourselves, and ourselves only. Online, we look for people to be clever, witty and original while implementing incredibly high standards. There are so many norms that make people out to seem desperate or crazy when that's not really the case, like double messaging or replying too quickly. There are all of these convoluted and unwritten dating rules that we must follow, and if we deviate from them, we are judged or ghosted. But what choice do we have? By not participating in this larger game, we effectively remove ourselves from this massive dating pool. So we reluctantly sludge on, participating in a game we don’t necessarily want to play. This isn’t to say that dating apps don’t have their advantages or a purpose. I’m simply identifying another issue with the culture digital dating has consummated.
In this confusing dating world, all we can ask is that we continue do our best, and this isn’t it. We can’t control who is going to like us and who isn’t. We also can’t control if someone is going to respond to us. But what we can control are our own actions. It’s the best system we have right now, so if we are going to work within this system, how about we introduce a little bit more humanity into our lives and communicate more honestly with one another? How about we begin to take the little amount of time needed to let someone know what's going on or what you’re thinking? If you value honesty, then the next time you are in a position to ghost someone, think about whether you are adhering to those values or not. In the long run, this will help our online communication represent more of the reality we yearn for.