I’m Trying To Give Up Ghosting, But Is It Really That Bad?

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Couple holding hands over dinner

Ever present and inescapable, ghosting haunts millennial relationships. 85% of us have at some point fallen victim to the phantom termination of a romantic interlude. Shamefully, I myself have become a ghoulish shade of a dater. It’s gotten to the point where I simply don’t respond if I don’t think things are really going anywhere. 

In my defence, a considerable amount of people have either abruptly cut me off or just stopped communicating to draw things to a close. But that’s no justification. To quote the biblical proverb, ’Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.

Dr. Lucia Akard of Oxford University traces ghosting back to the late twelfth century, when mediaeval people made marriage promises that they did not see through. There were legal and financial repercussions however to abandoning your betrothed, with the Church sometimes enforcing the marriage if it was taken to court. 

Medieval Ghosting did still occur, but covertly, and opened up much more serious issues. Women alleged that their male partners had sex with them, and then left, using the promise of marriage as a tool to coerce from them. 

The periodicals and correspondence clubs of the Edwardian period mark the emergence of early matchmaking, but there was still an absence ‘of dating for fun’ with asking for one’s hand being the intention behind a first date.  

The early 1990s brought the birth of ‘app dating’, but with only “premium” experiences available. Dating on Guardian Soulmates, Match and eHarmony perhaps prevented the likelihood of being ghosted, with singles coughing up a pricey monthly charge to meet presumably a more ‘high end’ dating clientele.

Then came the overnight freewheeling influx of all-access mobile apps. With zero costs, logistical ease, and an endless choice of ‘matches’, dating became even more low commitment and transactional. Future developments seem to be moving towards polyamory and open relationships, with a more creative use of technology. But with our current selection practice still built on the nuance of relentless swiping, the capacity to silently dispose of people is not set to change anytime soon.

Plus, isn’t everyone way too caught up in life for formal closure? Theseus and Aeneas had a lot on when they abandoned Ariadne and Dido, aside from sheer egotism. Gender assumptions have also since evolved from classical antiquity. Men and women today ghost equally, with 44% of males and 47% of women admitting to ghosting someone. 

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage”. The realisation that I had become irredeemably cruel, emotionally curt and bereft of chivalry was incentive enough for me to try and give up ghosting for a whole six months. 180 whole days without it seemed rather ambitious and no small feat, particularly when I would likely fall prey to reciprocal ghosting along the way.

I apologise for the spoiler, but I didn’t succeed. After two months, I just didn’t feel any better from the virtues of honesty and clear expression. Telling someone I wasn’t interested in them made me feel unkind. In fact, I wasn’t even conscious I was ghosting someone when I officially failed. I’d caught myself simply choosing not to clarify my reasons for not reconnecting. I’d convince myself it was a shared feeling of disinterest, and there was no reason to get back in touch. 

In the third month, in a potential universal chain reaction to my own discourteously, I was ghosted. But rather than feeling mistreated, I felt a degree of salvation. It was far nicer to be spared the blight of upfront rejection. And when, rather crassly, the ‘transparency’ of a definitive “no thankyou” arrived a few weeks later, it certainly didn’t feel considerate or in any way necessary.

I’m not alone in preferring ghosting or being ghosted as a viable strategy to end things. A study from the University of Georgia found that two out of three participants relied on non communication to end a casual fling, in an attempt to “avoid confrontation and seem more polite,” says Christina Leckfor, the study’s lead author. 

But unsurprisingly, this go-to method for ending an app connection has negative emotional consequences. The Forbes Health study attributes ghosting to feelings of depression, anxiety and deflated self-esteem. Just over half of respondents stated that being ghosted made them feel upset, while nearly 39% said it made them feel inadequate. Additionally, 22% expressed anger about the situation.

Gili Freedman, a researcher at Dartmouth College has tried to determine the profile of serial ghosts.  They tend to be people with a great need to close doors and turn the page, with little tolerance for uncertainty. Ghosts need firm answers, to avoid uncertain situations. And although ghosting can leave a relationship in ambiguity, whoever does it, puts a resounding end to the connection.

Other academics have identified ghosts as often catastrophists, or idealists. They frequently worry that the one they are dating isn’t the right match. Many people opt for ghosting when they convince themselves that a dating partner is faulty. In fact, a relationship with them is doomed.  There’s nothing left to do to save the process and cutting them off is the only escape viable.

Freedman acknowledged that many individuals ghost due to social anxiety.
45% of women cite safety reasons, believing that ghosting probably avoided “awkward and toxic situations”. “Disappearing is a way to protect yourself when a guy asks for weird things, for example, a nude photo,” confessed a 19-year-old girl.

Despite my inability to stop ghosting, I am completely certain that I am not alone in my true intent being consideration. Telling someone for whatever reason you have no desire to continue dating them is quite simply unpleasant. Letting someone down formally and truthfully isn’t always necessarily the right thing, particularly if it is only done for the sender’s own moral gratification. Ghosting can be a conscious way to avoid potentially hurting someone, rather than simply just ignoring them and moving on.

Words by Ruby Woolfe


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