The urge to ghost. What is that?
It’s that time again. The weather is colder, the holidays are here, people are back up on dating apps trying to find somebody to fill that long aching cold void in their hearts. (Not that I think that dating apps are the place for this, but here we all are regardless). After filtering through shitty one way conversations, fear of dick pics, rock climber after rock climber giving the thumbs up, you finally find somebody that wants to meet with you IRL. So you set that up.
For some reason that’s when things get weird. Do you go through with it? Will they actually show up?
Honestly, I’m 3/5 meaning that in the last two years I’ve been using these apps I’ve set up five real life meet ups, and only three of them have shown. I guess it’s not terrible odds, but it’s about 60%. Now, out of all the people you meet, how many of them actually move on to the next stage of romantic human interaction.
I have two meet ups for this weekend, and all I want to do right now is delete the app and any trace of me ever making these plans. I could just easily slip out of these stranger’s lives forever, just as easily as I slipped in. Does that make me a shitty person? It’s happened to me before. At least we haven’t done that “final plans confirmation” yet. You know the one where you contact them earlier that day to make sure they aren’t sick or have a flat tire, or haven’t chickened out or whatever.
When is it considered ghosting though? I haven’t met either of these people yet, so it’s not like we’re technically anything more that words on a screen out in the ether. I think that anytime there is a urge to do something, then a hesitation, usually that hesitation is guilt or knowing that it's really not the right thing to do.
I found two recent studies in an attempt to dig deeper. Here’s what they had to say.
LeFebvre, Allen, Rasner, Garstad, Wilms and Parrish (2019) explained the impact and scope of ghosting by noting “Initiators are able to vanish in an accessible and highly connected society, thus impacting non-initiators”. (p. 126.) This statement draws a focus on the unilateral nature of ghosting and how it can hurt people. The lack of communication could lead to the non-initiator filling in the blanks with reasons that are most likely worse than the ghoster had intended.
One study conducted in 2018 about ghosting behaviors surveyed 554 participants and found that 25% of respondents had been ghosted by a partner, and 21% had ghosted somebody else. It was also found that it was believed that it was more acceptable to end a short term relationship via ghosting. After only one date 28% believed that it was OK to ghost, with 20% believing it was OK to ghost prior to physical intimacy. (Freedman, Powell, Le, & Williams, 2019).
A second study that focused on ghosting behavior in emerging adulthood (18-29 years) explored how a generation of undergraduate and graduate students viewed ghosting and five themes emerged as to why the initiator came to such abrupt measures. They included: convenience, attractiveness, negatively valenced interaction, relationship state, and safety. Focusing on relationship state, most often ghosters employed this technique rather than to have an awkward conversation about the definition of the relationship. (LeFebvre, et al., 2019).
So, is ghosting OK? As much as I wanted to hear the answer is yes, let's be real, it's not. According to Freedman, et al. (2019) , over 60% of respondents would think poorly of a ghoster. Out of the emerging adults survey 74% of respondents believed that ghosting was not an appropriate breakup strategy (LeFebvre, et al., 2019). And you know, when it happened to me, it didn't feel all that great either.
I think the bottom line is, if you can’t have open and honest conversations with people, then you shouldn’t be out there trying to meet people. This new frontier of digital hookups, it’s so easy to just toss people out of our lives as if they are items we no longer want in our amazon shopping cart, but let's try not to. For the sake of arguing, the safety issue, I get that, ghosting becomes a boundary and you should cut anybody out of your life that is being creepy or forceful or controlling and doesn’t see that, but, for the rest of those situations, I guess we just have to learn to talk to one another openly and honestly even if it does hurt feelings.
Easier said than done, but after this it looks like I’m going out this weekend. Even if I get stood up. At least I'll be able to sleep alone at night on my own moral high ground.
Freedman, G., Powell, D. N., Le, B., & Williams, K. D. (2019). Ghosting and destiny: Implicit theories of relationships predict beliefs about ghosting. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(3), 905–924. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407517748791
LeFebvre, L. E., Allen, M., Rasner, R. D., Garstad, S., Wilms, A., & Parrish, C. (2019). Ghosting in Emerging Adults’ Romantic Relationships: The Digital Dissolution Disappearance Strategy. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 39(2), 125–150. https://doi.org/10.1177/0276236618820519