Prior to the advent of online dating, singles interacted face-to-face, entered relationships cautiously, and prioritized one another’s privacy.
Combined with the excessive access granted by social media, virtual dating services open the door to a vault of personal information, expediting a privilege often reserved for the most intimate partners.
The negative consequences associated with encountering this degree of intimacy too soon become rapidly apparent, either forcing an intense romantic bond that burns out swiftly, or encouraging unbalanced emotional attachments that result in explosive breakups before a relationship actually forms.
Sarah, a 20-year-old living in New York City, experienced one such traumatic separation with a man she connected to on Tinder. “Once we met,” she tells BTR, “I realized he was very clingy and possessive.”
The process of breaking off the relationship was both time-consuming and upsetting, and Sarah felt that only one option remained: going ghost.
“If you’ve gone out and had face time together, then I definitely think you should just be honest with the person,” Sarah explains. “But I eventually had to stop responding because he wasn’t accepting when I was telling him I wasn’t really interested.”
Sarah’s decision to cut ties with her date is now popularly referred to as “ghosting.” Ghosting describes the act of instantly separating from a romantic or sexual partner without warning and ignoring all future communications. This can occur prior to physical meeting, or even after many in-person encounters.
“I have and would go ghost under many circumstances, but I suppose the main reason is lack of interest,” says Megan, a 23-year-old office manager living in Washington D.C.
Megan is active on multiple dating sites, and doesn’t feel she can justify spending unlimited time on casual dating. If she doesn’t sense an instant connection, ghosting presents a convenient method by which to break off the relationship.
Complete avoidance of the typical teary-eyed parting of ways means there are no real consequences for the person doing the dumping, and they can effectively send a clear message; except that, for the victim of the dumping, the message isn’t always so apparent.
While the process is convenient for the individual initiating the separation, those who prefer not to utilize this method find ghosting both inconsiderate and harmful.
“People ghost because they either don’t feel obligated to provide that closure for others or they’re afraid of some sort of retaliation,” says Steven, a 25-year-old Ph.D. student and New York City native. “I think it’s incredibly rude. It’s just bad karma.”
Julia, an after-school nursery teacher from South Florida who met her current boyfriend on a dating website, feels similarly.
“I personally haven’t ever done it. I’m too sensitive to other peoples’ feelings,” she says. “It speaks a lot to the insensitivity and cowardice the Internet Age has instilled in people.”
However, even strong proponents of mature conversation believe that ghosting serves a purpose in particular situations.
“I guess I would go ghost if I’d never actually met the person,” says Julia, “or if the person just gave me a creepy vibe.”
Sarah, who believes that people who ghost, “just don’t feel like they owe any explanation to someone they’ve only spoken to online and via text,” justifies the action in certain cases. “I only would ghost someone if I started to see red flags and didn’t want to pursue anything with the person,” she says.
This is a common response, especially amongst young girls warned to remain cautious when dating strangers. By severing all contact with a potentially threatening individual, these girls avoid unnecessary risk.
If the ghosting occurs solely as a response to a weak connection, however, “the hope is that the two will never awkwardly meet again,” explains Steven.
Megan believes that the number one indicator that your partner is going ghost is if he or she complains of being too busy to get back to your messages. “The person is not too busy to respond,” she says. “They are just not that into you.”
Ghosting harkens back to the days of middle school relationships, of breaking up with a significant other over instant messenger and ignoring them at school the following day. It may not be the most considerate behavior, but ghosting provides the easiest route out of a relationship that hasn’t moved into serious territory and shows no signs of progressing further.
“If it’s someone you’ve barely talked to for less than a week, I don’t really see a problem,” Julia says. “But after that it’s best to give someone the common courtesy to let them know what’s going on.”
While reactions to the rise of ghosting as a prevalent social practice may be mixed, it appears that this method of cutting off contact will stick around.
“Some relationships,” says Megan, “specifically amongst millennials–simply fizzle out.”
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user Zoe.