As a card-carrying member of the ghosted club– and a few hauntings (which is when someone pops up on your social media despite having disappeared from your life with no explanation), ghosting is something I used to heartily disapprove of. Mostly, I still do, but recently, I’ve found myself with one foot in the ghost world.
Admitting to being a ghoster is tantamount to going into the office when you’re sick and sneezing: no one approves, and everyone thinks you’re an inconsiderate twerp.
My first understanding of ghosting was back in uni, when there wasn’t a term for it. It was the rather unwieldy ‘that prick who disappeared off the face of the planet and we don’t know if he’s dead, but he’s probably not dead’. It happened to a close friend, who was dating a guy for several months. I-love-yous were exchanged, and suddenly, he disappeared.
I saw the lines of worry deepen on her face, the bags under her eyes increasing in size from a 5p to a 10p shopper, and finally, the blossom of rage as she realised what he’d done. It seemed like an awful, cowardly thing to do to a person.
While I’ve never been ghosted as dramatically as my friend, I have experienced the familiar hallmarks of ghosting: bewilderment, hurt and tucked behind the anger, the inescapable feeling that you weren’t even worth a proper goodbye.
Ghosting means different things to different people, but to me, it’s something that cuts across friendships as well as dating. I also think it’s a spectrum – some, for instance dating apps Bumble and Badoo who introduced anti-ghosting measures, regard ghosting as a non-response to a message. Others view ghosting as the dramatic and deeply hurtful act of icing someone you’ve been in a bonafide relationship with.
Daisy Buchanan, author and host of podcast You're Booked says: “I think that we've perhaps become a little too broad in our definition of ghosting. I've never been ghosted by someone I've had real feelings for, and I think that must be heartbreaking and earth shattering - but I've nursed some seriously hurt feelings after someone has seemingly disappeared after three or four dates.”
I’m inclined to agree with Daisy that the definition is broad, but I’m hard-pushed to see how else to refer to it.
Perhaps the solution is to categorise them. So a Type A is the mother of all apparitions, the chief ghost wanker who ends an established friendship or relationship by disappearing without explanation. A Type B could be someone who ghosts on a relatively new connection whereas a Type C is someone you’ve just met online.
There’s no denying that ghosting is avoidance, but if we look at it as a spectrum, is it possible that certain parts of it are understandable?
When I have ghosted, it’s not because the other person wasn’t worth a goodbye or an explanation, but because I don’t have the energy or mental capacity to explain how I feel. Some of it is being busy with work, the other is just being emotionally cackhanded and unwilling to deal with the outfall or reaction of the other person. Or in some extreme cases, if I’ve got a lot going on mentally, I just can’t engage in that kind of conflict.
In the realm of romance, a lot of this attitude is driven by dating app culture, which is a catch 22. You go into it with great expectations, but then realise that the default mechanism for people to communicate their disinterest is to not communicate at all. I’m a great fan for being upfront and honest, but inevitably this thinking rubbed off on me too.
From someone who vowed to never ghost, I realised with a jolt that I had accidentally ghosted a guy last year after we hooked up. I didn’t even register that I had done it at the time. I just saw the messages ping from time to time and forgot to reply to them. It wasn’t really anything he’d done – more that he wasn’t the right match, I’d been busy with work at the time and... I hadn't quite got round to telling him.
In the last month, I’ve had a number of chats with guys on apps that has switched over to Whatsapp. But what has quickly transpired, is that the guy is either inappropriate, or just isn’t a compatible match. Whereas before I would’ve politely said I’m sorry, I don’t want to meet up for a date, now I just ghost and allow the communication to grow increasingly one-sided until it fizzles out or I block them.
Several things happened to create this situation. The first was that I tried to tell a guy I’d been chatting to online but had never met in person, that I had changed my mind about dating full-stop, and after saying he understood, he kept sending me message after message, finally contacting me on Facebook to ask for a date.
The second was a guy who made fun of my name, and when I tried to explain why it wasn’t good, he got really defensive, told me he ‘loved India’ (where my family come from) and wouldn’t stop messaging.
The final was a string of guys who frankly, were time-wasters, who had no intention of meeting up. In almost all of those communications, I didn’t want to spend the time and energy having to explain why I didn’t want to be in contact anymore.
I asked dating and relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan and she’s of the firm belief that ghosting isn’t acceptable in any dating scenario - casual, serious or otherwise – unless of course the other person has made you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
In the ever murky world of online dating, she says: “If you’re about to digitally ghost someone you haven’t even met then do please remember that nothing can compare to real human connection - unless they have done something absolutely outlandish you should really give meeting them a shot or if you really don’t plan to meet them just tell them.”
It's a sobering, if uncomfortable reminder that there is another person's emotions and feelings at the other end of that contact, no matter how long or well you've known them.
When it comes to friendships, the signs of ghosting are similar. While I could never outright ghost a friend, there are certain friendships that just seem impossible to maintain. It tends to be around either an inflexibility about where to meet (eg the friend who always wants you to come to their house) or an inability to sort a date to meet up. What you’re left with is a low-level irritation and no follow-through, so you ghost them to avoid going through that whole pointless cycle.
Daisy admits to doing the same: “I have ghosted new friends before, and I've felt quite cowardly about it. I think that we're living in a hyper connected world where it's possible to meet new people constantly. It's easy to have lots of people in our lives, and not give them sufficient attention and abandon them when we get bored if we only ever talk on Whatsapp.”
On balance, however, in the long term, ghosting – even ghosting-lite – is not how I want to deal with people. I’m fully aware that it’s what I fall back on when I don’t have the time or space to deal with people, but quite honestly, that’s more my problem than it is theirs.