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Ghosting: What it is and Why We’re Doing It

Ghosting: What it is and Why We’re Doing It

Have you heard of or experienced ghosting? Our bet’s on yes.

Sometimes it feels like everyone has social exhaustion, wandering the world with our tiny pocket computers beeping and vibrating all over the place. In fact, social psychology has been studying the effects of crowding since the 1890s. According to a study on how social networking apps can lead to users becoming overwhelmed and depressed:

When an individual perceives that others demand too much attention, the probability of perceiving the stressor social overload increases.

With modern social media, it’s as though there’s a big crowd of people constantly standing in your bedroom with you. Social media means that we rarely feel alone (and I know you are texting from the toilet). Add in the demands of online dating and users can begin to feel claustrophobic.

How do we escape from all this connecting and sharing?

One way is ghosting and that’s probably why the practice is on the rise in our current dating culture. Disappearing on potential suitors isn’t new, but along with the increase in social media, we seem to have developed an awareness of it (the term itself was popularized in 2014) and hold some permissiveness about it.

We spoke with four people (Mel, John, Lisa, and Lexi) on the topic to get a general idea of who is ghosting and why ghosting exists on a few different levels, specifically:

Level 1: is bailing on someone you have spoken to via text or online. No in-person contact.

Level 2: is when you have met for a few dates and then decided it isn’t going to work out.

Level 3: is the most nefarious: you meet once, twice, three times, you make crazy monkey love and then you vanish.

Mel pointed out that she believes ghosting has become commonplace because

we’re always bombarded by encounters that we don’t want

Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat appear on our ever-present screens unless we actively uninstall them. Ghosting is a quick, easy way for burnt-out people to get back a certain amount of freedom.
How many times have you felt like you had to like a photo on Instagram – it’s not aesthetically your cup of tea or something you care about, yet if you don’t press that little love button, your friends will judge.

So, maybe ghosting is one way to protest social media niceties? A fuck-you-I-won’t-do-what-you-tell-me Rage Against the Machine middle finger to the online overlords? Is that what most online brutality is symptomatic of? Trolling, comment bickering, and ghosting giving people an escape from the please and thank yous of the day?

John, who has dealt with it from the gay male side of dating, explained that

it’s a grey zone…you’re talking to someone for three weeks, you haven’t met up…it’s going nowhere, I ghost. People say it’s cowardly and that you should tell someone the reason why. What’s the reason why? It’s intangible.

 

Lisa echoed that statement:

In my mind, confronting them to say ‘your bedroom smells weird’ seems unnecessarily cruel.

 

Not everyone agrees though. Lexi has never ghosted herself and feels that

if I’m going to be blown off I need words, not a disappearing act

 

An article in Psychology Today would agree as Jeremy E. Sherman suggests: “We don’t owe each other romantic commitment, but we do owe each other clear signals.”

Clear signals aren’t as simple as they used to be, especially coming via text. It really makes a girl yearn for lovelorn-letters by candlelight–at least those showed tearful smudges. Anyone can click on a heart-face emoji and we just have to trust that they mean it. This lack of clear signaling can itself lead to ghosting, as Lisa explained that she “tended to ghost people after a few dates when I realized it wasn’t going to go anywhere, but we also didn’t have any official relationship to officially break off…I genuinely thought that was just how you let people down easy.”

And, in online dating, that does seem to be considered a reasonable way to resolve things. The anonymity of online dating makes it easy to disappear when all you’ve exchanged is words – as Lisa points out, it’s hard to break up with someone you’ve never defined a relationship with.

So it would seem that many people are fans of the freedom ghosting can afford, the easy goodbye of it all, but to the ghostee that sudden quiet of social media gone silent isn’t freedom but rejection. Silence implies that the other person doesn’t matter to you, it is a denial of validation. So maybe it would be better if we started letting people know those intangible traits that just don’t work for us. Not the specifics, but just a simple statement that tells them we appreciated their time but are, nevertheless, out.

Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University has noted that technology is changing how people pursue each other, the endgame is to find someone as quickly as possible. If daters are rushing to find someone fast, stopping to take the time to reject someone can feel like a hindrance. This go! go! attitude extends to the fact that, since online daters can learn about hundreds of potential hookups within hours (Finkel et al., 2012), the stakes to connect are high. With so many choices, people are less likely to work through a slow-burning relationship in the hopes that passion with flare up.

Most people aren’t ghosting because they want to be nasty, it’s because online dating culture has rewritten the rules of dating. Studies have shown that users can begin to use the sites as a sort of “relation shopping” (Heino et al., 2010), which basically turns everyone into a commodity. Instead of asking someone on a date because you met in person and there’s a connection, you chose someone based on a photo and some criteria. When someone is little more than a photo and facts, it is much easier to see through them and forget that they are there.

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