Rejection isn't easy and sometimes it can feel like turning someone down can be harder than actually being rejected yourself. So when it comes to dating (or kinda, sorta dating), Millennials in particular, have found alternative ways to break things off with people they're kinda sorta seeing, like pulling slow fades, like breadcrumbing, or just pulling away entirely without a word aka ghosting.
While a big argument for ghosting versus telling someone you're not feeling it is that you don't want to hurt their feelings by straight up rejecting them, a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found a very good reason for why you really shouldn't do this. Ever. Being told "no" is better on a person's emotional wellbeing than being ignored. So not only are you communicating poorly when you ghost or lead someone on, you're actually making things worse for them, too.
"It takes strong integrity to face someone and tell them that they are not what you're looking for in a relationship," certified, international dating and relationship expert, Megan Weks tells Bustle. "Sometimes it’s easier to be the one being ghosted than to let someone down."
Psychologists from the University of Basel and Purdue University conducted a series of experiments to discover how people felt after being socially excluded and how receiving the minimum amount of attention after the fact affected them. In one experiment, participants were told to take part in a virtual ball-throwing game. While most participants were given a chance to receive the ball, a select few weren't. In another experiment, participants were told to go on a fictitious search for an apartment. While all participants were given a rejection, some were given an accompanying message that was either neutral, pleasant, or unfriendly. All experiments conducted involved some kind of social exclusion followed by signs of reintegration through little bits of attention. Here's what the study found about rejection and self-esteem:
Nobody Likes Rejection
Well, this certainly makes sense. In each experiment, researchers found that people reacted "quickly and sensitively" to social exclusion. It's just human nature to want to be accepted. The researchers noted that most of us are sensitive to even the slightest sign of social exclusion because it endangers our fundamental human needs for belonging, self-esteem, and control.
But People Are Also Influenced By Signs Of Reintegration And Attention
While people are sensitive to rejection, they do tend to feel a little bit better when they're shown signs of reintegration and attention regardless of whether the attention they get is positive or negative. For instance, if you don't want to go out with someone for the second time, they'll feel better being told "no" than being completely ignored.
Rejection has a way of making people feel like they're not good enough or that they don't matter — and it becomes much worse when they're being ignored. But if they're given even the slightest bit of attention after a rejection, even if it's negative, they're less likely to feel like they don't matter.
Being Openly Honest And Straightforward Matters
The researchers' findings make a good argument for why people need to humanize selection processes by giving people even just the minimal amount of attention. That would mean anything from a simple letter saying "No thanks" to directly stating that you're not interested. This could really apply to anything from HR managers to universities, landlords, to relationships.
But What If You Have A Hard Time Being Direct?I
If you're someone who struggles with telling people no, remember this: "Everyone must face rejection before they meet their 'one,'" Weks says. "It’s par-for-the course. If you want to streamline the dating process and get to your 'one,' you’re going to have to let people down. Most of us don’t have the extra time to be chatting and seeing people who you know are not a match. Pull the trigger and politely let them know they are not the one."
Rejection can suck for everyone involved, but everyone goes through it at some point. While it seems like you're letting someone down easy by ignoring them or leaving them breadcrumbs here and there until they can take a hint, it's actually much worse for their emotional wellbeing — false hopes never make anyone feel good. If we can all try to treat people the way we want to be treated, maybe dating would be much better for everyone.