The Case For Ghosting

“I don’t need three self-esteem-destroying paragraphs about why you didn’t like me.”

The case for ghosting.

Even though it happened years ago, I’ll never forget the novelistic text that popped up on my phone a few days after I’d gone on a date. I met up with an internet match for drinks at an outdoor bar, we chatted, and then he walked me home. It was very casual and friendly, so it seemed clear we didn’t vibe in a romantic way; in fact, I was already on a different date a few days later when his text came through. I gave it a glance and saw paragraphs explaining all the reasons why we wouldn’t work out as a couple. We barely knew each out and yet, by the length and wording, it seemed like he was ending a 10-year marriage.

Later, when I sat down to give the text a read, I realized that ghosting would have been way less painful. It made me completely overthink our interaction, it made me feel the need to explain, and I almost felt bad that he had clearly spent a good chunk of time crafting his words. As someone who’s sent similar messages to let people down, I officially think there are instances where it’s better to say nothing at all. Even though your heart is in the right place when you try not to ghost — it does get a bad rap, after all — many post-date texts wind up doing more harm than good. In other words: Let’s just ghost each other, FFS.

While the single minglers of the world ghost for a number of reasons, a major one is that it’s tough, and even kind of stressful, to directly communicate your feelings with everyone you date. According to licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Kate Cummins, ghosting is a way to avoid tough conversations and potential conflict — two things that can be tricky to navigate with strangers on a dating app. And it’s tough to deny the appeal.

If you’re out there meeting new people, then you already know ghosting has become an expected side effect in the search for love. One study found that out of 554 participants, 25.3% of people have been ghosted while 21.3% have ghosted someone else. The more times we swipe right, it seems, the more likely it is for ghosting to occur.

By the length and wording of this person’s message, you’d think he was ending a 10-year marriage.

While each dating situation is unique, I truly believe that a swift, painless ghosting can feel like a welcome reprieve from those dreaded post-date breakup texts where someone explains why they don’t want to meet up again. If you go on a date, have a convo that’s dry as toast, and then exchange an air hug before parting ways, shouldn’t that be enough information to know you aren’t a match? If one of you proceeds to send an itemized list of all the reasons why you aren’t right for each other, it seems a lot like pouring salt in the wound.

Kyra, 30, is a fan of ghosting for this reason. “I don’t need three self-esteem-destroying paragraphs about why you didn’t like me,” she tells Bustle. “Ghosting is a pretty clear message in and of itself, so if someone doesn’t get back to me, I’m happy to gracefully take the hint.”

Uma, 32, says she’s usually OK with ghosting or being ghosted after one date. “If you feel there was no connection, I don’t think a text is warranted after that,” she tells Bustle. “I’ve been ghosted by people who I wanted to be ghosted by.” As long as it seems like everyone is likely on the same page — you had nothing in common, there wasn’t a first kiss, etc. — then a mutual fade-away could be the kindest choice, especially compared to a super-serious chat or a cold “I didn’t feel a spark” text.

You could argue that there are plenty of moments when it’s better to silently move on, but it definitely isn’t for everyone. Defined as “the abrupt end of communication with a person without letting them know you are no longer speaking to them,” ghosting has become a cultural norm that causes a lot of stress in people’s lives, Cummins explains. Society tends to urge people to avoid ghosting at all costs, but could a fear of ghosting be why some folks overthink it and overreact?

“I don’t need three self-esteem-destroying paragraphs about why you didn’t like me.”

“Ghosting may be the preferable choice when you don’t feel like a conversation about not being a good match will land well with the other person,” Cummins says. “Plus, ghosting may be the best option if you tell the person you’re not interested in pursuing anything and they continue to communicate, therefore overstepping boundaries that you’ve tried to set.” In these cases, ghost away.

Of course, if you go on a string of dates, hook up, swap heartfelt memories, or start to catch feelings, that’s when you do owe each other a quick note — or even a bona fide breakup text. “At that point, I’m OK with a message like, ‘I don’t think this is going to work,’” Kyra says. When connections have been made, Uma says she appreciates a quick note. “It’s good social etiquette,” she says.

Personally, I’d say less is more. If you catch yourself writing a novel to a stranger after two meh dates, resist the urge to hit send.

Studies referenced:

Navarro, R. (2021). Ghosting and breadcrumbing: Prevalence and relations with online dating behaviors among young adults. Escritos De Psicología - Psychological Writings, 13(2), 45–59. doi: 10.24310/espsiescpsi.v13i2.9960.