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 a guy for drinks at an outdoor bar, we chatted, and then he walked me home. To me, it was clear we didn’t vibe in a romantic way; in fact, I was already on a different date when his text came through. And yet, by the length and wording of this person’s message, you’d think he was ending a 10-year marriage.

As I continued to read the text, I realized that ghosting would have been way less painful than reading through a dramatically long list of reasons why this near-stranger didn’t see a future with me — and I almost felt bad that he felt the need to type it all out. As someone who’s crafted 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 as you try not to ghost, many follow-up texts seem worse than simply moving on without a word. In other words: Just ghost me, 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.

Ghosting has become an expected side effect in the search for love, after all. 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 firmly believe that a swift, painless ghosting feels like a welcome reprieve from the dreaded post-date breakup text 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 awkward 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’s on the same page — you had nothing in common, there wasn’t a first kiss, etc. — then a mutual fade-away could be the kinder choice, especially compared to a heavy chat or 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 ghosting still gets an extremely bad rap. 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 that 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,” says Cummins. “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 might 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.