Ghosting: Have apps like Tinder killed off basic decency when it comes to dating?

"A few weeks ago Andy seemed keen, but now he's flakier than a Danish pastry..."

Susie Coen
Monday 09 November 2015 14:14 GMT
Ghosting is a term used to describe ending all communication with someone while dating
Ghosting is a term used to describe ending all communication with someone while dating (Mode/REX Shutterstock)

"Hey, I’m really sorry but I can’t make tonight. Let’s do something next week instead?"

I don’t know how many times I’ve stared at my battered iPhone 4 screen with complete bemusement after receiving a text like this. On this occasion, a guy, let’s call him Andy, was cancelling on me for the fourth time. When we met up a few weeks ago he seemed keen, but since then he has been flakier than a Danish pastry.

Let’s be honest: Andy clearly wasn’t into me. But he continued to arrange and cancel dates. Sure, I was getting the picture, but he would have saved us both a lot of time if he had just been straight with me. Do some people actually prefer these long, drawn out methods of communicating disinterest instead of being honest?

One such trick is "ghosting", which the Collins English Dictionary recently announced as one of its words of 2015. The team defined the term as: "ending a relationship by ignoring all communication from the other person."

For his book Modern Romance, the comedian and actor Aziz Ansari asked 150,000 of his audience members how they tell people they aren’t interested. Pretending to be busy came top, shortly followed by the ghosting technique, but only a sliver of the crowd said that honesty was the best policy.

Actor Aziz Ansari explored dating in his book Modern Romance
Actor Aziz Ansari explored dating in his book Modern Romance (Noam Galai/Getty Images)

Nathan Davies, a 23-year-old music producer from east London, serial dater, and advocate of ghosting, says: "As soon as I go on a first date, I’ll know that it’s not really going anywhere, but I just keep texting and meeting up because they’re attractive. I think I give the impression I like them, which is bad, and then I end it by just ignoring them"

These are the same actions that I hear my friends, both guys and girls, complain about. They come home with a twinkle in their eye, gushing about how much chemistry there was with their date, only to have their texts met with silence.

When I ask Davies why he chooses ghosting over honesty, he replies: "I’m scared of awkward situations. Oh, and I’m lazy. By ignoring them you can end it without any bother."

Davies says he has never bumped into someone he has ghosted. Perhaps experiencing a situation that awkward might encourage him to start showing his dates more respect.

And although I disagree with ghosting, at least it is more to the point than what Andy did - which can build false hope.

But, Claire Jones, a 28-year-old photographer who has just come out of a long-term relationship, says she keeps talking to guys she actively dislikes because it makes her "feel attractive."

On the other hand, casting assistant Lisa Sharpe, 24, thinks it’s "all about not having all your eggs in one box. It’s better to be texting a few people that you aren’t that interested in, rather than texting nobody at all."

If everyone you fancy is in a relationship, or you can’t face singledom any longer, you might not be in such a hurry to close down your only current option

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Using others to make oneself feel better is by no means a new phenomenon and, according to Dr David Giles, Reader in Media Psychology at Winchester University, keeping your options open is a common motivation.

"The reason you string them along is that there’s no-one else on the horizon. If you’re in high demand you wouldn’t think twice about wasting that person’s time any longer.

"But if everyone you fancy is in a relationship, or you can’t face singledom any longer, you might not be in such a hurry to close down your only current option."

However, I think that the motivation behind texting people we don’t like comes down to more than wanting to feel good and keep your options open; it’s also about boredom.

It seems like we need to be stimulated every second, be it scrolling through Instagram feeds, reading countless WhatsApp messages, or “swiping right” on Tinder.

Has technology made us less decent daters?
Has technology made us less decent daters? (Getty Images)

Dating apps have capitalised on our need to be entertained. Somewhere in this frenzy we have managed to turn dating into something disposable, in which we ultimately view one another as just another match in a long list of matches.

Sure, you have to pretend to be nice or care in order to get what you want - sex, a date or just admiration. But when you get what you came for, you don’t need to try anymore, and that person can be erased from your conscience with a swipe of a thumb.

In her insightful article Tinder and the Dawn of the "Dating Apocolypse", writer Nancy Jo Sales argues that the app and its rivals have irrevocably changed the nature of dating.

She argues: "Hook-up culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps, which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship."

She notes how the incorporation of “swiping right” in online shopping has rendered "the act of choosing consumer brands and sex partners [...] interchangeable."

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman noted the phenomenon of disposable relationships as early as 2003, 11 years before the creation of Tinder. In his book Liquid Love, he talks of the man or woman "with no bonds", claiming that real human relationships have dissolved.

Bauman argued that online dating had "dissolved" human relationships over a decade ago
Bauman argued that online dating had "dissolved" human relationships over a decade ago (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

He writes: "Unlike old-fashioned relationships, they [modern relationships] seem to be made to the measure of a liquid modern life setting where ‘romantic possibilities’ are supposed and hoped to come and go with ever greater speed and never in thinning crowds".

"They look smart and clean, feel easy to use and user-friendly, when compared with a heavy, slow-moving, inert messy, ‘real stuff’."

In the book, Bauman discusses an interview with a 28 year-old man from Bath who states that the advantage of computer dating is that "you can always press delete."

Fast-forward to the present day and what Bauman refers to may have escalated to the point of no return. These dating apps give us convenience and speed, but we seem to be losing human respect and decency in turn.

Dating guru Donna Dawson agrees: "You are treating people like a deck of cards. You have to remember that you are dealing with real people and real people’s feelings."

Suzie Hayman, agony aunt for Woman Magazine, mirrors Dawnon's concerns: "they’ve certainly exacerbated the feeling that relationships are disposable, you can just go onto the next one and they have rather given people the impression that the way to deal with not being interested is to stop talking to someone."

You are treating people like a deck of cards

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And dating apps seem like they are here to stay – they make big bucks. Analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch valued Tinder alone at $1.35 billion (£900 million) in June.

Marie Cosnard, head of media relations for Happn, a dating app that boasts 6.8 million users and lets you connect with the people you’ve crossed paths with, argues that these apps haven’t changed the way people think.

"All these tools are not inventing new social habits but they are adapting to them. If we look 20 or 30 years back when there weren’t any cell phones, people could disappear into the world even more. It’s a new way of not responding, but the effect is the same."


The amount that Tinder was valued at in the summer of 2015

Cosnard has a point: of course trying to avoid people is nothing new. But equally, we now have so many methods of communication that there really is no excuse for not replying.

Before social media was so integral to our lives, saying you didn’t get someone’s call was a legitimate excuse for ignoring them.

Now you can check Instagram and see your date has put a Valencia filter on a photo of a latte, but didn't have enough time to reply to your message. From WhatApp's little blue ticks to Facebook’s time stamp, it is now painfully obvious when you’re being ignored.

So, how do people really want to be told that someone’s just not that into them?

Ansari concludes his book by saying: "If we are honest with ourselves, we realise that, however bizarrely, we actually prefer to be lied to."

Sometimes the truth is just too brutal

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Dawson agrees with Ansari's viewpoint.

"Sometimes the truth is just too brutal; it can be like a blunt hammer that you hit someone over the head with. We are social animals and we need the approval of other social animals," she says.

“It’s called the sweet and sour technique. Tell them you’re not available and then leave it on a positive note so they don’t go away with a bad taste in their mouth thinking ‘I’m a failure, nobody wants me’."

To get an anecdotal idea of how people prefer to be let down, I asked a group of 21 to 28 year-olds to rank their preferred way of having someone tell them they aren’t interested, between being told the truth, being diffused with a white lie, ignored, or strung along.

The general consensus out of the 23 interviewees was that the truth was the most dignified way of letting someone down, but everyone agreed that this had to be done carefully so as not to upset the other person.

Being told a white lie was the runner up. One participant, Clara Downs, a 24-year-old adminstration assistant, said she “preferred a s*** lie” to being ignored or strung along because she likes to have a "definitive ending."

I can't imagine many worse ways to handle letting somebody down

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People’s views were mixed on ghosting. Some thought that ignoring a date was an obvious way to show you aren’t interested and ranked it near the top, but the majority said that this was the worst as it leaves you in a perpetual state of confusion.

Being strung along was the least favourite due to the timewasting factor and the potential for it to result in a lot of pain.

Alex Tyndall, an MA student, 22, says "I can't imagine many worse ways to handle letting somebody down. I ended up getting hurt because the girl in question was too much of a coward to tell me how she actually felt."

So, if you find yourself in a situation where you know that the person your dating isn’t right for you, before you start swiping right again, take a moment to write a text and let them down gently. Let’s not let modern society impact on human decency and kindness.

And if you can’t quite face telling the truth? Tell them you’re moving to Hawaii but they have amazing hair. Sorted.

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