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‘Spare me’: Suddenly I’m in favour of ghosting

It’s been drummed into us that abruptly dropping out of someone’s life without warning is a bad thing to do, even a form of ‘toxic behaviour’ – but is it really as clear-cut as that? Roisin O’Connor wonders if we’ve been misunderstanding ‘ghosting’ this whole time...

Thursday 03 November 2022 14:30 GMT
On social media, other women are seeking to exorcise pesky would-be poltergeists so they can move on
On social media, other women are seeking to exorcise pesky would-be poltergeists so they can move on (iStock)

A ghost came back to haunt me this summer. I’d gone on a first date with a guy. We agreed it went well and planned to meet up again after I got back from holiday. We continued messaging while I was away; the conversation was good, definitely better than your average “hey what you up to”s. A week into the holiday, though, I replied to one of his WhatsApps and suddenly… nothing. This wasn’t the first time he’d taken a few days to reply, so I shrugged. Maybe he was busy. But a few days became seven, by which point I wrote him off, my logic being that he was no longer interested. I’d officially been ghosted.

The term “ghosting” has been part of online dating vernacular for the better part of a decade. In simple terms, it means ceasing contact with someone without warning: you stop replying to their messages, unfollow them on social media and don’t answer their calls, and ultimately fade from their life altogether. In the past, this has been described by dating experts as toxic behaviour – no exceptions. Studies suggested ghosting could even cause someone psychological harm. But now, it seems, many people on the dating scene are experiencing a change of heart. Instead, there might be times where ghosting is considered acceptable. Even encouraged.

A week after our last exchange, I did get a response. This guy claimed he hadn’t been in touch because he “didn’t know how” to message me, apparently torn up over some devastating news he had to break. He finally came out with it: he’d been on dates with someone else and wanted to see where things went with her instead. “I’m sorry for not being more direct,” he wrote. “I felt bad as I had a really fun time with you.”

My immediate reaction? I laughed. Honestly, by the time you hit 30 – which I’d done just a month before – you’re pretty well-versed in the unrivalled joy that is modern dating. I’m terrible with apps myself. I have limited patience, a short attention span and I’m certainly not desperate for a relationship. The whole endeavour feels more like a chore. It’d definitely be hypocritical, then, for me to get upset over someone who is, ultimately, still a complete stranger.

After laughing, though, I felt irritated. This guy had been messaging me regularly for over a month, and he’d only just decided he wasn’t interested? Why had he disappeared only to come back and spook my inbox with a mea culpa? Did he think I’d be so infatuated by him after one date that not hearing from him could cause me to plunge into a state of Ophelia-like despair? Wanting to reassure him, I replied to his message with a shrug emoji and the words: “Sure I’ll live. Take care.” Just to make sure he knew I was OK, you know?

It seems like I’m not the only one growing tired of these strange encounters. On social media, other women are seeking to exorcise pesky would-be poltergeists so they can move on. Just last week, stand-up comedian Carly Aquilino shared a TikTok in which she quoted a recent date: “Oh, I think you’re a really great girl, but…” She blows a raspberry. “Nobody cares!” she says, with delightful indifference. “Ghost me. Spare me. I was doing fine. I thought you passed away.”

The replies, mostly from women, are delighted by her attitude. “‘Ghost Me’ will be my 2023 motto,” one wrote. Another commented: “I’d 1,000 per cent rather be ghosted than told all the reasons you don’t like me.” When one person joked that “the way I’m so pro-ghosting is almost anti-feminist”, Aquilino responded with sage wisdom: “How is it anti-feminist to not want to listen to BS that they’re saying only to absolve themselves of feeling like a s***y person?”

I don’t think I felt any better having the guy confirm he was no longer interested – I’d already worked that out for myself

Because that’s what those messages are, aren’t they? Absolutions so the sender doesn’t feel like a d*** for leaving you on “read”. For years, those men have been told that ghosting is Grade-A assholery. But is it really as clear-cut as that? There are, naturally, circumstances in which ghosting crosses a line. Maybe don’t ghost someone if you’ve been married to them for 20 years. Maybe don’t ghost someone you’ve been dating for six months either. Maybe don’t ghost a friend you had a drunken one-night fling with after promising you’d stay friends, even if you did get back with your ex a few weeks later (that last one’s mine, yay). Examples of when ghosting could be deemed acceptable, though? When someone you’re dating is throwing up red flags. When the date was a dud and you definitely both know it. When it’s Donald Trump on the other line.

It seems highly possible that we were too hasty in dismissing ghosting as bad behaviour without considering the myriad scenarios in which it might occur. Do we really need closure in absolutely every scenario? I don’t think I felt any better having the guy confirm he was no longer interested – I’d already worked that out for myself. And if neither person is chasing for answers, doesn’t that make it clear there’s a mutual understanding? So please, spare us the performative hand-wringing. In the horror show that is the modern dating scene, ghosts are the least of our problems.

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