Along with swiping, matching and cat-fishing, ghosting has sadly become a normal part of the language we use to describe modern courtship, thanks to the meteoric rise of dating apps.
If you've ever been ghosted, you'll know just how incredibly painful the whole process is. While obsessively checking your phone for a message that will never come, you start to go over every single detail of your last few interactions with the ghoster, looking for signs of the impending radio silence, blaming yourself and fawning over the loss of your potential new soulmate.
Of course, in all likelihood, this person is someone you've gone on one or a handful of dates with, know nothing about, and wasn't right for you anyway (proved even more so by the subsequent ghosting), but none of that matters, for ghosting hurts. It strips you of any say in the demise of the romantic connection, without any answers to give much-needed clarity; rendering you helpless and riddled with anxiety.
Ghosting in the world of love and romance is a big no-no, but what exactly constitutes being ghosted? After the first message? Moving to Whatsapp? After the first date? With 91% of Hinge users claiming to have been ghosted whilst using the app, we asked Logan Ury, Director of Relationship Science for Hinge, how we can change the mindset of daters to eradicate this unsavoury behaviour from the dating app world.
'What’s so challenging about ghosting, is that you have an expectation of hearing back and then you don’t,' Ury explains. 'So it’s also the pain of expectations not meeting reality, and it’s a form of rejection, because it’s someone inadvertently saying they don’t want to be with you.'
So is lowering expectations the way forward? Apparently not. Ury suggests that instead, 'we invest in the eco-system of daters and help people learn not to ghost in the first place'.
Here's her guide to ghosting...
So, what exactly is ghosting?
Ghosting is traditionally when two people have gone on a first date, and one person reaches out to the other and then they never hear back. When both people don’t reach out, I would call that a mutual opt-out.
The definition of ghosting is actually very broad. Some people see it as when you match and you don’t hear back, others when you’ve been on multiple dates and you don’t hear back. In general, the classic definition of ghosting is when you reach out to somebody with the expectation of receiving a response and you never get that response.
What qualifies as ghosting?
If you’ve been texting for a while, and then one person just stops texting back...
According to Hinge research, some people would define that as ghosting and some people wouldn’t, and that’s where you get into murky waters because it’s possible that someone could interpret that as ghosting. There is not one ‘covers-all’ definition.
If you’re texting for ages and they drop out of contact before you get to the first date...
A new phenomenon is pen-palling; when they go back and forth and are really happy to chat and banter, but when it's time to actually meet up, that doesn’t always happen.
I recommend [in this instance], that people send out a cutesy message to call out the situation, that's kind of playful and not too aggressive. For example: ‘If I didn’t know better, I’d say that we were becoming pen pals… you want to try and meet up in person this week?’
How many messages should you exchange before going on a date?
It's tricky, because if you meet up too soon, it can often feel like you’re rushing. But if you do it too late, you’ve already built up a story about someone in your head, and then when you meet up in person, they inevitably don’t match that story.
Within the first few weeks at least try and get on the phone to see if you can get a momentum going. You don’t want to stall the first date and be texting for too long.
How can you spot a ghoster?
As far as I know, it’s hard to spot when someone’s going to ghost you because lots of different types of people do it, and often it comes out of nowhere.
There’s aren’t really specific behaviours to look out for, but when we transition into talking about the other dating terms, like slow-fading – which is another version of ghosting – there are some signs that you can watch out for there. These can include an abrupt change in the amount of messages they're sending, or suddenly sending short, curt replies.
Are men or women likely to ghost more?
We haven’t done specific research into the different genders, but we do know that 91% of Hinge users say they’ve been ghosted and 63% of Hinge users say that they’ve ghosted someone.
Is it ever acceptable to ghost someone?
It’s complicated, because we’re all thinking about different things, but in general we should always try to be upfront with the other person.
One of the main reasons why people ghost is that they think that it’s a lot simpler than straight out rejecting someone. But, what we know from this research is that it’s immediately a bit more painful [to be rejected], but it’s much cleaner. When we interviewed Hinge users, only 2% said that they wanted to be ghosted, and 85% of them said that 'rejection hurts, but [they'd] rather know’. It's far better to find the courage to send that simple rejection text and don’t ghost someone, because ultimately it’s just more hurtful and more confusing.
Why has ghosting surged in recent years?
When we think about ghosting, it’s definitely a term we associate with internet dating culture, but there was ghosting in the past. It might’ve been being stood up for a date or having a person take your number and say they’ll call you, but they never do. So it’s not that ghosting was invented by internet culture, but the term is associated with it.
At the moment, people are busy matching, but they’re not really connecting with each other. Hinge is really all about getting people of the app and onto dates, instead of just seeing how many matches you can collect.
The best way to tackle ghosting
When I first studied relationship science, I found that some people do have too high expectations of relationships and of their partner – which ends up disappointing them –when they find out that no one is perfect. But then there are people who need to have higher expectations, both of themselves and other people. Instead of asking people to lower their expectations, my suggestion is instead that we invest in the eco-system of daters and we help people learn not to ghost.
How to confront a ghoster
I've asked daters what their approach is to being ghosted, some send a message and some don't. For example, saying: "Hey, I’m getting a sense that you are ghosting me, I really would have preferred to know, I’m just telling you this so you can tell the next girl."
Essentially, you're calling the person out; sometimes they write back with an apology and sometimes they don’t. People I've spoken to anecdotally often find that sending that message doesn’t really make them feel better, whereas just walking away preserved a bit more of their dignity and tended to make them feel better long-term.
Why you shouldn't ghost someone
In general, a lot of people ghost when they know they shouldn’t, but they still do it. Telling people not to ghost because it’s hurtful, doesn't actually shift behaviour, but what does, is telling someone it actually makes them feel worse.
The reason for that is psychological self-perception theory; it’s the idea that we look to our behaviour to tell us who we are. For example, when we volunteer, we feel like a good person because we've helped people. With ghosting, you look at your mean behaviour and you feel like a bad person.
Before I joined Hinge, I carried out an experiment, where I had half the participants who usually ghost, continue ghosting, and the other half send a message saying: "Hey, nice to meet you, I’m not interested in anything romantic."
The ghosters ended up feeling guilty and awkward afterwards, whereas the other group received positive feedback almost two thirds of the time. A message like: "Thanks for letting me know, good luck out there." According to our data, daters would rather be outright rejected than ghosted.
So the actual reason we shouldn’t ghost is that it makes you feel much worse about yourself. It’s uncomfortable to reject someone, which is why people ghost, but actually, if you do the uncomfortable thing, you’ll get positive reinforcement back from the other person. That will feel better for the rest of the day.
How to reject someone politely
- Go to the notes folder on your phone and save this template, which you should feel free to customisw:
“Hey [name] I enjoyed meeting you, but I don’t think we’re a romantic match.”
- Commit to sending this text as soon as you know you’re not interested in someone.
Logan Ury is Hinge's Director of Relationship Science and a TED resident. Hinge is the dating app designed to be deleted.
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