Buzzfeed recently explored the morality of ghosting in the article In Defense of Ghosting. Prior to reading it, I assumed it was a self-serving excuse for behaving badly – pulling a rude and surprising disappearing act after sending signals of sustained interest. So I was quite surprised when I read it and learned just how low the bar has gotten for calling out rude dating behavior. First, writer Ben Philippe helpfully defines ghosting:
“Ghosting — the act of cutting contact in the midst of an ongoing interaction with someone you are casually, or in some cases not so casually, seeing — is nothing new and plenty has been written about it. Many view the practice as a callous dismissal of another person’s feelings: cowardly, rude, and disrespectful.”
In other words – or so I always thought – ghosting is a way of dumping someone without bothering to let them know. Picture a guy alone at the bar waiting for a date who just yesterday agreed to be there, but now is a no show and is no longer responding to texts. Or the woman who asked the guy she’s been seeing for a month and a half to be her date for a friend’s wedding – it’s now two days before and she’s realized he has vanished from her life without a word, leaving her high and dry with her +1.
Obviously both these examples describe behavior that is rude and uncalled for. But the ghosting police are now operating with a hair trigger:
It starts with the lone question mark. We’ve all gotten the lone question mark before; that nudge to keep the banter going because the road to intimacy and long-term commitment is paved with consistent check-ins and goodnight emojis. This specific question mark came 36 hours after my last exchange with “OneMilkTwoSugars” (not really OneMilkTwoSugars), a F/25 newly minted lawyer, getting the hang of odd work hours. Its subtext was clear: “Hey: It’s your turn.”
Philippe had never been on a date with 1M2S. They’d had some plans fall through, but had kept texting as the days passed, checking in from time to time. Predictably, Philippe’s interest waned.
“I did not reply to the lone question mark, nor to the dozen or so messages that followed. Instead, I ghosted OneMilkTwoSugars.”
Wait, that’s ghosting? Stopping a text convo without ever having committed to even a single date qualifies as ghosting?
Two days after the “?”, came OneMilkTwoSugars’ follow-up: “Wow. Really?”
Ultimately, she sent 14 accusatory text messages ending with a big F You. Philippe’s female friend judged him very harshly:
“That’s really disappointing coming from you, Ben.”
When I asked why, she explained that I was not the typical ghoster. Not a “fuckboy” nor Felipe. No picture of my penis had ever been sent to an unsolicited party, which I’m told is the litmus test of fuckboy-ery. The argument that this person and I had never met held little weight in her eyes. In fact, it made things worse. I was supposed to be a good guy.
“That poor girl is going crazy, thinking there’s something wrong with her.”
Huh? Why such a personal response? What if Philippe got back with his ex? What if he met someone he likes more? What if he grew weary of texting a woman he didn’t seem destined to meet anytime soon? That’s wacko.
“Another friend of mine, Dave [the bartender] (not really Dave), shrugged it all off. “[Ghosting]’s not a thing,” Dave argued. “You’re letting someone know you don’t want to interact with them by not interacting with them! It’s not your problem if they feel entitled to more.”
It turns out Dave is a fuckboy, conveniently excusing his own sketchy behavior. 1M2S comes across as a bit of a psycho, suggesting Philippe owed her something, as if texting alone is some sort of commitment to a dating future.
What is the appropriate guideline? What constitutes rude behavior in dating? On the other hand, what is perfectly reasonable, even if it’s an unwelcome slow realization to the other party?
Here is a list of things that are not rude, and should never be described as rude.
1. Feelings of any kind.
Everyone is entitled to their own feelings and is free to express their emotions. They are not guaranteed a welcoming or affectionate response, however.
2. Not being attracted to someone.
Angry accusations like “Oh, you think you’re too good for me?” are unfair. They’re also rude. Attraction is never owed, never deserved. It’s chemistry and is beyond our control. Blaming someone for not being attracted to you is pointless and self-indulgent.
3. Changing your mind or feelings toward someone.
You can go on one date or 300 and change your mind about whether a person is right for you. Unless you’re married, there is no legal contract. Ending a relationship is not rude, even if it bums you out.
4. Deciding not to date someone even if you are attracted to them.
We may be attracted to many people but very few will be compatible with us over the long-term. Admitting you’re attracted to someone but have decided not to date them is not rude.
Here is a list of behaviors that are always rude and morally wrong:
Any effort on your part to mislead someone or give them a false impression is rude. This includes:
Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Sending mixed messages in order to falsely prop up attraction by creating anxiety.
Letting a person believe you’re not seeing other people when you are. This is especially rude if you’re having sex with any party.
Leading a person to believe you’re seeing other people when you’re not in order to create jealousy.
Saying you’re “clean” when you have not been tested since your most recent sexual partner.
Saying you have a boyfriend when you don’t, or giving a fake telephone number.
Pretending to have feelings for a person as a means to getting sex – or anything else.
Any behavior you keep secret from a partner – if you’re hiding it, it’s cheating. This includes texting with an ex, flirting with someone at work, etc.
Unreliability or flaking on plans.
Making assumptions about another person’s feelings.
Unkind actions or statements – may be towards a date or others.
Making someone feel obligated to you when the relationship is no-strings.
Believing you deserve more than respect and integrity from another person. You may deserve love – we all do – but you don’t deserve to be loved by the person of your choice.
Assuming another person owes you sex.
Assuming a date owes you a financial outlay.
4. Physical aggression.
Sexual touching without consent.
Philippe did not owe One Milk Two Sugars any explanation when he decided to stop texting. In my day, a break up talk was only required to end a committed relationship. You might go on dates with Teddy five weekends in a row and then see him holding hands with Jenny at a party. It sucked, but that’s the way it worked. I can remember going on dates with multiple guys for weeks before choosing to focus on one.
No one objected to the harsh realities of the early stages of dating. Dating was shopping, and your decision was not final until you committed to someone. The idea that we can obligate someone we’ve never even met is ridiculous. Even more ludicrous is that we might stress about what’s wrong with us if someone we’ve never met stops pursuing us for a date.
In my opinion, 1M2S was the rude one. She felt entitled not only to courteous communication, but to ongoing enthusiastic communication regardless of Philippe’s interest. I suspect she would not have felt less offended if he’d texted back that he was no longer interested in being in touch. The point is, he shouldn’t have to. Dave the bartender is right about that – lack of communication = lack of interest. She had all the information she needed to move on.
By the way, real ghosting (disappearing without a word after several dates or from a committed relationship) is a classic avoidance move. The best way to prevent it from happening is to pay close attention to a person’s attachment style. If you don’t sense real emotional attachment after several dates, the odds of getting ghosted go way up.
How to you feel about ghosting? When is it appropriate or OK? When is it too late for the easy way out?
What other dating behaviors do you consider rude?
Do you agree with my list of rude vs. OK actions?