A few months ago, I went on an underwhelming date. He was handsome and polite, but there was something off — a slow-boiling rage simmering somewhere beneath his Vineyard Vines fleece. It bubbled up when he mentioned how he hadn’t gotten into Princeton, how he worked twice as hard as his siblings, how his brother was a slacker. His brow would furrow and his jaw would clench in a way that made me nervous. Plus he didn’t know who Ina Garten was and, like, I’m sorry, but that’s a deal-breaker.
So I ghosted him.
A week later, I went on a date with a different guy. An hour into it, I was in love. I had mentally planned our life together (brownstone; Golden Retriever; two kids; amicable divorce), and if he had asked me right then and there to give him a kidney, I would have said no, but I’d have to think about it for a second. He was smart, charming, and wasn’t even fazed when I brought up the fact that dolphins have been known to force themselves on other sea creatures. We talked, drank, laughed, and made plans to see each other again.
And then he ghosted me.
Ghosting, for those of you who don’t know, is when you decide you don’t want to see someone anymore, and immediately and ruthlessly sever all forms of communication with them. Texts go unanswered, calls ignored, carrier pigeons avoided. You disappear, like a ghost (though, in scary stories, ghosts seem to spend a lot of time hanging around, opening drawers, turning lights on and off, and just generally interfering in people’s lives, so I don’t know how apt a comparison it is.)
Ghosting is supposedly one of the ugly side-effects of modern dating, an indication of Millennials’ inability to connect with each other. But ghosting isn’t new — it’s just harder. In the '80s, if a date went poorly (their hair was too flat, or you dropped your gum in the front seat of their DeLorean) you just had to screen your phone calls for a couple of months and hope you didn’t run into them at the Duran Duran concert next week. Your bad date had no way of knowing whether or not you were at home at the exact moment they happened to call.
Today, our phones are extensions of our bodies — extremities that allow us to research “famous Canadian serial killers,” see what our ex is up to, and order Thai food at 2 a.m. If you don’t answer someone’s calls or texts, you’re obviously avoiding them.
One of the main criticisms of ghosting is that it leaves too many unanswered questions — but does it really?
“I thought our date went well, but then I never heard from him again. I’m so confused.”
It’s not that confusing.
For whatever reason, things didn’t work out and they didn’t want to see you again. Do you really want to hear that your date just wasn’t that attracted to you, that they hate your laugh, or that they’re actually in a committed relationship with a body pillow and they wanted to give the whole “human relationship” thing a try but they hated it?
Some people say yes, they do want to hear those things, because it gives them closure and helps them move on. But why do you need closure so early on? If you’ve only been on a couple of dates with someone and you’re already wondering whether or not you should be seeing other people, it may be time to cool your jets. Connection and vulnerability are awesome, but your love and energy are gifts too valuable for you to be handing them out to people who haven’t proven themselves worthy.
There are limits to ghosting, of course. You only ghost someone after a date or two. The first dates are a way of testing the water. You’re dipping your toe in and saying, “This is pleasant,” or “This isn’t water at all! It’s a pool full of knives!” In either case, your decision to dive in or walk away is entirely your own. If someone’s committed a decent amount of their time to getting to know you though, you owe them an explanation about why you don’t want to see them anymore. At that point, you’re not ghosting them, you’re being a coward.
Personally, I like the ambiguity. I probably (definitely) scared that guy off with my comments about dolphins. For all I know though, he really really liked me. Maybe, drunk on love and craft beer after our date, he got lost and stumbled upon a mob hit gone wrong and had to be placed into Witness Protection.
“But I have to text Madeleine!” he might have screamed, “She was so clever and those Korean face masks she’s started using really make her skin glow!”
“Sorry, bud,” the kindly agent might have said, “that’s not your life anymore. But you’re right — her skin really is dewy.”
Is this improbable? Yes. But I’d rather imagine that than get a text that says, “I don’t want to see you again because your horrific facts about marine mammals gave me nightmares.”
So save yourself and your awkward date some time, little Caspers, and ghost away.