Most of us have experienced it at some point or another. That feeling that things are going great with someone new and then...radio silence.
Did they lose their phone? Were they in a terrible accident? Do they have amnesia?
Did you somehow manage to slip into a parallel universe where everything is exactly the same except that suddenly the person you've been going on dates with has never heard of you?!
Time passes, and the verdict becomes increasingly clear: you've been ghosted.
Ghosting is inarguably one of the most inconsiderate things you could do to a person, and yet it's frustratingly common. According to an Elle Magazine survey, both men and women report ghosting—ending contact without giving a cause or explanation—and being ghosted as par for the course in contemporary dating. But nobody likes it.
Ghosting is essentially an avoidant behavior. We do it to avoid the emotional labor of telling another person that we're no longer interested in dating them. But if we're interested in creating a more humane dating arena, we have to remember that the people we're interacting with are human beings with feelings, and that treating them accordingly requires some basic communication skills.
Here's a quick primer on how to be a Ghostbuster, so you can be the change you want to see in the dating world.
1. Be straightforward and up-front about your intentions
Maybe you don't know if the new person you're talking to is long term partner material. That's ok, but knowing what you're ultimately looking for in a relationship—whether it's casual dating, a hookup, or someone to spend your life with—is the key to establishing a good foundation for communication.
Being honest about where you're at in life and what you're looking for is a great way to manage expectations and avoid misunderstandings. Saying something like, "I think I'd like to be in a committed partnership someday, but right now I'm dating a lot of people to get a feel for what I want out of a relationship" sooner rather than later helps prevent the temptation to slink away from communication later on.
2. Establish and maintain healthy boundaries
This is really an extension of #1. Once you've articulated your intentions, don't let your actions say something else. Lavishing affection on someone; spending every waking minute with them or texting them 20 times a day when you have no intention of starting a relationship (or worse, when they are your backup plan) is inconsiderate at best. Likewise, ignoring red flags in their behavior until you can't take it anymore can only lead to disappointment.
Let your clear, honest communication dictate your pace, and then stick with it. If the relationship is meant to be, taking things deliberately will only stoke the fire, and allow space for a friendship to develop alongside your budding romance.
3. Know when it's time to leave, and how to say goodbye
Remember that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie got broken up with on a Post-It? Back then, it seemed so inconsiderate; these days, a Post-It almost seems polite. At least she didn't get ghosted!
If you've decided you need to end it, end it. Assuming you are not putting your personal safety at risk, the considerate thing to do when you've spent any significant amount of time together is to tell them in person—or at least over the phone—that you appreciate the time you've spent together, but that that time has come to an end.
If your relationship has primarily taken place in the virtual world, a text or email is ok. Whatever the medium, the most effective communication is polite, concise and direct. Avoid language that adds ambiguity, or leaves the door open for future possibilities if none are intended.
No one likes feeling rejected, but in the long run, it is far kinder to tell someone you're moving on than to let them wonder about your whereabouts. Giving things a clearly defined ending allows both of you to honor the time you've spent together without mucking it up with confusion and resentment at the end.
Being clear, communicative, and kind works wonders in nearly all areas of life, and dating is no exception. If you can master the art of ending the things you start with integrity, you will earn the respect of those who have helped you become who you are today. (Plus, you never know when someone you've dated in the past will be called upon to assess your character to future prospects. It's a surprisingly small world out there.)
The prevalence of ghosting is symptomatic of a culture where people regard each other as disposable options rather than human beings who deserve respect. By introducing small changes to the way we communicate, we can each do our small part toward humanizing the culture of online dating.