In Defense of Ghosting

Ghosting is a new term to describe rejection via inaction. It’s when a person has decided to check out of a relationship or situation by quietly exiting, making no formal declaration of rejection.

Here’s how it might look in action over text:

You: Hey are we going out Tuesday?


You: So, Tuesday?


You: Are you still there?


And so it goes until the one pursuing gets tired of the silence, takes the not so subtle hint, and and gives up.

Now, before I get into defending this behavior let me say one thing first. It’s rude. Obviously.

If this were real life and someone was standing in front of you talking to you and you did your best to ignore them and never spoke to them or looked them in the eye or acknowledged them in any way, that’s rude. It’s certainly not behavior that caring humans should engage in.

That being said, there’s a number of reasons why people still do it, and why I don’t find it to be the morally reprehensible conduct my generation has defined it as.

Tone is subjective and confusing. Ghosting takes place almost exclusively via the internets or texting, both arenas are depersonalized formats of communicating. Tone is almost entirely subjective and context dependent. Miscommunication happens with increasing regularity, even when you think you’re being entirely clear yourself.

Case in point: this morning I messaged my department “Be in by 10” which clearly meant “I’ll be in by 10” but was construed by some as an official (and unlicensed) edict that my teammates ought to be in the office by 10.  If you’re trying for a tactful “no” or a kind “no”, it’s quite possible you’re just drawing out a painful process.

Flat rejections can be risky. Connections are formed for superficial reasons to people you only vaguely know. And while everyone trusts their own judgment when it comes to relationships and who to meet in real life, it must be said that mistakes can be made. Dating apps, which bridge gaps between people who otherwise would not meet, also have the ability to connect reprehensible humans to unsuspecting victims. As much as it’d be nice to believe that adults are uniformly capable of responding to “no, thank you” with grace and dignity, the reality is that it can provoke surprising amounts of rage and abuse in the rejected. For some, any amount of concern over personal safety makes ghosting a safer choice.

“No” has lost its meaning. Not everyone responds to “no” the way they should. Movies and society have confirmed that no is just an early relationship form of encouragement. If someone says “no” what they’re really saying is “try harder”. It’s like fighting with your sibling. If you let them get a rise out of you, it just continues. If you ignore them and mind your business, they eventually give up and go away.

Ghosting has a 99% success rate. I’ve ghosted dates before and I’ve also been ghosted before. And while neither of these things improves my ability to handle confrontation well and gracefully, it’s also 100% resulted in an eventual end of undesired communication.

No public embarrassment. Never once did ghosting result in me embarrassing someone or suffering embarrassment myself. And I have to admit, avoiding embarrassment is one of my underlying life motivations.

(I know. There’s probably a whole other blog post about how you can’t live life well without humiliation. Maybe so.)

So on behalf of my fellow ghosts out there, I want you to know that we’re not always insensitive jerks who are callous (though, yeah some of us are that too), sometimes we’re hapless morons who can’t handle conflict. Or we’re scared. And sometimes we just feel really bad about saying “no”.

So those of you that are all about the discomfort of real world confrontation, we get it. You’ve got the moral high ground. That’s fine, we’d rather not be standing somewhere too many people can see us from anyway.

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