Modern dating is a minefield. The explosion of dating apps over the last decade has radically altered the romantic landscape, and the rules we use to navigate it.
For one, dating apps have massively expanded our dating pools.
Yet a downside of dating apps is that it opens up space for people to behave a whole lot more shittily towards one another. Where in the past a person might have been set up by a mate or colleague, and so would have had to be on their best behaviour so as not to damage their own network of relationships, today this lack of shared context, combined with the seemingly infinite number of people to hang out with, is creating a culture of disposability in which people aren’t all that fussed about how they treat each other.
With so many prospective dates to choose from and a wide variety of apps from which to do so, practices like ‘ghosting’ have become all too common. By ghosting, of course, I mean when a person you have been or intend to be romantically involved with, completely disappears without warning and no longer responds to any sort of contact. In fact, it’s become so endemic that “what is ghosting?” was one of the most Googled relationship questions of 2020, a number that only increased in 2021.
But just because ghosting has become almost an expectation within the wild west of modern dating, it doesn’t mean we ourselves have to make the choice to disappear into the ether – although, occasionally, that is OK too.
With that in mind, I have created a guide to help bust those shitty ghosting habits, and embrace being a kinder, more responsible dater.
Sometimes it’s OK to let it fizzle out.
It’s hardly shocking that not everyone you speak to on a dating app turns out to be the person of your dreams – or even the hookup of your dreams. I’d like to think of myself as being pretty good at weeding out people who I have absolutely nothing in common with, or who have obvious red flags – but you can’t always tell until you get a dodgy voice note, or receive a nude taken on their 25-year-old Thomas the Tank Engine bed sheets.
If you’ve spent a few evenings enthusiastically messaging someone who slowly reveals themselves to be incompatible with you, it is completely OK to drop off. You don’t know this person, you don’t owe them anything, really all they did was fill up what would have been a boring Tuesday night and inflated your ego a bit.
If you are on the receiving end of this, yes not being replied to stings a bit, but honestly did you really connect with someone in 48 hours? No. Would you have rather heard the person say: “Sorry I think you are a bit weird and shit I don’t want to talk to you ever again”? Also no. It is just better the energy fizzled out because it wasn’t meant to be.
Just because you haven’t met in real life, doesn’t mean feelings aren’t real.
A different set of rules apply for the people you might not have met up with but have still spent a considerable chunk of time messaging with and exchanging the finer details of your lives – even if it is alone from your bed.
Speaking through mediums like messenger apps, or even longform email, gives the exchange a kind of anonymity, which might allow us to divulge more information about ourselves and our lives than we would in a face-to-face setting.
For most of us, it’s easier to type out our deepest darkest thoughts and feelings than to speak them out loud and watch someone’s reaction in real-time. Sharing a spicy experience you might have thought twice about telling someone in real life on a first, second or even third date is going to be far easier to divulge to someone who is essentially just a blue box on a screen. If their reaction is one of abject horror, then you have the ability to stop messaging, or can even block them.
That said, the people you have spent some time building a virtual connection with deserve a better response than to be left on read forever. While sending them a short message explaining why you want to dip out is a bit awkward, it will likely mean something to them. Just because you haven’t met in real life, doesn’t mean feelings can’t be as strong or real!
An explanation means a lot.
In the event your messaging makes the transition into real-life dating, then really the same rules apply. Had a bad date? Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but a quick “thank you, but I wasn’t feeling it” text and then quietly slipping away, is really the kindest thing to do for both of you – even if you didn’t feel a connection, there’s still a chance your date is telling their friends they’ve just met “the one”. If the other person asks for a post mortem, don’t go too deep, just tell them that you “had a nice time but you weren’t into it, sorry, good luck, etc”.
If you have had multiple dates or anything that even resembles a relationship, casual or otherwise, then you absolutely have to end things without just disappearing. Long, drawn-out emotionally draining explanations are reserved for when you are moving out of your shared flat, ending a six-year relationship and deciding who gets the cat. Closure, however, is real, and saying you no longer think it’s working and that you aren’t happy are legitimate reasons. It also means the other person won’t be wondering for the rest of their lives if you died, had a secret marriage, got sucked into a cult or any number of infinite reasons you just fucked off without so much as a “sorry, bye”.
Good luck out there!
Ultimately, being ghosted or deciding to ghost someone is – in the short term – a dick move. That said, it’s important to acknowledge there are rare occasions in which disappearing is genuinely fine – never talking to that horrifically bad date again, and blocking that person whose messages could have been lifted straight from beam_me_up_softboi is actually an act of self-care. If the situation is bad enough then, can we really even call it ghosting? Maybe let’s think of it as knowing when not to take shit!
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That said, having any semblance of a relationship with someone, online or off, and apparating into thin air without so much as an “I’m not feeling this, I’m out” is really not acceptable behaviour.
While the anonymity of online dating is helpful in protecting us from weirdos and creeps, it shouldn’t give us an excuse to act badly with those we have actually considered possibilities.
Online dating is already really hard. So let’s try and make the soulless world of swiping a little bit less so, by being tactful and telling each other when sometimes the vibes just aren’t right.
Take care out there, and remember to act responsibly, babes!
Charlotte Bayes is a sex and relationship writer based in Bedfordshire.