Why This Therapist Thinks It's Okay to Ghost People Sometimes
Read this before you slowly slink away from that DM.
Ghosting: when someone ends a dating relationship by cutting off all communication, without any explanation. (It's become such a thing it's even detailed in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.)
If you're dating or using dating apps, there's a good chance you have been ghosted, or possibly even ghosted someone yourself.
Dating can be... a lot. Constantly communicating with new people, going out on dates, and discovering if there is compatibility can be exhausting - especially so after a year of being quarantined and not meeting new people. (Related: If Re-Acclimating to Our Social World Seems Overwhelming, You Might Have Cave Syndrome)
We've all gotten so used to being behind a screen (or hiding behind one) that when something starts to feel too vulnerable, you may feel the urge to tap out without giving someone a reason why. By ghosting someone, you don't need to name or acknowledge your feelings or see how your actions impact someone else, because you can completely disconnect from the situation.
Maybe part of this ghosting problem is that most people never learned three fundamental lessons:
- The proper scripts to kindly and gently let someone down.
- That you're going to disappoint people sometimes and that is okay.
- That it's okay to be incompatible and that's not as personal of a rejection as it may feel.
There's no doubt that being ghosted hurts and the rejection can be painful, but it's also just really confusing. That said, is there ever a good time to ghost someone? When is it actually okay to leave someone without a response, and when should you do your due diligence to give someone peace of mind before checking out of the relationship?
When Is It Okay to Ghost Someone?
One instance when it's definitely okay and necessary to ghost someone is when your safety is on the line. If you're being verbally or physically abused, ghosting someone is a necessary response. You don't owe them a reason, closure, nada. Protect yourself in that scenario!
In that vein, if someone is sending you unsolicited dick pics, nudes, or inappropriate comments that you aren't consenting to and you have asked them to stop, ghost them. Your boundaries are important, and if someone isn't respecting your boundaries at the beginning of a relationship, that's a significant red flag to notice. (That's right: Consent is necessary when sending sexually explicit content via message.)
If you've already ended your relationship with someone and they respond poorly or aggressively, by all means, ghost them. This is another situation where if you have already addressed your boundaries and they are being crossed, it's okay to do what feels the best for you.
When Is It Not Okay to Ghost Someone?
Not only does ghosting someone come across as rude and insensitive (even if this isn't the intention), but it's what some might call "the easy way out." Many of these conversations will be a little uncomfortable, but remember that uncomfortable doesn't mean bad. They're a perfect opportunity to flex your communication muscles. (As are convos like disclosing your STD status or talking about what you want in bed.)
Here's when ghosting someone probably isn't the best call:
- You just aren't feeling it. (Tell them).
- You aren't ready for a relationship. (Tell them).
- You're projecting past relationship's expectations on them. (Ask them what their expectations are; don't assume.)
- You disagree with their beliefs. (Tell them why it isn't working.)
- Anything else you're thinking, just tell them.
Communication is kindness. Think of how much more enjoyable dating could be if we all were more comfortable being lovingly honest with one another (a lot more fun).
This means, yes, even if you've only had one date or even one video chat date, leaving someone hanging on "read" isn't the best way to leave the situation. You'll feel better - and show respect for the other person - by being honest with them about why it didn't work. After all, wouldn't you hope someone else would give you the same courtesy? (Related: Why Your Anxiety Makes Online Dating So Damn Hard)
What to Say Instead of Ghosting Someone
Language is knowledge, leverage, and power! In general, people feel more confident having hard, possibly awkward conversations when they know the right language to use. So, what are some of these "scripts" that could be helpful when you just aren't feeling it anymore?
- "I've loved getting to know you and the time we've spent together, but I don't feel a romantic connection with you and wanted to be upfront. If you feel comfortable remaining friends, I would love that. Obviously, I will support whatever you decide."
- "I have had a lot of fun hanging out with you. I don't think our ideals align in some super important areas, so I don't want to continue dating romantically. Thank you for your honesty, time, and vulnerability with me!"
- "I want to be honest with you that I am not feeling romantically interested in you. I respect you and have valued our time together, but I don't see it going any further."
Isn't it helpful to read an example of what letting someone down gently can look like? It can be done with so much care, intentionality, and genuineness. It will also leave all parties involved feeling less confused and respected. And who doesn't want that? (Related: How to Get Over Heartbreak)
In Case You're Still Torn About Ghosting
Don't be afraid to have slightly uncomfortable conversations and ghost people to protect yourself and your boundaries. But when in doubt, treat people the way you want to be treated. It all comes down to that.
Think of it like this: If you're putting yourself out there to date and taking up people's time and energy, you owe people a response (and vice versa). Even if it doesn't seem like that big of a deal, you're giving someone peace of mind, allowing them to move on, and they don't have to sit around wondering, "why?" or "what happened?"
It's worth it to bring a dose of kindness to dating. And at the very least, these seemingly minor moments of honest communication will make you a far better communicator for more significant conversations in the future.
Rachel Wright, M.A., L.M.FT., (she/her) is a licensed psychotherapist, sex educator and relationship expert based in New York City. She's an experienced speaker, group facilitator, and writer. She's worked with thousands of humans worldwide to help them scream less and screw more.