Ghosting: Rejection in the Digital Age

Credit: Ahoy Illustration

The most deafening sound in the world is the mobile phone that remains adamantly silent. You wait, wait, wait, iPhone in hand, expecting it to beep any second with the tinkle of a text message you’re expecting in reply to yours. But the text never comes, and the continuing silence is eerie and foreboding. It’s as if the person on the other side has vanished into thin air, no longer existing in this realm, except perhaps online.

During the Sex and the City era, this behaviour would be indicative of the other person being just not that into you. Today, it’s called ghosting.

And, indeed, it would appear as if the person you had been seeing, whether on a first date that apparently went well, or on a series of dates that seemed to indicate an ongoing relationship, has simply disappeared, with no forwarding address. But, in fact, unless he or she has suddenly changed his or her mobile number, you know exactly how to reach that person.

Having been rejected once, however, you loathe to send any more texts, much less make a voice call to ask what the hell happened – especially if that last date involved sex, and especially if you’d been holding out on sex before that last time you were together in order to make sure that this “thing” was going somewhere. Well, it did go somewhere. It evaporated into the ether.

The Urban Dictionary defines ghosting as: “The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date.”

Oops. Guilty, as charged. As awful as it feels to be ghosted, I’m ashamed to admit I have ghosted on occasion, knowing full well that it was horrible of me to ignore so callously all those messages and emails, hoping he’d just go away and leave me alone.

Ghosting is a somewhat bewildering phenomenon which experts believe can be traced to the rise of online dating and the swiping culture that prizes immediacy over intimacy, making our connections more virtual instead of organic. With dating apps such as Tinder, and with messaging – by text, Whatsapp, Viber, Telegram, Messenger and the like – becoming the preferred mode of communication for today’s dating and mating rituals, the mobile phone can swiftly transform from a beeping bearer of joy into a silent instrument of torture.

And boy, how that silence teases and torments. By an inversion of the notion of good manners, the ghoster thinks he is doing the ghostee a favour, avoiding an awkward conversation and perhaps an unpleasant confrontation, and hoping the dumped party gets the hint and moves on. But instead of shrugging off the silence and drowning our sorrows by swiping anew, many of us remain baffled, furious and, quite frankly, hurt, even if, paradoxically, the ghoster’s intention was to not hurt the ghostee’s feelings.

And then endless hours of discussion ensue, as we ask our friends to dissect and analyse every word, every comma and every emoticon the ghoster ever sent us, wondering where we could have gone wrong when everything seemed so right. Was it because I slept with him? Was it because I didn’t? Was I too needy? Did I talk too much about my ex?

We can speculate until kingdom come and come up with scenarios that may clear the confusion, albeit temporarily, but it is only the ghoster that can tell us exactly why the messages stopped. It sounds simple, but the truth is, as much as we like to say we value honesty in relationships, and as much as we like to insist that we’re tired of playing games, it’s far more terrifying to ask.

Each of us allows the ghost to keep on haunting us, and that silence is the biggest spectre of all.

In this Story: #culture