My co-worker and I were toasting to the impending nor'easter with a couple of weak martinis when I finally said it out loud: "I'd rather be ghosted."
Under the dim light of a Union Square dive bar, she scrolled through her Bumble chats, venting about the guy who had disappointed her. He hadn't flaked on a date or prematurely inquired about the color of her lingerie or [insert questionable online dating faux pas here]. He hadn't done anything at all — which was probably why we were so irked.
On paper, the dude was fine. Actually, for the sake of the story, let's agree that he was a catch. He was in law school, he'd campaigned for a state politician, AND he had a square jawline.
But when I saw their conversation, I understood. He was boring as f*ck. Also complacent as f*ck. Because Bumble requires girls to message guys after they match (this feature is key), my co-worker asked him about the campaign.
His lackluster reply was wanting ("Oh, it just paid me") and even after she probed ("Wasn't it inspiring at all?"), it was to no avail ("The campaigners weren't actually that interesting").
This summarized their exchange: No reciprocal questions, no apparent interest in her life. And yet he had swiped right on her profile and had no regrets, we concluded, since he continued to message her.
And that was the crux of our quandary.
He had exciting things going on in his life. He just couldn't be bothered to share them with her. He was shutting her down, but in an unprecedented number of messages. And to make matters worse, he had the audacity to keep. F*cking. Responding.
This is where we drew the line: If he was so clearly uninterested, why did he even bother with the effort of typing out a reply?
“With online dating, there are no consequences to our actions. You can ghost someone, or tell them off in a sh*tty way, block them, and you'll never see them again. You don't have mutual friends so it doesn't matter,” says 29-year-old Margo, a global gender education researcher based out of New York.
We can argue the rate at which today's hook-up culture devolves common courtesy, but he wasn't playing by these new rules. Annoyingly, his blasé temperament was his only offense here.
Unless he wasn't shutting her down after all. Could it be that WE were the ones misreading his level of interest, based on what social media expert Tyler Zang defines as the modern-day social contract -- in which our self-esteem skyrockets with the uptick of hearts flooding our Insta feed or tumbles as rapidly as our Tinder matches?
“It's an ecosystem,” says Zang on meeting people online. "Sometimes you're the 'voyeur' who swipes right to pass time; sometimes you're the viewer' who shows genuine interest."
And, confusingly, we couldn't decipher where my co-worker fell on the spectrum.
Our accessibility to hundreds (thousands?) of other people's lives only blurs these shades of gray, as far as intentions are concerned.With the luxury of a touchscreen veiling us, we're asked to give nothing in return. The result: Passive dating and a green light for being a douche.
"Men are barraged with images of available women every day," says Sarah, 24, of Boston. "So if someone isn't quite to their tastes, is over-texting, uses too many smiley faces, they can simply ghost in full confidence that someone new is just a swipe away."
But in the case of non-ghosters — the responsive ones who hang around making little to no effort to develop your relationship — sometimes ghosting would be a blessing in disguise.
Enter The Voyeur.
We first met under the disco lights of a Midtown dance floor dominated by Latino music at his law firm's holiday party. We did not dance. We did, however, hit it off. Four hours after my 27-year-old love interest introduced himself, we hadn't stopped talking and had even migrated to a second bar, leaving our friends behind.
Although I did not go home with him that night (he tried), we exchanged numbers and agreed to make plans soon. Confident that he dug me as much as I dug him, I waited patiently, and then impatiently, for his call.
Four days passed, then six, and still nothing. Finally, a week later, I gave in and shot him a snarky text: Way to leave a girl hanging ;)
He replied immediately with a few hahas and asked me for drinks that night. I met him for what he would refer to as our “first date.”
Again we hit it off. Both of us were equally surprised by how much we had in common — interests that spanned more than our obsession with the "The Sopranos" and our quirky germophobic habits — we found ourselves unable to stop talking.
Eventually, we meandered back to his place, where we explored his record collection, among other things. I crashed, we cuddled, and before I left he told me he liked me but also wanted to take it slow. No problem.
After that night, we had something of a routine: He'd ask me for drinks with friends, where we would kiss in public (cute), and he'd booty text me at 4 am (not cute) before finally making a dinner reservation that he would cancel at the last minute.
So began the rollercoaster of the ghosting non-ghoster -- the passive ghoster.
He never followed up on rescheduling our date. I was stubbornly invested in him, so I rescheduled it myself. Our timing was off. He declined a party invitation. But he still kept replying. But nothing ever progressed.
Why the fanfare of entertaining my suggestions with smiley and sad faces if he wasn't interested? Why bother responding at all when we hadn't seen each other in person in weeks, and could easily never cross paths again?
“Our phones are constantly blowing up with these notifications," says Zang. "So then when your notifications are romantic, there's an added type of self-esteem associated with that."
This was a point I hadn't considered. King Henry VIII married six wives. The Italian mafia hid gumars on the side. Today, we hoard "matches" (or otherwise, the phone numbers of potential lovers). We covet self-validation, not authentic romance.
I had mistook his incoming texts as definitive interest. Had he felt otherwise, he would have just dropped off like “normal” dudes do, I assumed. But, unaccustomed to the anomaly that is not-ghosting, I had ignored the fact that clearly something had shifted for him when he never rescheduled our date.
At first I was pissed: He was "polite," perhaps, but wasn't he stringing me along? Sure, he spared me the trouble of bittersweet rejection, but his curiously encouraging replies only piqued my interest (and investment) in him.
Not once did he dodge my suggestions or "ghost" altogether. Truth: He seemed rather interested. But like Bumble Boy, his pursuit felt voyeuristic — like he was using me for that easy "win" on his personal attractability barometer.
But, like Zang pointed out, perhaps he felt had no choice thanks to The Interwebs.
“Social media allows your past to continually haunt you. Instead of having the 'madwoman in the attack,' it's 'your ex living in your feed forever' until you feel like it's not suspicious enough to de-friend them,” says Zang.
Not that I ever would have stalked him (we weren't even Facebook friends), but the concept still applied. Whether he was lazy, non-confrontational, really freaking busy, or even (gasp!) polite — for whatever reason — he didn't want to delete me from his life.
The other day, I suddenly found myself at the other end of the interested/not-interested spectrum. I had had a great first date with a cute guy I met at the gym, but after a week of personal deal-breakers, my interest dipped.
But I found myself wavering when he asked me on a second date: To skirt the answer, or be blunt? Recalling my own confusion just a month prior, I texted back that I had a great time with him but preferred to remain friends. He deserved that respect.
I knew you were going to say that, he replied, before adding: Anyway, appreciate you being direct about it. See you at the gym :). Needless to say, the bridge didn't burn that night.
Although ignoring someone's hopeful texts ultimately felt too inconsiderate for me, I would have preferred lawyer dude to straight-up ghost on me.
Well, truthfully, I would have preferred a simple text that said he had other things going on in his life and just couldn't make the time to date. But if it comes down to ghosting vs. passive ghosting -- that continual lukewarm, non-committal communication -- then what I told my friend in the bar that night is the God's truth: I'd rather be ghosted.