By Eleanor Layhe for BBC 5 Live
“He’s ghosting you.”
That’s what my friend told me after a boy I’d been dating for just over two months suddenly ceased all contact. Things had been going well, then boom: no texts back, no calls, no Facebook messages, no contact ever again.
Ghosting isn’t throwing a white sheet over your head and wailing. It’s freezing out someone you’re dating without explanation.
A survey by the dating site Plenty of Fish found that 80% of 18-33 year-olds on the site had been being ghosted at some point.
Denise Knowles, a counsellor and psychologist with the relationship charity, Relate, says ghosting is much more common now. Why?
“There are so many ways for us to find and meet someone - but that creates more opportunities to be rejected,” she says. “When you’re swiping right and left, romance becomes a game.”
If dating has become a game, is ghosting a quick way of saying ‘game over’? Actually, ghosting is a lot more nuanced than that, and it isn’t necessarily a sign that someone’s lost interest.
Johnny, 21, a student from Oxfordshire, describes himself as ‘a serial ghoster’.
“I don’t do it in a malicious way,” he says, “but I have cut contact completely with about three or four different girls.
“Most of the time, I ghost people just because I’m the most disorganised person there ever was. Sometimes I’ll forget to reply to a text and, after a while, it becomes too awkward to try and start the conversation again - it’s better to just leave it.”
I didn’t want to be in the position where I liked her more and she wasn’t making the effort.Johnny, Serial ghoster
Sometimes, though, he has a specific reason for ghosting.
“There’s a girl who I’d been on around five dates with,” Johnny says. “I think we both saw it going somewhere more serious, but I realised I was the one initiating all the dates. She seemed really keen when we actually met up, but she never suggested our next date. After our fifth date, I didn’t text her back, thinking that if she messaged again to initiate something, I’d give her another chance. But I ended up just leaving it. I’d feel bad if she felt messed around, but I’m not going to say I feel terrible about it. I didn’t want to be in the position where I liked her more and she wasn’t making the effort."
According to Denise, insecurity plays a bigger role than you might expect. “Thinking that a potential partner likes you less than you like them brings huge amounts of anxiety," she explains.
Perhaps many ghosters are not willing to face up to the possibility of rejection. “It’s possible to become fearful of intimacy because you fear being rejected, so to keep yourself safe you point-blank avoid situations that could put you in danger of this,” says Denise.
For Lucy, a 23-year-old consultant based in London, ghosting "is sometimes just the easiest way out".
She tells me about James, who she met on an app. “We got on really well and he always suggested doing something different for our dates - an aquarium, ice-skating, food markets. If I’m honest, the fun I was having was mostly down to the places we would go, rather than his company.
“By our sixth date, I was still messaging other people. James never told me outright to delete my profile, but he told me he wasn’t happy with me keeping it up. But by this point, I wasn’t really seeing a future with him, and the sex was really going downhill.
“The last time I saw him, he came round to mine, we cooked dinner and he stayed over. I didn’t speak to him again after that. I genuinely forgot to message him back, and, when I noticed, I decided to just leave it at that.”
There’s no nice way to tell someone you don’t fancy them anymore, and sometimes I think it’s better to just let people have their pride.Lucy, Serial ghoster
Lucy says she often ghosts people because “I find it really hard to say I’m not interested and I’m scared of offending people. There’s no nice way to tell someone you don’t fancy them anymore, and sometimes I think it’s better to just let people have their pride.”
Johnny feels the same. “I know there might be girls rolling their eyes thinking I’m making excuses, but I hate confrontation and uncomfortable situations, so I’d really rather just leave it than have to actively provide a big explanation."
In situations like this, Denise from Relate thinks there are actually two victims of ghosting: “The person who feels rejected, abandoned and confused, and the ghoster themselves, who is so fearful of conflict they can’t see any other way to end it.”
She adds: “Sometimes a ghoster has grown-up in a household in which being direct and confrontational got them into trouble.”
But getting over that fear of confrontation involves admitting you are scared in the first place. If a serial ghoster isn’t willing to do this, they’re unlikely to change.
Lucy thinks the faceless way we meet and interact with people plays a part, too.
“The ‘swipe left, swipe right’ culture makes people seem almost disposable," she says. "It’s also the laziness that comes with everything being effortless now - we can get our shopping delivered to our door whenever we like these days, and people want dating to be just as effortless.”
Denise reckons modern daters are too impatient. If there’s a problem like the sex going downhill, it might not mean you’re not compatible, but that you need to have a conversation about what you both like.
Does this make me see the boy who ghosted me in a new light? Maybe he was deathly scared of confrontation. Or maybe he genuinely just forgot. Either way, a little explanation over text might have saved a lot of heartache.
Personally, I believe ending things properly, even if it means hurting someone’s feelings, is more respectful than leaving them in the dark.
All names have been changed.
Illustrations by Alex Jenkins