Casper the Avoidant Ghost
If you’ve dated in the last ten years, you’ve likely felt the sting of ghosting – when someone ends a friendship or a relationship by cutting off all forms of communication, with no explanation, reason, or sayonara emoji.
This disrespectful behavior was once limited to online dating, where ghosting could occur after exchanging pictures, phone numbers, or your STD status.
It can leave you feeling frustrated, but you try not to take it personally. After all, the opposite of love is not hate but indifference.
Sometimes, however, indifference can sting, like when offering to trade face pics, but instead of reciprocation, you get blocked.
Or when someone demands to see a cock shot, and you politely explain you don’t take those (call me old fashioned).
I asked the last guy who did this why an X-pic was a prerequisite to meeting. He explained, “I’ve been burned before.”
I can only assume this meant a penis turned out to be a curling iron. However, I doubt when he caroused the bars, he previewed everyone’s privates before bringing one home.
Perhaps the sheer volume of people online has made it easier to abandon someone once it’s clear all their checkboxes won’t be checked.
This behavior, while not ideal, predominates the digital world. It’s part of playing the game, whose rules have taken a considerable dive in decorum.
Note that this does not refer to an online conversation that merely fizzles, nor does it include some lackluster communication with an uninterested party. Ghosting specifically refers to a mutual friendship or relationship that is unceremoniously cut short because one of the two individuals no longer wishes to continue it.
Sadly, ghosting has now made the leap into the physical world. No longer the result of an awkward coffee date or drunken mistake, ghosting has reached pandemic proportions and threatens to become socially acceptable. Just ask Sean Penn, who recently was ghosted by his fiancée Charlize Theron after two years and an engagement ring.
The last two guys I met at social events pulled the same stunt. Online avoidance is one thing, but when a guy strikes up a conversation in a bar and gives you his number only to disappear after texting, it’s just rude.
It had me wondering how often ghosting occurs when meeting in person versus meeting online.
So I crunched some numbers.
I went through all the phone numbers I received in my first 18 months in Los Angeles, in which there was mutual romantic interest, and I divided them into two categories: Met in Person and Met Online.
Out of the 16 individuals I met in person and was interested in, I met only 8 for dinner, drinks, or coffee. The rest ghosted me.
Out of 93 phone numbers I received from chatting with individuals online, I met 45 for coffee, drinks, or frozen yogurt. I was ghosted by 35. And I admit to ghosting 3.
Next, I broke down the online sites to see which had the highest ghosting rate. The following is the percentage of ghosting out of total cell numbers received:
Meeting in person: 50%
For me, the likelihood of being ghosted is greater when meeting in a bar than on Grindr. And this doesn’t include the non-romantic friends engaging in this behavior.
Ghosting is the ultimate silent treatment – an avoidance that stems from being non-confrontational. When the ghost avoids the formality of a break up, he may spare himself discomfort, but it’s magnified for the ghosted, who never achieve a sense of closure. These victims are left to obsess over their own insecurities, second-guess their behavior, and misattribute what went wrong.
Emotionally intelligent, ghosting is not.
Just like Avoidant Personality Disorder refers to avoiding activities that involve criticism, disapproval, or rejection, ghosts withdraw to protect themselves.
It is the coward’s way out.
And the price we pay is empathy.
According to psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence (EQ) can matter more than IQ in the measure of one’s abilities and success. EQ is characterized by empathy, impulse control, and social competence in our interpersonal interactions. It’s about managing our feelings and communicating effectively.
These are qualities we, as a species, should be getting better at, not worse.
But in the world of romantic relationships, the silent treatment is the new Dear John, without the common decency of penning a letter.
At least in Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw got a Post-it.
The Internet may have paved superhighways to modern dating with more options, more accessibility, and more integration, but at the cost of basic human kindness.
In an age when so much communication is impersonal (texts, emails, Facebook), these digital tools facilitate, and reinforce, the inconsiderate behavior.
It’s a lot easier to ignore a phone message or a Tweet than it is a human being.
This is painfully clear on social media, where the ghost continues communicating with others in cyberspace, avoiding the ghosted much like we ignore the homeless on our streets.
There’s a bitter irony that as gays we demand a level of respect from the straight community, but we don’t give each other that same respect. Too often we choose to ignore former dates, hookups, and acquaintances rather than grapple with an awkward acknowledgment. We blow each other off rather than risk hurting the other person’s feelings. We avoid confrontation instead of being direct.
It can be all too easy to ignore, but as socially responsible, fully-realized gay men, we need to push beyond this juvenile discomfort. We cannot engage in the same behavior that threatens to jade our own dating experience. We should behave online no different than in person.
Similarly, if we agree to trade face pics online, whether we are a match has little to do with keeping our word. A person’s willingness to expose himself warrants reciprocation. Plus, if you’re not interested, simply respond with an unflattering pic. That should do the trick without leaving someone’s self-esteem to suffer in silence. And it shows you understand the definition of the word “trade.”
If we can’t be bothered to acknowledge and respond online once communication has been established, then we have no business being there in the first place. Cyberspace exists within our personal space, and the rules of civility should not stop at the computer screen.
The more we ghost, the more insensitive we become to those in our own moral tribe. And the less respect we deserve from those outside of it.
Denying the existence of former friends and lovers, rather than offering basic human empathy, denies ourselves emotional maturity.
And the less compassion we feel for those who have touched our lives and fallen behind, the more we risk losing our own humanity.
A shorter version of this article originally appeared on Advocate.com as "Gay Ghosting is an Epidemic," on October 13, 2015.