Who You Gonna Call?

How to Fix Ghosting Culture in One Quick Step

“Hello, I’m calling to report an emergency! It’s a very mysterious missing persons case. This is very urgent!”

“Excuse me, sir? I need you to calm down — who is the missing person?”

“Not person — people! Many people. All of the men — they’re gone. And I’m worried.”

“Has the missing party been gone for more than 24 hours, sir? How do you know they are missing?”

“Um, well, it’s different for all of them, really. But men in my city are disappearing, they’ve gone missing, and I’m really concerned. I mean, they could be in real danger.”

“Sir, do they have anything in common, besides that they’re all men?”

“Well…um. They all went on dates with me, and…um, hmm, haha, wait, I know how that sounds. But no no no, It’s not like that, I didn’t…wait. I mean, hmm, well, it’s just that again and again, I go on dates — sometimes one, sometimes four, sometimes six — with these guys, and even if we have an amazing time and make concrete plans to hang out again or just have a nice enough time and leave it open more generally, at some point they are violently cut off, sometimes mid-conversation! It’s like someone is stopping them from replying — someone or something, they’re kidnapping them, holding them against their will. They must be really scared. This is serious, and I don’t know what to do and I’m calling you because you’re supposed to handle these things. What is going on? Has this been reported? Do you know what we can do or what we can — -”

“Hey hey hey, excuse me. Stop talking. Sir, stop. They’re not missing. They’re not in danger — They’re actually probably in a safer place away from you.”

“But, but — what do you mean? Is this one of those movies where the protagonist secretly has multiple personality disorder and doesn’t know he’s dangerous until the denouement?”


“Hello? Are you there?”

“Girl. You’re getting ghosted. That’s all. Hang up the phone. Don’t ever call this number again.”

When the next generation of anthropologists

looks back on the mid-2010s, determined to examine dating culture in very large cities, they will be confronted with a recurring thread — a scourge on the self esteem of starry-eyed twenty somethings swiping on Tinder everywhere.

Ghosting (gggoh-styng) n. actually maybe v. actually is it an adj?: In which a romantic partner or potential romantic partner drops out of contact with you immediately and without warning, never to be seen or heard from again unless you accidentally run into them on the street or they repent for their transgression during a drunken late-night text years later. See also: Being an Asshole.

There are no real rules to ghosting, except maybe the rule that you must work as hard as possible to impersonate Amelia Earhart, vanishing into thin air like free drink tickets at a networking event or honest laughter at a taping of The Big Bang Theory.

You can ghost someone who you’ve merely been talking to for a few hours on Tinder or OkCupid or whatever app you’re using — and that’s pretty universally pedestrian. No hard feelings. If someone spends too much time or effort before even getting a “yes” on a date request, they’re more than a little bit to blame.

You can ghost someone after agreeing to a date but before you actually meet them in person. Maybe you text to cancel the date. Maybe you don’t reply when the other person follows up to concretely pick a time and place, letting it languish and allowing them to come to the conclusion that you were hardly serious about really meeting up at all. Maybe you don’t cancel an arranged set of plans and imagine them at the bar alone, waiting for you and nervously muttering to the bartender and any other patrons who will listen, “They’re on their way. I mean, when will the MTA get its shit together, AMIRITE?”

You can ghost someone after the first date, and maybe that’s not the worst thing. The date was fine but nothing more than fine, and while it’s true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can probably judge it by the first chapter or two. You’d prefer for the other person to feel the same way, but sometimes they’re on a different wavelength, and they text you that they had a nice time with a few too many exclamation points and you know that they’re a little too excited for you to text back to make plans for Date 2. It’s easier to just not reply, since they’re essentially a stranger anyway, and so you just don’t — and BOOM. You’re a ghost.

You can ghost someone after the third or fourth date, and now we’re squarely in a Not-OK-To-Do zone. By this point you’ve probably spent five to eight hours with this person. You’ve heard about their work and their passions and their friends. You know what they like to do on the weekends, and what books they’ve read recently, and what show they’re bingeing right now. Maybe you’ve discussed ideas for future dates — things you have in common, places you both like. And you’ve both conceivably allowed yourselves to enjoy the other’s company enough that you’ve returned to them not just once, but multiple times. There is a bond there, however tenuous, and they deserve an honest rejection.

You can also ghost someone after you’re already labeled as partners or maybe even after you’re married — but I feel like that’s mostly something that happens on soap operas or in melodramatic plays or in a future of mine that hasn’t played out yet.

Being ghosted is not fun.

If you hardly knew the person, of course, it’s fine — you laugh it off, you call them an asshole, and you move on.

But if you genuinely enjoyed the person’s company and liked hanging out with them and thought things were going well before they ghosted you — and if this happens again and again and again, four major things happen:

A) You literally worry. If someone doesn’t reply for a few days, or if they don’t pick up their phone, or if they haven’t read your Facebook message, what’s happened to them? Are they in mortal peril? Have they lost their phone and, more importantly, your phone number? Did their shithead friend delete the app through which you were communicating, throwing you and them into the trappings of a Nicholas Sparks novel where someday you will end up at the same juice bar and you will both bend down to tie your shoe and you will look up, smooch, and be reunited?

B) You blame yourself. Something that you said must have been off-base or odd or clingy, and they suddenly realized that you’re a big weirdo and so what’s the point of even seeing you again, and also what’s the point of being a decent human and texting you back to let you know that it wasn’t a good match. You probably offended them or you laughed weird or you made a joke that went too far or you were too involved in your job or you are just generally uninteresting.

C) You start to question your future prospects. Sure, you had a good time on that date, but when you started talking about your life, did their eyes glaze over? When you said, ‘Let’s hang out again soon” and they half-smiled and nodded their head, were they just doing that to be nice? When they seemed to be genuinely interested in your story about that time in college or a funny family memory or that hobby you love, were they just going along with it because they were counting down the hours until they could depart from the date and never speak to you again?

D) You begin to hate dating. You know that there’s a good chance that you’ll start to develop an affection for someone who ultimately will disappoint you — who will take the hours you spent together, tip-toeing out of stranger zone to something a little more intimate, and act like they never happened. You start believing that no matter whether you get to the first date or the fifth date or the twentieth date, people are always capable of shutting off, of refusing to recognize the way their actions impact you. Or worse, you begin to suspect that these people are playing a joke on you. That they are teasing you, making bets with their friends about how many times you will text them to check in, to confirm that they’re really gone, actually not going to reply, because you are not worth a reply, and you are a joke. You start going on dates with a chip on your shoulder, putting up a thick, unbreakable glass between you and your date, sharing just enough to be a person but reserving yourself so that ultimately, when they stop replying to you, you can let it roll off your back. Your dating persona is no longer reflective of the person you are. You have changed because you are putting up a ghost-repellant wall.

This is post-traumatic ghosting disorder (PTGD), and it’s real, and it blows.

This is post-traumatic ghosting disorder (PTGD), and it’s real, and it blows.

People need to stop being afraid of confronting the uncomfortable. They need to begin adequately addressing the people with whom they share their time — even if it is a letdown, or even if they hate being the Bad Guy. Because when you are a ghost, you are always the Bad Guy — you are never the Good Guy. You are the Scared Guy who would rather leave someone hanging than vocalize your thoughts. You are the Insecure Guy who doesn’t want to break it off in case you need the ghosting victim later when you get bored or hit your own dry spell or get ghosted yourself. You are the Cruel Guy who is choosing to engage in behavior that you know will bring only uncertainty and confusion and pain. By being a ghost, this is the choice you are making — it is the path of least resistance only for you, but it is the path of most distress for the person you are treating as less than a person.

When you are a ghost, you are always the Bad Guy — you are never the Good Guy. You are the Cruel Guy who is choosing to engage in behavior that you know will bring only uncertainty and confusion and pain.

AND SO…..to pull us all out of the darkness

of that particularly bleak bulleted list, I wanted to let you know that I have very good news:

My friend has cracked the code on how to solve our ghost infestation — how to ghostbust the shit out of this cultural epidemic.

And as is the case with many of this world’s most promising solutions, the answer, of course, is to lean into the problem — quite hard, and quite literally.

If you are going to ghost someone, there is an easy way to communicate your intentions with the best technology these modern times have to offer us.

Next time you want to depart from someone’s life forever and pretend that you have Houdini’d yourself into another plane of existence, you just need to send one final thought:

The ghost emoji.

That’s it. That’s the final thing you say to someone, a complete confirmation that yes, you are in fact ghosting them, and this will be your last text to them, like it or not.

You can imagine it playing out:

“Well, we had a really good three dates, but they haven’t been the most responsive texter. I think they’re just mostly busy with their job. I mean, I haven’t heard from them in a few days but we made vague plans for Wednesday but haven’t confirmed what we’re going to ––– oh sorry, that’s them! They’re texting right now. Let me see…hmm. Oh, oh wow. It’s the ghost. Wow, that came sooner than I expected ––– but nope, I guess that’s the end of it. Bummer. But I’m free on Wednesday after all ––– so yes, let’s see The Witch!

Sure, feelings will be hurt for the first few weeks. But this is a viral generation, and we will catch on, and we will grow to respect this new form of communication. It could be the LOL of 2016. The Yaaas Queen of the year. It is a clear, obvious message, and it is useful beyond words.

It’s true. A picture is worth a thousand words. And with a single ghost emoji, you can communicate many thoughts. One little icon makes clear to the recipient:

“Yes, I am ghosting you. You will not hear from me again. I’m sorry about that, but I don’t have the words to express why we didn’t match, or why I didn’t feel the chemistry anymore. I can’t exactly explain where my head is right now, and I just want to let you know that you really didn’t do anything wrong, and this is something I have to work out on my end, and while I do that, it’s time for you to go on other dates and meet other people. Don’t wait around for me, because this could take a while, and maybe the answer is that deep down I don’t feel enough of a connection with you to see you again or keep talking, but also, in my head, I recognize that if I didn’t say anything truly dissolving this mostly-nice experience, then I would be the worst. And so, here you go. Here is a ghost.”

Happy haunting!

H/T to Angela Dallara for the editing beautification.