dating in the digital age

I miss the times when “ghosting” wasn’t a thing.

The fact that is is a thing at all is just baffling to me. Maybe I’m more comfortable with confrontation than your average Joe; I’ll admit that I’ve always been regarded as a bit of a polarizing personality because I don’t shy away from expressing my opinion and speaking my mind. I mean, I’m a writer, after all.

So not everyone likes confrontation, and yeah, that’s just the human condition. Passive-aggressive remarks are far easier to make, beating around the bush is more comfortable than getting to the point, and not even having to address the elephant in the room at all is the ultimate relief for people who have social anxiety. But there’s a huge difference between having social anxiety and just being an absolute dick.

I am a perpetually single person. Yep, that does mean exactly what you think it does — I have never been in a romantic relationship. There have been times where I was admittedly close, but for whatever reason it wasn’t lasting and things fell through. Many of these times were my own fault: I’d panic at the thought of not being single, I’d pick out random flaws in the other person until I’d convinced myself that I didn’t actually like them, or I’d convince myself that it just wasn’t the right time for a serious relationship. But more often than not, I’d notice another pattern emerge that wasn’t of my own doing. Guys would express interest, pursue me, convince me to be interested in them even if I was apprehensive at first, and then as soon as I’d start investing my emotions in this person, he’d be gone without warning. The colloquial term for this assholery is “ghosting.”

Ghosting inevitably comes with the anonymity that we experience in online dating; we have literally hundreds of profiles at our fingertips, the ability to pick through and hand-select who among them fit our standards and tastes, and then the ability to choose whether or not we respond or engage with those people even after we have matched with them. It is this attitude that likewise carries over into the dating process even after we have interacted in person with the people behind those profiles, the mindset that allows us to be comfortable with keeping it casual at the other person’s expense without discussing these intentions with them.

I’m not shitting on dating apps or casual dating here. I understand that not everyone uses them with the same intentions, and you know what, that’s your prerogative. But I do take issue with people who don’t have the common decency to discuss their intentions or try to get on the same page as the other person. If you go on one date with someone, you don’t really owe them anything, and if neither of you takes the initiative to contact one another after you’ve gone your separate ways, then it’s okay to let things fizzle out — clearly neither of you were interested, and that’s okay. Better luck next time. But if you have gone on multiple dates with someone and neither you or them has explicitly stated what you want/expect out of whatever you have going on between you two, it’s not a bad idea to clear the air. You don’t have to define the relationship, you don’t have to slap a label on it, and you don’t have to get serious right away. But you do owe the other person the decency of being honest about where you’re coming from and what your intentions are, because otherwise you’re wasting their goddamn time and energy when they could be interacting with someone who actually gives a shit.

It’s not easy and it’s not always fun. I’ve had to have this difficult conversation with a few people, sometimes after the first date and sometimes after a few dates. But I find that no matter who it was, or how long we’d been seeing each other, each time I opened up this conversation, they appreciated my honesty and respected that I had been upfront about what I was thinking and feeling. Regardless of how shitty it felt to break things off, I felt relieved that I wasn’t being shady behind their back, wasting their time, or stringing them along. Because that isn’t fair and I wouldn’t want to be treated that way.

So how do we combat this? Digital dating isn’t going away. And I don’t want to condemn it altogether because it is a great way to meet people outside of your routine and social circle, especially if your circles are small and you find it hard to meet people. But we can’t carry on using online dating as an excuse for mistreating people and acting like garbage humans. We just can’t — we’re better than that. Aren’t we?