Written by Alice Porter
Ghosting is becoming more and more common, so much so that some people are doing it before they’ve even been on a first date.
Dating apps might be designed as a place for people to make an initial connection with someone before meeting in person, but often, you can end up messaging someone you’ve matched with for weeks or months before you find time to go on a date. This is why issues such as catfishing have become so prominent, as many people fall into the trap of becoming invested in an online relationship.
It makes sense, really. You can learn a lot about a person by speaking to them online, or at least it feels like you can when you’re messaging them on a daily basis and talking about each other’s beliefs, values and lifestyles. In fact, many people feel as though they might have built a connection with someone they’ve been messaging online even before they meet in person.
This explains why a new phenomenon that single people are experiencing can be so hurtful: digital ghosting. It’s similar to traditional ghosting, ie when someone ignores or blocks you after a date. Digital ghosting, however, takes place before the date has even occurred.
It’s something that has happened to me recently: I matched with a man on an app, we messaged for around two weeks, speaking on a daily basis and even chatting via Facetime. We arranged a date, which he later cancelled at the last minute because of work responsibilities, but he immediately rearranged and continued to message me. Three days before we were due to finally meet, I realised my messages weren’t going through to him and I’d been blocked for no apparent reason.
More than anything, this was confusing. Previously to him blocking me, he was making a lot of effort, showering me with compliments and regularly talking about how much he couldn’t wait to meet me in person. I found myself scratching my head as to why he would have suddenly changed his mind. Did he meet someone else? Does he already have a girlfriend? Did I say something to put him off? There was one point when I was even considering if he could have lost his phone.
But ultimately, trying to figure out why a man I never met no longer wants to speak to me is a losing battle because I’ll never know the real reason.
Marie Fraser, a relationship expert and boundary management specialist, explains that digital ghosting can be particularly difficult because without meeting up outside of the online world, one person might be far more invested in the relationship than the other. “It’s might be very easy on a practical level for someone to ghost a person they’ve been messaging and never met if they change their mind for whatever reason,” she says, explaining that many people choose to ghost rather than explain themselves purely because it makes their life easier.
On this occasion, it was pretty easy to pick myself up and move on with my life after being digitally ghosted, but it does leave a lingering doubt in my mind that other men I speak to online might do the same thing.
Melissa*, 41, had a similar experience with online dating. “I was talking to a guy on Hinge. We moved to WhatsApp and talked for three months, but every time we set a date to meet he would ghost me right at the last minute,” she says. “I let this happen – I think because I was in a bad place and it was during lockdown – to the point that on the third ghosting, I was literally waiting for him at the meeting spot and he didn’t show.”
Although digital ghosting might not seem as cruel as traditional ghosting, it’s still demoralising to be let down in this way. It’s also completely unnecessary when a simple message saying you could no longer make the date or weren’t interested in dating anymore is so easy to send.
Ella* has also been on the receiving end of digital ghosting. “I was chatting to someone in April and we were quite consistent with texting – he even called me and we were on the phone for three hours,” she explains. “On a Thursday, we arranged to meet on the coming Saturday, but I didn’t hear from him at all. I texted him around an hour before we were about to meet to say I guessed we were no longer meeting and he never replied.”
Since then, Ella has been digitally ghosted by another man in a similar way. “I think maybe they panic and are worried about letting you down,” she says, explaining why people might digitally ghost. Ella adds that, to begin with, both of these men expressed more interest in her than she did in them, which is why this behaviour seemed so strange.
It’s definitely possible that digital ghosting is a ‘game-playing’ technique and Melissa admits that it did make her more interested in the man she was speaking to: “It made me determined to prove my worth to this random guy,” she says. “I was also angry. I felt like ’nobody gets to ghost me’, which is why I persisted in trying to prove him wrong.”
However, she’s now realised that this is an unhealthy approach and says that the whole situation has altered her approach to online dating. “It’s completely changed the way I value my time though now. You ghost me once you don’t get another chance,” she says.
According to Fraser, being ghosted can affect people’s self-esteem: “Many people ask themselves, ‘What did I do wrong?’ and assume it’s their fault that they’ve been ghosted,” she says, which is a particularly easy thing to do when the entire relationship has been online – you can scroll back through your texts to look for anything you said that might have made someone want to stop speaking to you. Because the hard thing with ghosting, even with someone you barely knew, is the lack of closure.
If you have been digitally ghosted, Fraser suggests finding a way to give yourself closure by sending the person who ghosted you a message telling them it’s a shame you didn’t meet up but you wish them well, or something equally communicative, rather than trying to fight fire with fire.
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