What’s Up With Ghosting?

How Behavior That Was Once Considered Rude is Now Commonplace

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

When I was a kid I sent thank-you notes after my birthday and Christmas, thanking my family and friends for being thoughtful and giving me a gift. My mom made lists of what was given by whom, and I included personal anecdotes about the gift in my notes. I will admit, I don’t do this anymore, but I always make sure to send a text, email or give the person a call. Why? Because someone put in the effort to do something nice for me and although I’m sure they didn’t do it for the recognition, it feels good to receive a thank-you and acknowledgement that your efforts did not go unnoticed.

When it comes to family and friends, this is an easy thing to do, right? We have those phone numbers and email addresses saved. These are people we care about. We know we will inevitably talk to them again and we want to make sure we don’t burn any bridges. We don’t want to be seen as ungrateful. Of course, this is all logical. Treat people you care about with respect. But what is less logical is the way we’ve started to treat strangers (or people we don’t have years-long history with). People we interview, people we date, people we meet through friends. As a society, we’ve started to do something that I find just plain rude. Ghosting.

I know we’ve all experienced it in one way or another — a recruiter never answers your emails, a prospective employee ignores your calls, the person you thought was into you after that first date never contacts you again (or worse, the person you’ve been dating for two months seems to drop off the earth). It was like one day someone thought this was an acceptable way to treat people and the rest of the world followed suit.

There are reasons this has become “just something we deal with”: bandwagoning and technology.

Someone ghosts you and then you decide it's okay to treat someone else in that same manner, even though the person you ghost wasn't the one who treated you badly in the first place. “Oh, that’s just what happens now,” you tell your friend. Now, please don’t misunderstand — I am not saying you need to send a professional email to every person that you’ve ever come in contact with. No, you don’t need to text the stranger that gave you their number as you were sloshing beer around trying to get back to your friends in the back of the bar. No, you don’t need to explain yourself to that person hidden in the depths of your dating app messages that you just stopped talking to one day. The people I’m referring to are the ones that you know you’re hurting. The guy in the final round of a job interview who has told you how much he wants the position, the girl you took out three times before realizing you were no longer interested but could tell was interested in you. We’ve adopted the thinking that because, at one point someone didn’t communicate with us, we are given a green light to do the same to others. It should be the other way around — what’s the golden rule? Do unto others as you would want done unto you. This backward pattern of thinking needs to be broken before we continue down this cold and robotic path.

It’s ironic how the more access to powerful technology we have, the worse our communication has become. We all have multiple devices that send and receive every kind of message: SMS, iMessage, email, Slack, phone calls, various messenger apps. Every social media app has direct messenging. These messages simultaneously flash across the screens of our laptops, phones, and watches. Some people can communicate via home appliances. I’ve seen refrigerators that can log onto Twitter. The “oh, I didn't know how to reach you” excuse no longer stands. That’s a lie — you know exactly how to reach me, you can text my washing machine. If you don’t have a phone number for someone: a LinkedIn message, a Twitter or Instagram DM. There are Chrome extensions that can find someone’s email address if you know the company they work for. Technology has made it so ridiculously easy to find someone online, it’s scary. Yet, with all of these means of communication, we convince ourselves it’s just fine to say nothing at all.

My other favorite excuse, used mostly in terms of dating, is “I’m a bad texter.” Oh, are you? Or, do you just not care about me enough to give me a few seconds of your precious time? And, if that is the case, please just do me the courtesy of sending me one final message that says, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I can be sympathetic with the person who is trying to spend less time on their phone. I have also given up some of my social media apps in favor of other activities that I find more stimulating. But that’s no excuse for not taking ten seconds out of your day to respond to someone who is clearly trying to get in touch with you. That response could be: “Hey, I’ll call ya later!” or “Busy right now — will get back to you in a few days” or “I don’t think we want the same things, let’s call it quits.” Saying nothing is hurtful and unnecessary (again, we’re not talking about edge cases where you have someone harassing you daily — in that case, do whatever you feel is warrented). Yet we still do it. Each and every day, tons of people are waiting for a reply that will never arrive.

Why? Because it's easier. Let’s face it, no one wants to hurt anyone's feelings or have these tricky conversations. So we just…don’t. We let time drag on and convince ourselves that they’ll get the hint. They’ll move on. In some cases, that’s true. But it doesn’t mean it's the right thing to do. Technology has made it so we never have meet anyone face to face (and a pandemic has made it so we can’t). We communicate through Zoom, GoogleMeet, good old fashioned phone calls, but we no longer meet for a coffee or a drink (understandably, in 2020 and now 2021). That’s not an excuse to throw all decency out the window. Humans have become nothing more than pixels on a screen or soundwaves in an AirPod and we seem to be okay with letting them float off into the ether when we’ve decided we got what we needed.

This may sound harsh and pessimistic, but I’ve experienced my fair share of ghosts. And the bottom line is: it stings. And yes, it’s true that ghosting is a bigger reflection on the ghost than the ghost-ee. Although logical, this knowledge is not always helpful. It doesn’t offer any comfort, just the confirmation that the person is an immature jerk. You’re still left with no answers and no closure. No reasoning or feedback on that interview, no explanation for your broken heart.

So ghosts, grow up. Please. As a person of a certain age, or in this society any age, really, you are capable of picking up your phone or sending a message. You have the obligation (morally, not legally) to inform someone of a changing situation: you’re no longer are a candidate for this position (a “and here’s why” is even better), I can no longer maintain this friendship/relationship (again, a reason is helpful), I’ve enjoyed our conversation but I don’t want to go out again. Speak your truth so the person on the other end can stop wondering. Stop leaving people on read. Especially if they are people you claim to care about.

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Software engineer (looking for work!), fitness enthusiast, volleyball coach, novice piano player.

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Sara Warnock

Sara Warnock

Software engineer (looking for work!), fitness enthusiast, volleyball coach, novice piano player.

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