In my decade of dating, I’ve been ghosted more times than I can remember. Sometimes mid-DM, occasionally after one date and twice after several months. Within this wealth of experience, there’s three instances that, to this day, make me cringe so hard I want to scoop my brains out. I won’t bore you with the details of them all – partly because I can’t bear to have them memorialised on the internet – but in the worst occasion, I decided to add my ghoster on Facebook, with the desperate presumption that he must have lost his phone and was scrambling to figure out a way to contact me. Spoiler: he wasn’t.
Obviously the only possible explanation as to why these men never contacted me again is that they died (RIP). But there is still truly nothing worse than sending a string of messages only to be left on read forever. And even though we all know it sucks, ghosting remains part-and-parcel of modern dating.
Even so, it’s hard to know exactly how common the phenomenon is. In 2016, for example, 78 per cent of single millennials had apparently been ghosted at least once, but in 2019, another report found that only 25 per cent of US adults had been ghosted. The dating pool got even murkier in 2020, when a different study found that 85 per cent of respondents had been ghosted, while another survey found that ghosting was on the decline during the pandemic.
The latest news? According to a new Tinder report, Gen Z are 32 per cent less likely to ghost someone than those over the age of 33. The report offers no explanation as to why Gen Z might be less likely to ghost, but it does suggest that authenticity is more important to younger daters – and it’s probably more authentic to be upfront and tell someone you hated spending time with them, rather than leaving them to agonisingly figure it out for themselves.
But once again, it’s not exactly clear cut. Anecdotally, ghosting is, ironically, still alive and kicking. “In my experience, ghosting is more rife than ever,” says 25-year-old Niamh*, who keeps getting ghosted before the first date. “Meeting someone from a dating app in person is a real struggle. Often when the date comes around, they go silent and I never hear from them again. Once it happened to me three times in one week.”
19-year-old Elias* agrees. “Dating etiquette in general tends to be very casual today,” he tells me. “I swear no one wants to commit anymore – they love that weird in-between situationship feeling for some reason – and so bad behaviour is more common. Ghosting is the go-to for any 20-something today to make their feelings known.” Elias has also noticed that his older dates have been “more clear and persistent with their feelings”, whereas he thinks younger people, especially gay men, “favour a lack of communication because we all fear confrontation”.
People do at least seem to be more aware of how shitty ghosting feels, though. And even if they’re a serial ghoster themselves, they’re willing to put their hands up and admit it’s the wrong thing to do. 24-year-old Tigris puts this down to the influx of conversations about bad dating behaviour on social media, particularly TikTok. “There’s a willingness to speak up, prevent the normalisation of those behaviours, and remove them from cultural acceptance,” she says. “It’s also about encouraging people to understand how their behaviour can impact others, because in the end, it comes down to basic, fundamental humanity to treat one another with kindness and respect.”
What’s more, Niamh points out, is that “Gen Z tends to be more educated about mental health than millennials, so perhaps their conscience is more involved in their dating style. Knowing the detrimental impact ghosting could have on a person’s self-esteem may make them more inclined to explain their reason for ending the conversation.”
But what about those who know ghosting is bad and still do it anyway? 25-year-old Alejandro* tells me that he “ghosts more than [he] breathes” and that even his “closest loved ones sometimes don’t hear from [him] for weeks at a time”. His reasons, he explains, are multi-faceted.
“I always feel the need to write a proper message and engage with the points someone has made, ask questions and expand on things,” he says. “But sometimes that’s such a tiring prospect that the message never actually gets written. Even though it comes from a place of wanting to engage with the other person, it ends up having the same effect as if I ghosted them, because they have no way of knowing all of this is happening [in my head] without me communicating it to them.” He believes dating apps contribute to the pressure to write the perfect message. “I feel like every message I send has to be funny, has to move the conversation somewhere, has to stand out.”
Alejandro also suggests that ghosters might be afraid of rejection themselves. “It’s almost like I’m scared to [continue the conversation] because I fear it ending,” he admits. “I can imagine what could have been without having to actually face any rejection, which is crazy because the person getting ghosted just wants to chat, but as the ghoster you feel like you maintain control of the conversation and therefore the relationship.” But, he admits, all of this “just feels like a ghoster trying to excuse his actions”.
Whether the Tinder stats hold up or not, there are logistical reasons why Gen Z might actually be ghosting less. It’s becoming increasingly unaffordable to live alone or in shared housing, particularly in metropolitan areas, which means more people aged 18 – 25 are living at home with their parents than in previous generations. Sure, many of them might still live in big cities, but if they’ve moved back to their hometowns, it may simply be harder to ghost someone. “In smaller places, people don’t really have the luxury to ghost someone because they’ll likely see them around,” says Alejandro. “It’s hard to imagine that someone didn’t reply because they fell off a cliff when you see them walking through town.”
Some stats also suggest that Gen Z are using dating apps less, instead preferring to meet people “organically”. It’s hard to pretend you don’t exist when you’re ghosting friends of friends, colleagues or people who run in the same circles as you. You can’t hide in the toilets forever.
One thing is for certain, though: the phenomenon of ghosting will likely haunt us for eternity. “Despite its stigma, many people still think wasting your time without explanation is acceptable,” says Niamh. “Sadly, it feels like a dating trend that’s here to stay.”
But take it from someone with experience: one day you honestly won’t care if your ghoster ended up living or dying. Just don’t add them on Facebook.
*Names have been changed anonymity