Comment Writer Maxim Nägele discuss his experiences with ghosting as well as the role of online dating in ghosting and mental health
Having gained valuable and extensive experience as a single 20-year-old, I can confirm that ghosting is the most annoying part of online dating. Everybody has probably experienced it at least once: you’ve started a conversation with someone, maybe even met up with them and you seem to get along really well, when suddenly, they don’t respond to any messages you send. They become a ghost in the machine. At first you might be confused or hope that they will respond eventually but after a while you realise that this silence will continue; it starts to make you self-conscious, sad, or just angry.
Research has shown that these short-term impacts on mental health can turn into long-term effects on the “victims’” self-worth or behaviour in future relationships. Ghosting is a direct consequence of the irreversible digitalisation of communication and relationships in the 21st century. Through this new era of communication, people become not only anonymous, but they also lose all responsibility or commitment to genuinely engage with others. In real-life conversations, this kind of avoidance is not possible, as you are always forced to communicate and to a certain extent reveal your motives with one another.
While online dating can and should never replace the physical aspect of romance and sexuality, it is often a better and safer tool to find a romantic or sexual partner than real-life alternatives, especially if you are LGBTQ+ or in another marginalised position. Ghosting can negatively impact these new possibilities and make the affected users feel frustrated or disheartened by dating in general.
So why would anybody leave a conversation unfinished like that instead of being open about their feelings? In reality, the concrete answer often remains unknown or unsatisfactory.
Surveys on ghosting observed general tendencies, namely a lack of communication skills or social anxieties. Humans tend to avoid confrontations or situations where they must expose themselves to potential discussions. Online media provides the ideal ground to fall into those habits and protect oneself from critical judgement. Instead of telling somebody that they have lost interest in the conversation, friendship, or romantic encounter, ‘ghosters’ just remain silent, hoping that the other person will lose interest eventually.
The inherent dilemma of ghosting, at least in my experience, is that this ignoring leads to the exact opposite effect. The other person becomes more involved, they overthink their own behaviour or appearance, they try to read the other person’s thoughts and motives behind their silence. This reaction is not necessarily caused by an extreme attachment to that person and can just as likely be caused by a feeling of embarrassment or a need for resolving conflicts.
Nevertheless, somebody who has been ghosted tends to try even harder to get the attention from the other person, often through infamous “double-texting”. Not only the ‘ghosted’ suffers from this as the ‘ghoster’ is now confronted with even more messages and the opposite consequences of their ‘exit strategy’.
Although most people who use online dating have experienced these paradoxical situations, from either side of the stick, ghosting remains an undisturbed part of a new digital conversation etiquette which makes communication and romantic interactions less personal, less committed, and more anonymous. To overcome this digital alienation, it is important to be self-reflective and honest about your feelings towards somebody, even if the “easy way out” is only one click away.
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