Ghosting How cutesy words hide fucked-up dating practices

12th October 2017

Dating websites and apps are responsible for a lot of wonderful things. We all know someone who met their partner on or Bumble, or recently moved in with a boyfriend who just a year ago was simply one right swipe among many. The ability to search for love or commitment or no strings attached sex at the click of a button or swipe of a finger is one of the defining elements of dating today. Meeting someone new is easier than ever, and the cost of rejection is ever smaller. You don’t have to worry about approaching the girl you’re too shy to speak to: just check Happn, and if your paths have crossed you can find out if she’s “liked” you without ever having to risk the knots in your stomach that would accompany asking for her number. (A gesture which, for the record, in a world of Snapchat nudes and Instagram thirst traps, would make any single girl swoon.)


However, like our day-long Netflix binges or guilty hungover Deliveroos, the abundance of people we can swipe, click and like our way through means we risk never actually making a decision. Millennials are often characterised as flaky, indecisive and incapable of committing: a stereotype as pervasive as it is inaccurate. But when it comes to dating, when we’re surrounded by a seemingly endless array of pixelated options, this phenomenon is an example of our evolutionary instincts smashing head-on into modern dating culture. We string people along; we chop and change and go hot and cold; and then suddenly disappear into the digital ether, with an unmatch or an unfriend, only to resurface when we like their latest Instagram — and potentially completely piss them off in the process.

I definitely don’t feel proud of it — she seemed like a nice girl and made me feel wanted for a while when I needed a bit of a self-esteem boost

Chris, a 21-year-old student, is pretty familiar with these new rules of dating. “To be honest, I’m kind of in the process of ghosting someone right now,” he says. “There was a girl I matched with on Tinder who lived near home and we chatted while I was back at university. I have her on Snapchat and a couple of nights we’ve had some chats that verged on sexting but now I’ve settled into a relationship it’s not something I want to carry on with.”

woman using phone

He adds: “I definitely don’t feel proud of it — she seemed like a nice girl and made me feel wanted for a while when I needed a bit of a self-esteem boost. But we never really opened up much about our actual personalities.”

However, Chris thinks “the nature of ghosting is that it tends to be most common on hook-up apps anyway. I know serious relationships can flourish out of Tinder but you have to use those apps knowing that a lot of the chats you have will not move from the superficial level.”

Despite doing it himself, Chris knows that being ghosted can have a negative effect on a person’s self-esteem. “When I first arrived on Tinder I was using it as a bit of a rebound from my last relationship and so it can make you feel worse when you realise people aren’t interested,” he says. “I probably spent far too long chopping and changing my interests and bio and it just led me to wanting to be someone I wasn’t. The experience probably did make me lose faith in dating apps.”

Troubling behaviour

However, with so much of our personal information so widely available on social media, there can be a darker side to annoying dating behaviour. Geri, a 24-year-old journalist, has suffered from this. “Tinder has really messed with me, because I don’t feel like anyone on there is really genuine,” she says.

“When all you get is men telling you they want to sleep with you — without any prior conversation — and then calling you horrible things when you won’t send them naked photos, it’s going to get to you”.

She adds: “I told someone on Tinder I didn’t want to FaceTime with him after only saying three sentences to each other, and he found me on Instagram and Twitter and followed me on both within half an hour. He also tried to add me on Facebook. I unmatched him but my work mobile is also on the internet and he tried to FaceTime me. Obviously, I blocked him and but it’s a danger you don’t think about.”

When all you get is men … calling you horrible things when you won’t send them naked photos, it’s going to get to you

While we’re predisposed by nature to find the best person to be with — just look at the endless break-ups and “recouplings” on this summer’s Love Island — the inherent disposability of internet culture, coupled with the inevitable emotional intensity of dating, sleeping with, or talking to someone, creates an atmosphere which allows us to tolerate the kind of poor behaviour that would see us write off friends or partners as selfish and thoughtless. The list of dating behaviours deemed worthy of being written about in internet listicles has grown increasingly long, and there are as many ways to be a dick to someone you’re dating as there are to be a shining example. Perhaps if Tinder started operating on an Uber system of user reviews we would see fewer instances of these online offenders.

Holly, a 21-year-old student, feels the process of using dating apps was “kind of an up and down experience”.

Sometimes she’d be bored by Tinder and delete it for months, only to pick it up again when she felt like it.

She adds: “There is negative behaviour. I’ve never received a dick pic, thank god, but I know people that have. I have definitely been ignored though. I’ve also thought people were really nice and spoken to them for an evening and then they’ve shown their true intentions. But it’s unsurprising, that’s just people.

“Some sites such as Tinder have people that hold very entitled expectations. I have felt that some people feel that just because you are on the site you are easy and will just meet up for sex, and I have experienced that pressure through messaging.” However, her experience has made her gain faith in dating apps, as she is now in a relationship.


The issue is not the bad behaviour itself — both our own and that of others — but the often meaningless, sometimes faceless, online world we act it out in. We no longer vanish or disappear, we “ghost” those we’are no longer interested in.Instead of recognising that we are misleading or leading someone on, we “breadcrumb” them, scattering their social-media feeds with a trail of semi-ambiguous likes and favourites.These actions alone aren’t so awful and, aside from the fact that we now do them on our iPhones, they are about as new as the birds and the bees. Human beings treating each other badly is, if unromantic, a tale equally as old as time. The problem lies with our tendency to accelerate anything remotely novel to the status of trending. This, and our willingness to pop an appropriately cute and social-media friendly name on these bad habits, masks the serious problems these actions present behind hashtags and self-deprecating tweets.

Renaming the practice of deliberately leading someone on as the whimsical, fairytale-esque “breadcrumbing” is actually one of the less troubling examples. From the bizarre to the harmful to the downright weird (cushioning, anyone?), we minimise the impact of our actions with this strange relationship-ese language. When it comes to behaviours that are truly damaging, it’s an unfortunate truth that we do the same thing. Whether it’s “negging”: a hallmark of so-called pick-up artistry and defined as insulting or demeaning someone to make them subconsciously seek your approval, or the revolting term “stealthing”: the genuinely appalling practice of non-consensually removing a condom during sex, we’ve become accustomed to talking down their effects — however insidious.


man using phone

A study done by the Yale Law School, and published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law states: “Nonconsensual condom removal during sexual intercourse exposes victims to physical risks of pregnancy and disease and is experienced by many as a grave violation of dignity and autonomy.” The paper, by Alexandra Brodsky, is titled “Rape-Adjacent”: Imagining Legal Responses. Hardly a topic to be brushed under the carpet by an SEO-friendly nickname that suggests action-movie fantasies, as opposed to the grubby, invasive and distinctly legally dubious reality. Journalist Sali Hughes conducted an “impromptu Twitter poll [which] resulted in eight per cent of my 993 respondents claiming they’d been ‘stealthed’”; an extremely worrying statistic.

The risks posed by this practice — of unwanted pregnancies, the spreading of STIs, and not to mention the desecration of trust — are too great to be ignored, and we should call it out for what it is: a despicable form of sexual assault.

12th October 2017