Why Ghosting Is a Form of Self-Care

Ghosting
You match with someone on Tinder. Y’all text for like three days straight. Things seems to be going really well. You go on a coffee date. They seem interested and you really like them back. You lightly kiss before saying goodbye. You leave the date with the distinct impression that Things Went Well. When you get home you text them saying how good of a time you had.

No response.

You anxiously wait. Three hours go by. No response. You think they’re probably just busy, knowing something doesn’t quite feel right. Y’all kissed! They seemed interested? What changed? Was it something you said? Did they stalk your Facebook? Were you not attractive enough? Or was it your personality? A day goes by. Nothing. You text something. Still nothing. Three days later and no response.

You’ve been ghosted.

Ghosting is when someone suddenly withdraws all communication with no apparent explanation. Ghosting has now become a cultural phenomenon with the rise of online “swipe” dating apps where other real human persons are reduced to a skimpy digital profile, a mere blip in the endless stream of potential dates that you callously reject en masse on the basis of purely superficial criteria.

But is it wrong? A traditionalist might argue ghosting is wrong because you’re not being fair to the other person. They would say the right thing to do is explain why you are breaking off contact: “I don’t like you because [X].” Ghosting seems like the coward’s way out, a way of not living up to our responsibilities as dating partners. According to the traditionalist, ghosting is fundamentally a form of dishonesty.

And besides, we know that being ghosted hurts. The uncertainty is painful. I’ve been ghosted myself, of course. It doesn’t feel good, not knowing why you are being rejected. You come up with your own hypotheses about your inadequacy but you can never achieve closure. And I think it’s that lack of closure in the end that really gets you right in the gut. So we can imagine an argument that says ghosting is wrong because it hurts people.

But I am not here to criticize ghosting; I am here to defend it.

For me, ghosting is ultimately about self-care. As a woman of trans experience this is especially important to my feeling safe in dating environments. Ghosting can often feel safer rather than risking raising the ire of the person you are rejecting. While normal contexts pretending to be something you’re not is wholly virtuous, the inherent dangers of dating as a woman justify via self-defense keeping up the pretense of liking someone until the date is over and you can go home and ghost the fuck out of them, blocking them on all social media.

And if you haven’t even met in person yet, there is even more justification for ghosting as a preventative measure against the tendency of Men On the Internet not taking rejection well.

Ghosting is merely the logical conclusion of the generally accepted principle that consent can be withdrawn at anytime. Mix that in with the perfectly reasonable impulse to protect ourselves against the emotional trauma of having to reject someone (and especially of having to reject a man) and you have a good start at defending the practice of ghosting.

As someone who finds great appeal in the concept of relationship anarchy, my fundamental operating principle when it comes to relationships is to try to minimize my own entitlement. I am not entitled to other people acting the way I expect them to. I am not entitled to anyone’s attention or time. If someone consciously chooses to spend time with me, that’s great: I will cherish that. I am not entitled to people having certain kinds of feelings towards me, or entitled to having certain feelings not change over time. I am not entitled for someone to like me or even love me.

When it comes to relationships – platonic, romantic, or otherwise – the only thing I should be entitled to expect is those things which we have mutually agreed upon in accordance with our own deep desires. If my partner and I agree to be monogamous I can reasonably feel upset if that agreement is broken. But I can also negotiate a different agreement involving multiple people and that would change the nature of what I “should” expect when it comes to relationships unfolding.

And with ghosting, feeling entitled to an explanation of why you are being rejected is pointless unless you mutually agreed that if you broke up you wouldn’t ghost each other. Otherwise, you’re just going to have to deal with it. Don’t be so entitled. Learn to embrace rejection as an opportunity at character building. Know your own value and being ghosted becomes a mere inconvenience rather than a moral harm.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Why Ghosting Is a Form of Self-Care

  1. You may be right about women’s safety during a date, I’m not fighting your post’s entire thesis. But anyone capable of saying ” Learn to embrace rejection as an opportunity at character building.” is the most evil character possible short of murderer, and for it I reject any further following of you.
    “character building” itself is an abusive concept that was used to rationalise old-fashioned authoritarian oppression of kids, is authoritarian social engineering of roles so is utterly the opposite of any role-breaking liberating cause like trans!
    Utterly foul. Justifications of rejection (other than revenge rejection of first-rejecters) are capable of causing suicide.

    • Rachel Williams

      Did you really just call me an “evil character” almost as bad as a murderer because I used the phrase “character building”???

      I think you are really projecting a lot onto that phrase. I’m not talking about oppressing kids. I’m talking about grown men not feeling entitled to the attention of women. I’m talking about grown men learning to deal with rejection in a healthy way.

      I wasn’t aware of the history behind the term “character building” but for you to pretty much call me an evil person akin to a murderer is a pretty extreme reaction to a simple throwaway line that wasn’t even relevant to the main thesis.

      You are welcome to not not follow anything I write. But I think you are not being fair at all.

  2. Natalie

    Hi, I just stumbled on this, have some thoughts. Big privilege tag: While I am trans and I’m using the name Natalie on here, I’ve only ever dated men “as a man,” so I don’t know what it’s like to feel threatened in the way you’re talking about (though I probably will someday, gulp).

    It seems to me that you might be conflating a couple things in your main argument. I think ghosting is bad unless there’s an extenuating circumstance, but I don’t think the only way to *not ghost someone* is to explain why you don’t want to see them again. When I don’t want to see someone again after one or two meetings, I always tell him in a simple, curt text like “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to go on another date.” I don’t provide a reason, and if asked I wouldn’t give one. If he tried to make a greater demand on my time, I would stop responding. On the other end, I’ve had guys I’ve met turn me down with a simple “sorry, but…,” and I’ve had guys turn me down by leaving me stressed out and sad for hours as I tried to figure out whether we were done. While I realize this isn’t always the case, IF it’s easy and safe for a person to prevent someone from having that experience, I think they have an obligation to do so.

    Maybe some people think ghosting is bad because it’s a form of dishonesty, but I don’t think that’s true of anyone I’ve talked to about it. Most of us just feel the normal hurt of rejection + anxiety of suspense + anger at the person who could really really easily have saved us the suspense.

    Now here’s the part where I might just be ignorant, but I’m confused about how ghosting is a matter of safety. I definitely don’t want anyone doing anything they feel puts them at risk–even if this could, hypothetically, cause an innocent person to feel hurt–but in all sincerity, is there some reason texting someone “I don’t want to go on a second date” could put you at more risk than just blocking their number? Do you think it’s okay to do this to all dates that don’t work out, or just the mean/scary ones? (If it’s the latter, I already agree with you, but more because I don’t care about their feelings than because I see how ghosting improves your safety.)

    Anyway! Sorry about the other poster, I don’t mean any ill-intent here. If you have any thoughts on what I’ve written, I’d love to hear.

    Best,
    Natalie

    • Rachel Williams

      Hi Natalie,

      I think I agree with your statement that “ghosting is bad unless there are extenuating circumstances”. What I’m saying is, though, if you get ghosted: don’t be so upset because you don’t know what the extenuating circumstances are. They probably have a good reason for ghosting you – and it’s not just about being rude either.

      One of the reasons why texting someone “I don’t want to go on a second date” is hard for people is that it sets up the possibility of having to give explanations and reasons, etc and having the other person defend themselves and that’s not comfortable at all.

      And you say it’s about avoiding “suspense” – but even if they do give you a reason – that could hurt just as much but in a different way, and also leave you hanging in many ways. Getting told “I dont want to see you again” – I dont see how that’s better than just being ghosted – ghosting wouldn’t hurt nearly as much if there was no entitlement in the early dating process.

      Now what exactly defines “early dating process” is hard to say. And its different for different people. But I feel like we can use our intuition here and “i know it when I see it”.

      Best,

      Rachel

      • Natalie

        Hi again,

        Thank you so much for responding to my long post, and for responding so quickly. I’m not really expecting that you’ll get back to this, but I thought I’d lay out my last thoughts anyway.

        If you agree that ghosting is bad without extenuating circumstances, we agree a lot more than I initially thought. I basically agree with your advice that we should give people the benefit of the doubt that they have a good reason for ghosting us, but I think that’s also saying something a little different from what you argued in the original post. We would all be happier and kinder if we gave strangers the benefit of the doubt, but this has nothing to do with whether and when ghosting is OK. Your argument compellingly explains why we should have patience with people who ghost us, but it doesn’t really say what possible ghosters ought to do.

        Personally, I think it’s probably not true that *most* people have a good reason for ghosting; I think a lot of people would just rather cause someone else a few hours of pain they don’t have to see than allow themselves a few minutes of discomfort. Of course, I can’t prove this, and maybe I’m just wrong. We also might also have different thresholds for how much discomfort/risk gives someone a good reason to ghost; if the worst outcome you can imagine is that the other person sends a mean text before you block them, or asks for an explanation you don’t want to give, I think you shouldn’t ghost them. I always tell guys directly (in text) that I don’t want to meet again; some are nice about it and some are mean. The mean ones sometimes make me a little upset, but I know from experience that this does *much* less harm to me than when someone I like blocks my number. (Note that I’m only considering cases where the date *might* be a jerk—if you know for sure they are, I don’t think you owe them this consideration.)

        Basically, we should understand that ghosting causes a lot of emotional harm that a quick “Sorry, I don’t want to go out again” does not. Those considering ghosting should ask themselves whether the risk to them is really so great that it’s okay to inflict this harm on another person.* I think those situations are probably rare. Even if you’re a lot more sensitive than I am—maybe the mean text ruins your day—what if the other person is unstable too? What if your blocking them causes anxiety or a depressive episode? In any case, it’s hard to imagine a situation where the rejecter has more to lose than the reject. As the person with (usually) more emotional power in the situation, I think the rejecter has an obligation to play nice.

        Also, I think I may have been unclear in what I meant by “suspense.” I hate being left in suspense about whether someone wants to see me again. If a man texts me—as happened recently—that he doesn’t want to meet again after what I thought was a very successful first date, I’m gonna be upset, and I’m gonna wonder why, but I’m not going to be wracked with dread for hours as I try to navigate his radio silence. This period of anxiety and dread is the real harm of ghosting, and I really appreciate the guys who didn’t put me through that.

        Thanks again for your first response. While I’m not expecting anything, I would of course be interested if you have anything more to say about this.

        Cheers,
        Natalie

  3. Hi, saw your article in Medium. I liked it and followed you here. I’m also trans and talk philosophy with some folk on Discord.

  4. ale

    Hi,

    Thanks for writing.

    I agree with you and disagree with you.

    Agree:
    It is ok not to meet up again with a date.
    It is ok not to explain to them why, except that you’re not interested.

    Implicitly agree:
    If they’re being mean or aggressive, its ok not to respond anything at all, never talk to them again!

    But I don’t think its polite to stop responding entirely even if they’re being alright (maybe not attractive, but at least not mean XD), and never respond again. That ends up in them feeling hung out to dry, they realize at some point their confusion isn’t enough to motivate you to say anything and it sucks.

    You shouldn’t say anything more (unless you want to) than “hey, I am not interested in more dates.” That’s the deal with dating, you’ve got to be able to accept rejection, and its not impolite to give it. If they’ve got a problem with that its their own, but there’s no reason not to give a heads up.

    • Rachel Williams

      I agree with you in theory. But the reality of most self-care is that it’s done as a response to trauma and thus cannot necessarily be judged the same way normal actions are. I guess the point of my article is that you can’t know what someone’s trauma history is and thus IF you get ghosted, don’t be entitled as to get yourself all upset over it. But yeah: if you aren’t in need of self-care, don’t ghost–but if you do need the self-care, I think ghosting is defensible. And it’s not my job to police the boundaries of what’s acceptable vs. not-acceptable self-care. So I guess that’s how I’m feeling about it. I admit I wrote this post very hastily and didn’t think it through and would probably write it differently now but it is what it is lol.

      • Ale

        Hey that’s ok. I think that growing up is traumatic, having a body is crazy and life is confusing and hard and extistentially terrifying for us all. We all need self care for our own health, but we also need to take care of each other.

        I don’t advocate being offended by ghosting, I advocate not doing it for the reasons I outlined above. It’s mean, saying something – anything, is not hard, and I’m not advocating making it hard.

        😀

  5. Natalie

    Natalie here–there doesn’t seem to be an option to edit or reply to one’s own comment, but I already want to amend a part of my last post. Given that we’re talking about people’s trauma histories, it sounds really diminutive to refer to people who are “more sensitive than me.” I think my point stands despite that, but I don’t want to downplay the significance of trauma with a bad choice of words.

  6. Thanks for forwarding your thoughts on the matter !

    and…

    I wonder if there’s something problematic with the formulation you propose: a bad feels response to getting ghosted is produced by an entitlement. While I am down for relationship anarchy, what you propose feels more like relationship libertarianism, as it were, one where personal containment of feeling is required for the expression of power and stability, partially negating the revolutionary potential of interstitial vulnerability through the construction of trust. As, ghosting is a displacement of anxiety and ennui onto another body, I wonder if these kinds of bulwarks against discomfort ultimately produce an overrefinement or calcification of what kinds of vulnerabilities we allow ourselves when trying to build relationships. In further, one could apply a further ethical restriction for ghosting using similar logics of containment and personal control: never date anybody that you would ghost. Which leads me to wonder, is it ghosting itself that is the entitlement? What is the locus for feeling justified in causing discomfort to other bodies? While you give one answer above, self care in response to past traumas, I wonder if it is a self care that reenacts affects of atomization, on that easily spins itself up into a lonely nihilism. I do agree, however, that particularizing self care to this extent is at times the only option. With the understanding that relating is a displacement, how can we honor a person’s efforts to hold space for the destabilization necessary for forging relations?

    thanks for your rad blog !!

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