A couple years ago, I went on an entirely unremarkable OkCupid date with a perfectly nice guy I had no interest in or intention of seeing again, and based on his demeanor during the polite hour and a half we spent together having a couple drinks, he seemed to agree. I texted him shortly after we parted ways when I realized I forgot to thank him for the drinks in the rush to catch an approaching 4 train; even if I didn’t want to see him again, it seemed like the right thing to do. I didn’t think about him–I think his name was Dan?–until two days later when he sent me an unexpected text.
When Dan’s name appeared on my phone, I first thought he might be one of those people who just doesn’t know the difference between a good date and a date that simply wasn’t bad. Instead, he was texting to let me know that, although I seemed great and he had a nice time, he thought we would be better as friends and he hoped I understood. I didn’t understand, but not in the way he feared: First of all, I had no intention of being friends with a stranger with whom I had spent 90 minutes after exchanging a couple messages on a dating app. Second of all, why were we having this conversation?
I asked him why he had texted me to offer an explicit rejection instead of fading quietly back into the miasma of 20-something single people in Brooklyn, which is what I had personally planned to do. He said that he felt he was doing the right thing because ghosting was rude and he assumed I would appreciate the honesty. I did not, and in that moment, I realized something that I still believe is true: in spite of all the bad press it gets, ghosting is, in many situations, an absolutely fine (and occasionally ideal) way to handle a potential partner in whom you’re not interested.
If you’ve only gone on a date or two with someone, he or she doesn’t owe you an explanation for not wanting to hang out again. In a perfect world, everyone would feel comfortable and confident turning someone down directly for a second or third date, and, in turn, people getting turned down would be able to handle the romantic setback with grace. In the world we actually live in, plenty of people have reasonable explanations for wanting to avoid that interaction. Plenty of people can’t take a curve like an adult.
I once declined a second meeting after a particularly bad first date; in our situation, I felt it would have been insensitive to ghost because we had been texting for weeks before we finally met and our conversations had become part of both of our daily routines. When I told him I didn’t think it would be a good idea for us to see each other again, he tried to negotiate his way into a second date until I simply stopped responding. In another, even nastier scenario, a man told me he hoped I got raped because I didn’t want to hang out with him again. Not only do these situations show why ghosting should exist as a common practice in the first place, but also why I don’t trust anyone who thinks it’s reasonable to demand a response from a relative stranger. After all, what would anyone say that would clarify things beyond the perfect clarity of silence?
There are, of course, plenty of situations in which ghosting is beyond the pale. If the two of you have been on more than a handful of dates or had sex in a way that was not explicitly casual, completely failing to respond is rude, and you should at least do the person the courtesy of being cordial but “really busy” until he or she gets the idea. This, too, is an oft-vilified dating behavior that is actually fine; learning to take a hint is part and parcel of the journey to becoming socially adept, and if you can do it, people will like you better. Maybe you’ll go on more second dates.
The notion that all communication has to be direct and verbal in order to be valid is patently false. There are numerous ways in which we’re signaling to each other all day. Just as your boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t need to say the words “I’m annoyed” for you to know they were irritated, someone you’ve hung out with once or twice doesn’t need to explicitly reject you in order for you to know what’s up–if you’re being honest with yourself. In the early stages of dating, no response is a response, even if it’s not the one you were hoping for.
Illustration by Alice Rutherford