What Does “Ghosting� Mean in Online Dating?

A frustrated person staring at a phone.

Ghosting can be one of the most distressing experiences in online dating. Find out what it is, when it happens, and why dating apps and social media contribute to its rise.

What Is Ghosting?

Ghosting is the act of completely stopping all communication with someone without prior notice, typically with a romantic partner. The person ghosting will ignore texts, calls, and any other forms of reaching out, and will normally not give any explanation to the other person. While ghosting can happen in all types of relationships, it’s most prominent in those that take place mostly online. Ghosting can happen at any stage of the online dating process, whether it’s at the start of a relationship or several months in.

A large component of ghosting is ambiguity. While ghosting implies that a relationship has ended, there’s none of the closure and communication that happens in a typical breakup. Therefore, a person that has been ghosted will be left wondering what exactly happened and might be left feeling hurt, confused, and distraught.

Ghosting has become a cultural phenomenon because of the rise of social media and dating apps, which has made the practice very common among young people. A survey conducted in 2016 found that 80% of a sample size of 800 millennials have been ghosted at some point.

How Ghosting Works

Ghosting normally follows a predictable pattern. First, the person will completely cut off contact. This means that they stop responding to any messages, calls, and texts. This could mean that they completely ignore any messages that are received and will no longer open them. This will normally come with no warning and may have no apparent cause or trigger. It can happen very soon after a previous conversation.

Next, the person may remove any links on social media apps. This includes unfriending them on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, unmatching them from dating apps, and blocking them on messaging apps like WhatsApp and Viber.

Ghosting on Dating Apps & Social Media

A person swiping on a dating app.
Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock.com

A big cause of the rise of ghosting is the prominence of dating apps. These apps have made relationships much more anonymous and temporary than before. It’s now widespread and easy to enter into and exit out of people’s lives, and many have become desensitized to the phenomenon. Since users on dating apps are likely talking to multiple users at a time, it’s possible that they don’t actually hold any strong feelings about any particular user.

These apps have also reduced the possible repercussions of ghosting others, especially if two people have never actually met each other in person or have only spent a small amount of time together. There are very few of the social problems that come with actually cutting off a relationship.

Another big part of the practice is the ease by which people can disconnect on social networks and messaging apps, which are the primary forms of communication nowadays. Blocking someone on a platform like Instagram or unmatching someone on Tinder takes just a few clicks. Most dating apps like Tinder and Bumble have no way for someone to contact a previous match once they’ve been unmatched, which makes ghosting from these apps very easy.

RELATED: How to Block Someone on Instagram

Ghosting in Non-Romantic Relationships

Ghosting doesn’t just happen in online dating. It can also happen in plenty of other contexts, including friendships and familial or professional relationships. While the reasons for ghosting in these kinds of relationships might be completely different, the behavior is the same. As long as it involves someone completely cutting off correspondence without warning and ignoring all future attempts to reach out, it can be considered ghosting.

An example of this happening in a professional relationship is if a partner you were supposed to work on a project with suddenly stops responding to your emails and messages completely. This is especially common when the subject of payment comes into question. Since communication is vital to work relationships, this behavior can tarnish someone’s reputation in the professional world.

RELATED: How to Block Emails from Specific Senders in Gmail

Expanding the Word “Ghosting�

In recent years, the definition of the term “ghosting� has begun to expand out of its original meaning. Now, it can mean any cut-off in communication, even from people whom you don’t actually know personally. For example, if a famous celebrity figure has seemingly stopped engaging with the general public, fans might say that the celebrity is “ghosting� them.

The word is now also used to describe relatively minor infractions, such as taking too long to respond, leaving someone’s message on “read,� or forgetting to reply to someone for an extended period of time. In this context, ghosting doesn’t actually mean to end a relationship. If someone you still have a relationship with has told you to stop ghosting them, they may just want you to respond to messages a little bit faster.

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