When I first met Dave* over cookies and tea after exchanging OKCupid messages, our conversation covered the laws of physics, reincarnation, and whether love was an action or a feeling. Afterward, he gave me a warm hug and said, "This was great, let's do it again." When we ran into each other the following weekend in yoga class, he asked me to get coffee afterward, and we spent an hour laughing in his favorite cafe.
The next week, I suggested we attend another class together, but he told me he'd gotten too busy even for yoga. I suspected something else was going on but left the possibilities open by texting him, "No problem. Let me know if things clear up." I didn't hear from him again, and I didn't think about him again.
That is, until I ran into him at a nightclub while I was out dancing with some new friends. "My boss is here" was all he said, and he tried to dance with me but I could tell he was out of it. I wiped that encounter and Dave out of my mind once more, but two days later, I received the text:
"Hey, I'm sorry about the other night. I was all addled and in this weird situation with my boss. But I should have told you that the chemistry just wasn't there for me instead of saying I was busy. I don't feel respected when people use that excuse with me."
Then why did I feel less respected now than I had when he had feigned busyness and quietly vanished?
Dave wasn't the worst offender when it came to excessive frankness. In college, Frank* indulged me in an hourlong instant-message conversation after our first date, but when I suggested we meet up again, he responded, "Sorry, I can't say I'd be into that." When I asked him why (my mistake), he provided a litany of reasons including "you're not my physical type" and "I don't like the rhythm of your speech."
And the day after a cringeworthy date with Alec*, who spent the night comparing me to his ex and confiding in me about his porn addiction, I received a text from him reading:
"Hey, I've thought about it and I've decided I don't want to date you. I'm sorry if I led you on. I'm sure you'll meet someone great. I could imagine you meeting someone in a bookstore."
If he had instead done me the courtesy of ghosting, we would have ever spoken again, and I could have left the unsavory experience behind.
Why did these men think they were doing me favors?
Simply cutting off communication would have conveyed the same message without making it personal. I had forgotten about Dave and figured he just didn't have his act together before he sent his "the chemistry wasn't there" text. But after reading it, I spiraled into speculations about where I fell short for him. If Frank hadn't responded to my follow-up IM, I would have left him alone and never would have had to hear what was wrong with my voice. And by expressing his desire not to see me again, Alec came off presumptuous and arrogant.
So, I felt no guilt about ghosting Tom* after our third date, when it became clear that his politics were not aligned with mine. He didn't need to know what I thought about his views on gender relations; he just needed to know I wasn't into him, and my lack of communication got that message across without attacking his beliefs.
And after an evening of chess and drinking with Jake*, I was grateful when he ignored my "I had fun the other night. Let me know if you want to hang out again" text instead of crafting a straightforward rejection. Now, I can take comfort in the possibility that his grandma died or he got mono or he suffers from commitment issues that have nothing to do with me.
When we ghost, we give the people we're ghosting the freedom to create their own stories about the rejection. They can blame it on our problems rather than wonder what qualities or actions of theirs turned us off. I'd much rather have that freedom than hear that — or worse, why — I'm not someone's cup of tea.
*Names have been changed.