Ghosting and other perils of modern dating: Are apps prompting people to abandon their partners?
Ghosting is a shameful experience for the person who is ignored or blocked, but it is also an indicator that the person who has ghosted them wants to avoid their feelings of discomfort
Anyone who has ever been through a break-up would agree that they hurt and are painful. Amicable break-ups are a rarity. In most cases, they are ugly or plain awkward. Whether one is the person causing the heart-break or at the receiving end of it, it is safe to assume that the entire ordeal is uncomfortable, and there are times one wishes they could avoid all the hassles that come with terminating a relationship. Now, modern dating seems to have stumbled upon a way of making that wish come true, through the phenomenon of ghosting — a situation where one person ceases communication with the other without any explanation.
In October 2014, a survey by The Huffington Post/YouGov revealed that 13 percent of millennials had been ghosted by a person they had been dating, while 11 percent admitted that they had done the ghosting. This number has shot up in recent times, according to the 2016 Plenty of Fish survey, with 78 percent of single millennials between the ages of 18 and 33 admitting to having been ghosted at least once. To be entirely fair, ghosting is not really a new phenomenon. In the past, a person would just stop calling or meeting up, hoping that the person at the other end would get the message. Today, this behaviour not only extends to ignoring calls and not responding to texts, but also to unfollowing, unfriending, blocking or restricting that person from accessing one's social media. And because technology has made the world a smaller place by bringing people across different cities, countries, even continents, closer, the concept of ghosting as a pathological epidemic is more common today than ever before.
Technological advancements promise us an easy life. We no longer need to step out of our houses to shop for clothes or shoes. Even our groceries can be bought through an app, as well as the services provided by beauticians, plumbers, electricians and carpenters. Technology allows us to connect with people with whom our paths would otherwise have never crossed. However, in the midst of making meeting, dating and hooking up easier, technology has also severely impaired our communication skills. In the past, if one found a person attractive, one would have to muster up the courage and go up to that person and ask them out on a date. Today, all one needs to do is swipe right across the screen, and poof! It’s not long before they go on a date. Just a simple text: “Let's meet?” coupled with some emojis is enough. There is no need to charm the other person with one’s mannerisms or words. Back in the day, if one got turned down once, it would take some time before they went ahead to ask the next person out on a date. Now, there is no need to go through the entire ordeal – one can like as many people as they find attractive, and out of that pool, there is bound to be someone who will like them back. One just needs to select someone out of a catalogue, and if it does not work out, it’s not the end of the world because there’s an almost endless pool of other potential mates to choose from, just one swipe away.
There is a flip side to being spoilt for choice. Online dating gives one a huge range of people to choose from, and while this ought to make life easier, it actually doesn’t. It often makes one really picky. One may even reject someone who seems great just because one knows there’s plenty more to choose from. Tiny flaws are picked on because people are aware they have more options due to the abundance of profiles, as indicated by this research article.
Online dating has dehumanised individuals by reducing complex beings into swipe-able avatars, and it has succeeded in the creation of a flourishing breeding ground of people for whom direct, honest conversation feels not only unpalatable but also unnecessary.
Interaction on dating apps is transaction-based and superficial. A lot of attention is paid to appearances. Most people swipe left if they find the person at the other end unattractive. It is therefore not uncommon to find people often lying on such sites about their height, weight, age or income. Some even have photos with faces that don’t belong to them. Being civil, having good conversational skills, basic emotional intelligence, and the ability to read and appropriately respond to someone’s body language are no more essential requirements. Immediacy is the need of the hour and if something is not working out, one can just walk away.
The ability to unmatch with the other person at just a click has resulted in individuals viewing or treating their dates as commodities and not as actual people. This is what makes it easier for people to ghost, leaving it up to the other person to work it out for themselves that they have been dumped. There are no mutual friends to pull one up for such callous behaviour, nor do you and your date belong to shared spaces (like the office or the gym, for instance) that force interaction.
Most dating apps provide their users with the comfort blanket of partial anonymity. While this is an important security measure, to some extent, it has further reduced the lines of accountability and responsibility. Dating apps are filled with people giving misinformation because it really is not so difficult to create fake profiles on social media and sync them with one’s dating profile. Even among the genuine people out there, it is not necessary for two people to be seeking the same thing; one may be on the platform for a casual hook-up, while the other person could be in search of something meaningful. When these two match and meet, it is possible that they could have had two or three wonderful dates filled with fun and good times, and one of them could see that there was potential for so much more, until one fine day when the other person just seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth.
Most people who have been ghosted admit to having felt shame and embarrassment, coupled with a feeling of being cheated.
It is viewed as a form of social rejection which activates the same pain pathways in our brain as a physical injury (Krossa et. al., 2011). In addition to this biological link, there are some specific factors about ghosting that contribute to psychological distress. One, it gives the person at the receiving end no cues about how to react because it just leaves the person in a very ambiguous situation. There are no cues given for one to assess what really happened. Two, it leads to a sense of powerlessness because there is no window to discuss, ask questions or be provided with information that would help one emotionally process this experience. It is especially damaging to those with already a low sense of self-esteem. The lack of closure that comes with ghosting can lead to permanent psychological bruises and scars.
People, in general, tend to avoid confrontation, and technology making it easy for us to just vanish on them has made the phenomenon of ghosting popular. Online dating is complicated, so if you are one of the unfortunate ones who’ve been ghosted, remember that it’s not always about you – it’s just the other person wanting to avoid their feelings of discomfort. In case it has something to do with you, then that person wasn’t the right one anyway. And while ghosting is certainly a trending term these days, its popularity does not make it an acceptable thing – ghosting is still considered to be a passive-aggressive discourtesy.
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