If you’ve dated long enough — like, say, more than a week — you know it’s all but impossible to put yourself out there without feeling the silent sting of rejection, even in its most diminutive form. What may be even harder, especially in the early getting-to-know-you phase, is deciphering when a person has moved on. It’s not like they come right out and say “I reject you” or “Your position has been eliminated” or “Pack your knives and go.” No, that would be too simple. Most daters prefer the path of least confrontation, and that usually takes the form of curving or ghosting. Neither is fun, but to ask one of the great questions of our time, which is worse?
Me? I say curving. For the mercifully uninitiated, curving is when someone responds to texts infrequently and with only the vaguest interest. When it comes to making plans, the curver is noncommittal. It leaves you wondering if they are busy, distracted, terrible at communicating, or just plain fucking with you. It’s a mind game that nobody, save the curver, has time for.
“I spent a month texting one girl who usually took forever to respond and when she did, she would usually give short answers and rarely asked questions,” said Jake, a 28-year-old from New York. “I’m not proud of how long I kept it up, but it was like she did just enough to keep me going. Finally, it faded to nothing.”
It’s impossible to know what’s going through a curver’s mind, but that doesn’t stop anyone from trying to figure it out. Are they doing it intentionally? Have they always wanted to be another human being’s anxiety trigger? Do they get a thrill out of treating other people like shit? But in reality, the practice might not be quite that dark.
“Curving is all about vulnerability,” says Los Angeles-based therapist Amy McManus, LFMT. “If a person takes a while to respond or acts like they don’t care, it’s very likely they fear being hurt. This is just their way of saying, ‘I’m interested but don’t want to take much of a risk until I get to know you better.’ Your perfect match might be one of these people and once they feel safe with you, they will love you wholeheartedly. Give them a chance and see what happens.”
It a generous explanation of curving, and not everyone is so kind in their interpretation. “People curve for the same reason they ghost: They no longer want to engage,” says relationship counselor David Bennett. “But I think a lot of people who curve simply aren’t that invested in the dating process or are burnt out on it. They may even suffer from ‘choice paralysis’ because they are talking to multiple people at once. You add in all of these factors, and people just don’t prioritize engaging [with] someone unless that person is absolutely amazing.”
Curving also comes about for the good, old-fashioned reason of not knowing what else to do. Karen, who lives in Phoenix, says she once curved a woman she met through work after the woman came on too strong. “I oddly felt guilty. I didn’t feel like I could say ‘I’m not feeling this anymore,’ so I worked out a way to talk to her less and less, slower and slower to respond — kind of a phase-her-out situation that didn’t make her feel dumb. Stupid in hindsight, but it is what it is. She called me on it, so I had to tell her that I didn’t want to see her again.”
The hardest thing about curving is not knowing what’s going on, as the curver leaves a trail of hope for the curvee. Ghosting is more clear-cut: The person is there, and then they are not. Sure, it’s bewildering at first, but silence is its own response, a disappointing one but a response nonetheless.
“People ghost mainly because they don’t really want to continue engaging someone, but they lack the assertiveness to tell the person directly,” says Bennett. “It could be because they have found someone else, have become bored with the conversation, or something the [other] person did turned them off. I see ghosting coming from a possible place of anxiety and the desire to avoid conflict.”
Ghosting is not even a new thing; it’s just that modern means of communication have made it easier and more ubiquitous. “Before ghosting was a ‘thing,’ only the real jerks ghosted you. But now it’s so common that pretty much everyone is able to justify ghosting someone (to themselves, anyway),” says Bennett. “It’s a behavior you can’t get away with too easily in person, so they have become increasingly common as online dating and online interaction have become more popular.”
At this point, ghosting is so common that many daters consider it an acceptable response if you don’t want to see someone again. It can even be mutual. “I met someone online, and we were texting once a week or so for a few months. We finally met up, talked the whole time, and both smiled, laughed, and seemed to be having a good time,” says Stacy Caprio, a 27-year-old in Chicago. “But I felt something was a tiny bit off, and I think they did, too, because neither of us ever texted the other again.”
While ghosting at its most harmless can feel innocuous, it can also be incredibly hurtful, rising to the level of ostracism. “When we are being ignored, we feel unwanted or powerless, because there is no reaction to our outreach,” says online dating expert Celia Schweyer. “Ghosting leaves no space for us to understand why things might not have worked out. This lack of information provides room for our brains to think about endless reasons the other person doesn’t want to answer.”
The last thing any of our brains need is another thing to be anxious about, but if ghosting is a drop of anxiety in the brain, I would argue curving is a drizzle that has a 50 percent chance of becoming a downpour. Sure, both can be bad, but as the judge and jury of Curving v. Ghosting, I find curving inherently worse. Like, Nope, but whatever you do, don’t curve. We’ll all be better off for it.