You can hardly date, much less talk about dating, without ghosting rearing its pretty damn ugly head. It’s radio silence, the coward’s way of saying “I’m just not into this anymore” without saying anything at all. More than anything, it’s haunting me and all my friends.
Pulling a disappearing act is hardly a new phenomenon, and given that “ghosting” entered the lexicon somewhere around 2011, it’s actually surprising that I didn’t experience it for the first time until this summer. A guy I met abroad, someone who I thought I had a real connection with, stopped responding mid-conversation to all of my text messages. In my head, I justified his behavior by alternatively blaming myself for being too clingy and assuming he was actually dead. I’ll never know which it was, but I prefer to believe he’s in a better place now.
Nonetheless, I wanted to understand the ins and outs of ghosting. Is it tied to a personality trait of the perpetrator or is it the fault of the ghostee? So I put on my best Kate Hudson slinky dress (metaphorically), and rebranded her famous fictional editorial, “How to Lose A Guy In 10 Days,” into my own: “How To Get Ghosted In 12 Days.”
I didn’t want to slip into the pitfall of acting like the stereotypical, irrational, and overbearing woman (that representation is outdated and offensive, FYI), so I turned to my gal-pal ghosters to find out what behaviors led them to use ghosting as a relationship exit.
“If a guy seems too into me too fast or makes some grand gesture of affection too early on, I ghost,” Kayla* said. Another friend, Shay*, said, “I hate when the girl I’m dating tries too hard to be friends with my friends, especially if I can tell it’s because she doesn’t have many friends of her own.” Lastly, Jess* admitted, “I ghost to avoid awkward confrontations. If I think they’re a bad person, I’d rather never speak to them again than have to tell them that I think they’re horrible.” I took this knowledge and reframed it. How would I have to act toward a man, with these concepts in mind, to get him to ghost me? Do the things that turn women away from the people they’re dating ring true for men as well?
I’d been casually seeing Jackson* for about three weeks — we’d gone out three times and texted regularly. He was living in New York for six months for work, and would eventually return to Australia, where he was from. I knew it wasn’t going anywhere given his limited time here and my distaste for long-distance relationships, so he seemed like the perfect candidate for my experiment.
Move Too Fast
My first tactic seemed like the most obvious. I had to act too into him too soon — something that has been a major turn-off for me (and seemingly pretty much everyone else) in the past. I remembered a friend telling me about a guy who wrote a song about her after their first date (please don’t do this unless you’re John Mayer), and I decided to steal the idea.
Jackson and I met up at a diner one Saturday after a night out. While we waited for our food and while he was distracted by his phone, I took out a pen and started scribbling lyrics on a napkin. I’d stayed up late the night before agonizing about how to write a song before finally giving up and looking up the most romantic lines from existing songs that I figured he wouldn’t recognize. I slid the napkin over to him and waited patiently as he read the lyrics:
You’re the one I run to
I’ve never lived before
And when you smile,
The whole world stops and stares for awhile
In retrospect…what the fuck was I thinking? He read it and rightfully laughed.
“I wrote it about you.”
“Half of this is a Bruno Mars song.”
I panicked. “Yeah, but they’re all lyrics that make me think of you.”
“You really are weird. And drunk.”
Unbelievable! Even though the stanza was entirely contrived, I was annoyed that he didn’t take it seriously, and I ate my food in silence. After we parted ways. he texted me a link to Bruno Mars tickets, a move that made me laugh. Ghost averted.
Be Friends With His Friends
Jackson is Australian and so are most of his friends. I’d met some of them briefly at bars before, and I had a pretty good idea of their dynamic through Jackson, who called them “the boyos.” I knew they were planning to watch Sunday football at Jackson’s, and I asked if I could join. He was surprised, probably because I’d famously referred to football as “evidence of humanity’s decline,” but he was ultimately down. So I brushed up on my Aussie slang and headed to the servo (my corner bodega) to get some tinnies (beers) for the event.
I walked into the apartment, beer in hand, and shouted “Oy, it’s the boyos!” Jackson justifiably gave me side-eye, but I got some chuckles from the crowd. I sat on the floor next to his friend, Matt*, and said, “Mate, I’ve got heaps of tinnies if anyone wants any.” He looked at me in a way that can only be described as painfully embarrassed (for me).
My next move was to pry into Jackson’s dating history.
“So, were you guys friends with Jackson’s ex? Any of you still talk to her?”
“She’s a good mate,” someone eventually replied. “We all hung out with her the other day. Jackson was there too.”
“Oh, cool! We should all hang out,” I said.
“That’s weird,” mumbled Jackson.
The rest of the day went by without a hitch, but before I left, I gave my number to Matt and said, “Seriously, let’s hang out!” While Jackson did text me the next day asking me why I was so weird last night and saying that he felt strange about me giving his friend my number, he did still text me. I had one last plan to spook him.
Be A Bad Person
I didn’t want to flat out treat Jackson poorly, so I instead thought about the qualities Jackson didn’t like in a partner so that I could take them on myself. He’s a pretty mellow guy, so I figured being a more intense, high-strung version of myself might do the trick. He’d also mentioned that he hates needy or demanding people. This was my last shot at getting ghosted, so I put to use the acting classes I took back in middle school when I thought I was going to be the next Disney Channel star.
Jackson and I were going to the movies that night, and I suggested over text that we get there an hour early to secure good seats.
“That’s nuts,” he texted back.
“You know I have a stigmatism. What’s so nuts about that?”
“Someone’s in a bad mood!”
“Ok, if you don’t want to go early, let’s just not go”
He didn’t respond for 20 minutes. Progress! But suddenly, my phone started buzzing. Is he calling me!? It’s a twenty-something’s worst nightmare. I’d rather get ghosted than have to talk to someone. I didn’t dare pick up. He texted me again.
“Let’s just talk at the movies. I’ll be there early.”
In another attempt to put myself in the mind of the ghost, I imagined how much I would cringe if my date made a scene in a public place. After we met and I apologized for demanding we get there so early, we stood in line for popcorn, and I went on a very loud rant about increasing concession prices ($9 for Milk Duds is an abomination). He remained quiet, but the red in his face said it all. During the movie, I shushed anyone around us who dared make a sound. I was officially the worst.
Surprisingly, Jackson didn’t ghost me, despite my behavior at the movies and otherwise. He definitely started texting me less — something my friends refer to as ”breadcrumbing” or an elongated attempt at giving someone a hint — but we did make plans to hang out the next week. I asked him why he hadn’t been responding to some of my texts, and he admitted that the way I’d been acting lately was a turn-off, and that maybe we got the wrong impression of each other early on. I held my tongue, told him I was just having a stressful week at work, and went home.
The next day, I texted Jackson with a full explanation of what I had been up to. “So this was all some sort of experiment?” he asked. I apologized and asked him to try to understand.
I haven’t heard from him since.
*Names have been changed.