Noah and I had been going on dates for almost two months. And the truth is, we were not that into each other. Our relationship was, more than anything, a passive coupling up that made both of us feel like we had something to do on Thursday nights. He was a busy doctor and recently out of a relationship; I had just moved to New York City and wanted someone to eat pizza with.
At the six-ish-week mark, I went to visit my sister for a long weekend. I let Noah know that I’d be out of town. He said, “no problem!” and that he’d reach out when I returned the following week.
That’s the end of the story. I never heard from him again, and I wasn’t tempted to contact him, either. It’s been three years and we’ve never spoken to or run into each other.
Now, I know that reactions to this story will vary widely, ranging anywhere from laughter to “that’s so weird” to “how dare you!!!”
Out of all the controversial topics around dating etiquette, ghosting might be the most divisive. You’ll find daters who think ghosting is A-OK and others who argue it’s even worse than lying to someone’s face.
In my mind, there are scenarios when ghosting is the best option for everyone. In other instances, I think it’s just plain lazy and can even be cruel.
But in the case of Noah and me, it was mutual. And my question is, does that make it OK?
Mutual ghosting could be a symptom of our unwillingness to engage in difficult conversations at all.
When I started asking friends, colleagues, and family members about what I have dubbed “mutual ghosting,” I realized it’s much more common than I originally thought. Dylan, 25, has been on two dates with two guys within the last few months, and both situations ended with mutual ghosting. Dylan’s theory is that it’s just a way of avoiding a potentially awkward conversation. “People have become really non-confrontational when it comes to dating,” he rightly points out. Dylan isn’t hurt by mutual ghosting, but he does wonder if there’s something he should be doing differently to make sure his relationships don’t end on such a passive note.
Lo, 27, has also had a recent mutual ghosting experience, in her case with a guy who was at first pretty persistent. “We had a great time together, but a few dates in, I realized I liked him more as a friend,” she says. She decided that as nice as he was, she wanted to move on to meeting other people. “I figured the next time he reached out I would have to have the super awkward ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ conversation. But then he just never reached out,” she says. According to Lo, she was nothing but relieved. “I actually thought it was awesome,” she adds.
There’s no doubt that these situations are convenient and conflict-free, but it’s possible we’ve also become non-confrontational to a fault. Mutual ghosting could be a symptom of our unwillingness to engage in difficult conversations at all.
Rachel Sussman, LCSW, a therapist who specializes in relationships and couples counseling, says she’s sat with enough people who have been ghosted to know it can be extremely hurtful and perplexing in any form. “Although these conversations are never easy, it always seems to me that having information is better than not having any information at all,” she says.
I see where she’s coming from. But when it’s mutual, that changes things, right? “When two people fade away, that’s OK,” says Sussman. “But it has to be mutual for it not to hurt,” she continues. This means that if a person you’re seeing reaches out — no matter if it’s after one or two dates — the best thing to do is to reply, even if it’s to flat-out tell them you’re not interested in seeing them again. You are right to expect the same courtesy from others.
Personally, in a world of breadcrumbing, rejection, settling, love triangles, and other sticky dating situations, I find mutual ghosting to be a brilliant alignment of the minds and hearts of two people — two people who just so happen to feel indifferent towards each other. Sure, there’s always a sting when you realize someone isn’t interested in you — rejection sucks, no matter what form it comes in — but it’s also nice to escape any romantic encounter with a consensus.
That’s how I felt about Pete, at least. Pete was my other partner in mutual-ghosting crime. We had been on two dates, the second of which was a lobster cruise that ended with a kiss.
Sadly, I wasn’t feeling a spark.
Let the record show that I wasn’t planning on ghosting him; in fact, I spent a few days brainstorming exactly what I would say to avoid hurting his feelings. But much to my surprise, that kiss was the last contact — physical or electronic — that I’d ever have with Pete. He ghosted me, and I ghosted him right back. I thought about reaching out, but I couldn’t figure out what to say. (Was I supposed to let him know that I was OK with being ghosted because I didn’t like him that much anyway?)
According to Yue Xu, co-host and creator of the Date/able Podcast, I took the easy way out. She thinks that while mutual ghosting sounds fine in theory — since it’s assumed that both sides are aligned — that doesn’t make it acceptable. “Two wrongs don’t make a right. It’s good dating practice to be ethical and do the right thing,” she says, emphasizing that it’s important to model the behavior you expect from others. She makes a solid point.
It’s possible that the answer to the question, “Is mutual ghosting OK?” lies in our Kindergarten classrooms, with the golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated. If you’re not OK with being ghosted, regardless of the scenario, then take the initiative and be the one who reaches out. Who knows? It could bring you a sense of closure you didn’t even know you needed. If you have more of a laissez-faire perspective on dating, go ahead and bask in the confrontation-free simplicity of mutual ghosting. All’s fair in love and war.