Fighting Words is a column in which writers rub you the wrong way with their unpopular but well-argued opinions on fitness, health, nutrition, love, what have you. Got something to get off your chest? Send your pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org. For many reasons, the first few weeks of January are the busiest time of year for dating apps. And as singles turn back to their phones with the hope that this is the year they find love, it's helpful to remember the cardinal rule of not wasting your time: Ghosting is now an acceptable way to end casual relationships. It's officially suitable—after a few texts or a mediocre date, at least—to communicate your disinterest for someone through silence.
I know it sounds cold, especially to those of you who locked things down in the pre-swiping era, but these days, ghosting is incredibly common: A 2016 survey found that 78 percent of single people between the ages of 18 and 33 have been ghosted at least once. An older study conducted by Elle found that more than half of folks who've been ghosted are also ghosters themselves. But even though the practice of ending things without saying a word is pretty standard, a quick Google search turns up a glut of articles that make ghosters out to be borderline sociopaths. That view is so pervasive that I've even publicly shamed myself for the practice. Is ghosting impolite? Maybe, but it isn't nearly as confusing as we'd like to pretend. I don't feel that bad about it, and if you've ever ghosted on someone, neither should you.
"I think there is real value to ghosting," says Ben Michaelis, a clinical psychologist and the author of Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy. "At a certain point in a relationship, it is totally unacceptable—but early on, like after a date or hookup that didn't go well, ghosting is useful. Trying to 'let someone down easy' often results in confusion on the part of the person being broken up with, and even drags on relationships that should be ended."
Ghosting removes ambiguity and saves time. "It's pretty hard to interpret ghosting as anything other than an indication of disinterest," Michaelis says, "and in this way, it allows the ghoster and ghostee to move on with their lives more quickly."
Not everyone agrees with this line of thinking, of course: Most arguments against ghosting focus on the lack of closure. Those who have been ghosted may not know exactly how to proceed, and may hold out hope for reconnection. This false hope and lack of clarity—often interpreted as toying with people's emotions—is part of why ghosters get such a bad reputation. It seems inherently selfish, heartless, and cruel. Nancy Berns, author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us, writes about closure as it relates to both breakups and death. In one essay, she says those seeking closure must "learn to live with some questions." And she's right: Being ghosted does leave many questions open, but there's no guarantee the answers will give you solace. In some cases, brutal honesty has even invited greater turmoil.
Take the horror story on Gawker a few years back: A poor guy who, after one date, sent a courtesy breakup text to a woman he wasn't interested dating. The woman, emboldened by her anger, decided to shame the guy on her blog and forward his nude pics to his boss. (Must've been one hell of a first date.) While most people wouldn't exercise such a nuclear option over a polite text, it's not a stretch to say that feelings of rejection are among the most raw and powerful emotions any human being can experience. In a 2010 study, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City showed a similarity between the brain's response to rejection and its response to feelings of love and addiction. In the study, 15 college students who'd gone through a breakup but said they were still in love with their partners were shown pictures of their exes while getting brain MRIs (harsh!). The areas of the brain that lit up when viewing the photos were the same as the areas triggered when experiencing feelings of romantic love, craving, and addiction. The fact that love, rejection, and addiction are all processed similarly hints at the idea that ghosting doesn't hurt because it's inconsiderate; it hurts because our brains don't handle dissatisfaction very well. Romantic rejection can bring the worst out in us—there's no way around that—and at least ghosting leaves open a sliver of doubt, even if it's a sliver that requires a touch of healthy delusion. The questions it leaves open can actually help take the edge off those feelings of rejection. Someone who stops responding could be busy, they could've died, or maybe they just didn't want to have to say that your date was several degrees below lukewarm.
Ghosting only sucks because rejection sucks. I've been ghosted, and I'll never get used to it, either, but that doesn't make it a terrible thing. I certainly wouldn't want someone to call me up and say, "I had a great time, but I'm not interested." Sometimes the silence stings, sometimes I'm left with questions, but deep down, the message is still clear. And while it never feels good, chances are they did me a favor.
Knowing these thing puts being ghosted into perspective. Instead of lashing out at the person who didn't respond, you might even learn to say thank you. But maybe don't text it.