You fire off an opener about the dog in their photo (not theirs), exchange a Peep Show GIF, tell each other you actually hate Tinder/Bumble/Hinge and don't know why you're here! From there, you either move to WhatsApp or iMessage, arrange to meet up, or one or both of you disappears because there wasn't enough spark there to bother continuing. Frequently, it is the last one: a dead end.
That – for those who need walking through it – is called "a conversation ending". It is not "ghosting", where two people have started some kind of IRL relationship, and all of a sudden one person seemingly decides to throw their phone in a well and live the rest of their life off-grid.
However, dating apps don't seem to have clocked this. In a desire to "crack down" on it, some have introduced new features and accompanying campaigns aimed at reducing the prevalence of ghosting, because experts (aren't we all experts on ghosting, really) have said that ghosting makes people feel that they are disposable. No good for anyone.
The apps' proposals: Bumble is now sending prompts to people who have not replied to messages, urging them to either politely end the conversation or continue it. It's even asked users to take a "ghosting vow" before they use the app, as well as providing support and advice for those who have experienced it.
Badoo has gone a similar route: if a user hasn't replied to someone in three days, the app will notify the user and provide suggestions. They can choose a polite prepared response, like: "Hey I think you're great, but I don’t see us as a match. Take care!”
Personally I think the auto-response approach is more miserable than silence; Gmail Smart Reply responsification of dating clinical and robotic, a Charlie Brooker script in waiting.
Whether you think all this is necessary – how coddling to believe people need a “Hey I think you’re great, but…” message after a handful of messages, and no one is owed an apology from me for not replying to brief banal chat – importantly these features are not tackling ghosting. There’s nothing particularly pleasant about the opening scenario of this blog, something standard on dating apps, but to stop replying to someone after a brief interaction on an app is not ghosting and neither is it even breadcrumbing.
A quick refresher on ghosting via Wiki: “The practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication”. Commonly it is accepted that to go on several dates and potentially sleep with someone and stop replying, that is ghosting. Saying hi on a rubbish app and then not being arsed to reply to their response, is just...life.
There’s something to be said for the malaise inherent to the dating app experience: the lack of stimulating conversation percolating there, the sheer volume of people who will not bother to have an engaging chat with you regardless of who you are or how well matched you might be in person. This tedium is what drives people off the app, certainly. We’re all busy and probably should be more conscious about how we use apps for everyone’s sake, joining when we have the time and energy to put into them.
But call ghosting what it is, and don’t diminish the real confusion and hurt that comes from being triple-fucked and binned without a word. Badoo telling a user “There’s no need for ghosting – reply to let your new match know you’re still interested” after a few days of not replying is an attempt to make them feel like they’re initiating in unfair or problematic behaviour when they’ve done nothing of the sort. Real ghosting has been on the increase undoubtedly due to tech, and there might be some ethical responsibility there. This though is a drive to stop single people leaving apps in droves because Silicon Valley bros need the revenue. Let’s face it, real connection is hard to find on the current apps and that is the problem developers have on their hands. In the meantime, I’ll handle the “Not really feeling this tbh” myself.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.