It happened again. I hooked up with someone—this time, it was an adult skateboarder—who repeatedly told me he wanted to see me again. This foolishly made me believe he might want to see me again. Rather than respond to my text two days later, he chose to pull the digital version of that scene in every teen movie where one pretends to be a lifeless mannequin while on the run from mall cops. Weird, he was just here a minute ago...
The kids these days call it "ghosting," though I'm partial to saying that I was "mannequined." Whatever the term is, it's not a new dating phenomenon. Having a perfectly nice date/romantic encounter with someone, promising to see that person again, and then proceeding to ignore their attempts at communication as if they were a debt collector is the oldest trick in the book. If you haven't been ghosted, you either have some sort of freakishly impeccable dating life and I hate you, or you have no dating life at all and I pity you.
It's not the dating dead-ends that bother me. I've been on countless subpar first dates where neither one of us chose to follow-up. That's not ghosting; that's just life. What I'm talking about are instances where I thought we were both feeling each other, and then never heard back from them again. Is it really so hard to reply to a text?
I decided to track down some of the men who've ghosted me to finally get some real answers. Sadly, the adult skateboarder declined to participate—he's still pretending we never met. But a few others did agree to answer the questions that have been on my mind for quite some time. Here's what they had to say. By the way, these names have been changed, because duh.
I met Mike two years ago, through mutual friends. Then, last year, we saw each other at a party and hooked up. We spent most of the next day together. He drove me home, we exchanged numbers, and I texted him in an attempt to repeat our hook-up. He never replied.
VICE: How do you think our time together went?
Mike: I think it went well. You're a cool gal and I've always had a good time hanging with you.
Right, so then... Why didn't you text me back?
The main reason is that, at that time, the thought of any sort of relationship was scary to me.
So you decided it'd be better to ignore me than tell me that?
I remember we had a conversation about the way I was feeling early on. After some time had passed, I remember you sending me a very straightforward text, and I told you how I really respected the directness of the message but wasn't interested.
Have you done this to other people?
Yeah, I've been on first dates and then never bothered to see them again. I always try my best to communicate my feelings in situations like this. If we don't sort of just stop talking to each other, and that person is actively trying to pursue something with me, I will definitely tell them how I feel.
Did I give off any red flags?
I really can't think of any. I also felt like we were feeling mutual about not being interested in pursuing anything further. [Author's note: Nope.]
Have you ever been "ghosted"?
Yes. It's a little annoying to get no response from someone. It's even more annoying if that person expressed interest in seeing you again, especially if they say "I'd like to see you again" or whatever the case may be. Being lied to isn't a nice experience for anyone.
Peter and I met a few months ago on Tinder. We went on one date, which was pretty decent, and we ended up making out. I attempted to go on a second date, because I personally believe it takes more than one date to really feel someone out. But obviously that didn't happen, because I was (say it with me) ignored.
VICE: What did you think of our date?
Peter: I thought we had a good first date. It felt like we had similar opinions on a lot of things, similar views on the people and situations around us. I thought we communicated well and were pretty honest about why we were on Tinder and what we were looking for. I enjoyed meeting you, learning about who you are, and spending time with you, and thought that you reciprocated some of those feelings?
Well, yeah. So why didn't you text me back?
I'm on Tinder and I go on dates and try to meet people with the hope that I'll find something a little healthier than a casual relationship. I haven't met many people on Tinder so far that seem like they're in a similar place as I am, so most of my Tinder experiences have been casual and short-lived. Although I felt pretty good about our first date, I didn't really see us having something that would end up replacing the casual relationship I have with my ex right now.
Why did you choose to ignore me rather than tell me how you felt?
I probably should've been more clear about what was on my mind, but I usually tend to ignore problems or conflicts until they go away or until I'm forced to deal with them. And that seems to be the default way to tell someone on Tinder that you're not interested.
That's sad. You didn't feel like you owed me some kind of response?
Yes, a response was probably owed. But my personality unfortunately lead me the other way. I am sorry for that. But people and their thoughts can change pretty quickly, and like I said before, the mercurial nature of online dating and Tinder seems to lend itself to people heating up and cooling off really quickly.
Have you done this to other people?
Yes I have, but not as many times as other people have done it to me! Not trying to justify my actions, just trying to give them context.
So you've been ghosted too?
Yes, many times, all of those situations. And it's always sad. Because you take it personally and rarely get any kind of closure. And it makes me feel shitty when I do it to other people. But I also kind of think that it's part of what makes the online dating scene so appealing? Since you don't have friends in common or weren't introduced through some other channel, it's not the end of the world if you just drop off the face of the earth. I just try to learn something from the experience and move on knowing that if someone "ghosts" me, it wasn't going to be a great situation either way. I don't know, I'm still trying to figure all this out.
Mickey and I have known each other since college. We were never close friends, but we reconnected when he moved to Los Angeles. We hung out a few times as friends and then one night, after plenty of drinking, we went for the hook-up. After that, Mickey and I stopped being friendly with one another. Like, completely.
VICE: Remember that time we hooked up? How do you think that went?
Mickey: Went well. I thought it was hot.
Why didn't you text me back?
I was super nervous about it in the first place. I'm fairly prudish about sex I guess—I haven't slept with anyone since you, not even a kiss. In my head, you were the sexually confident and casual one and I thought I was following your lead into a casual sexual encounter. We'd been friends a while and you seemed open to "hooking up" and I thought, Well, if she thinks this is chill then I guess I can be chill too. When it felt like you were looking for more, I got nervous because that's not how I saw our relationship.
Couldn't you have just said that instead of saying... nothing?
Yeah. When friends tell me they just say what they know the other person wants to hear—because it's easier—I'm bummed on it and tell them they shouldn't do that. Just perpetuates shit.
Have you ever been ghosted?
Sort of. I made out with a girl once, stayed at her place, and she dropped me off at mine in the morning. It was sweet. Then, the next two times I texted her she ignored me. It made me feel insane. It was hard to believe how much it affected me. I remember texting someone at some point saying, "I now know how 'crazy girls' feel!" Then she came into my work and invited me to something with no acknowledgement of her neglect. I felt terrible to be ignored.
Did you know your brain treats rejection like physical pain? Read all about it on Motherboard.
So, there you have it—some combination of oblivion, bad communication, and genuine regret.
Talking to these guys made me realize that so many of our actions in dating are based off assumptions. Rather than say what we feel and letting each other know our intentions, we assume that we're all on the same page about everything. Mike claims to have told me he wasn't interested, but that definitely never happened. On the other hand, I wasn't really interested in becoming his girlfriend, but he didn't give me the opportunity to tell him that. The fact that every single one of these guys had experienced what it's like to be ignored—but still saw it as the only viable course of action—blows my mind.
Of course, I'm also guilty of not fully communicating my intentions, because I'm so often duped by my own assumptions. From now on, can we all just try our best to say what's on our minds—regardless of whether or not that'll end up with you getting naked on someone's bed? Ghosting does not make for a healthy dating environment, and we're helping no one by letting it continue to pollute our sex lives.
Follow Alison Stevenson on Twitter.
Illustrations by Alex Jenkins