Yes, they feel guilty—but there's a reason why they do it anyway.
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chronic ghosting
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Joe, a 32-year-old from London, is well-versed in online dating. If you also live in London, you've probably come across one of his dating profiles (he says he's on most dating apps). But while he's well-versed in swiping, using pick-up lines, messaging back-and-forth late into the night, and saying the much-coveted "let's meet up in person" line, what he's less good at, is online break-ups. Joe is a chronic ghoster.

"I never enter a relationship with the intention of ghosting someone—but as soon as I feel unsure about where things are going, it feels easier to back out and pretend the relationship never happened rather than going through with 'the breakup chat,'" Joe tells HelloGiggles.

"I have ghosted people I've met online numerous times," he says. "And sometimes after multiple in-person dates."

The phenomenon of "ghosting" entered the scene a few years ago as more and more people found themselves being ignored online by new romantic partners without any explanation. Relationship counselor and author, Melanie Hobbs, says, "Ghosting in its simplest explanation means to cut off all contact without offering a reason why." In 2014, HuffPost called it "the 21st-century dating problem" and in 2015, the term got its own entry in the dictionary.

In 2021, we all know what ghosting is. Many of us have probably experienced it firsthand. We know the tell-tale signs: the last-minute cancellations; the one-word replies; the sudden switch to the icy, rigid writing style of a 9th grade English student. And, of course, the eventual silence.

There's something uniquely cruel and painful about being ghosted. It leaves you without closure and without answers. It makes you question your ability to read people. It gives you feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. As bad as a break-up-by-text may be, ghosting is about a million times worse.

So, why do it to others when we know how bad it feels to be on the receiving end? In Joe's case, it's a matter of taking the easy way out. "I feel cowardly and guilty in the moment," he says. "But it's easy to put those thoughts to one side as I know I won't have to see the person again or have to deal with the situation again."

For Joe, it's almost as though the act of ghosting is something that happens to him; it's something he finds himself falling into. "It often begins with me not wanting to respond to their messages or to arrange another date," he explains. "So I just leave messages unanswered or write vague replies. After a while, it starts to feel like too much time has passed to reopen the conversation just to end things."

Emily, a 28-year-old from Canada, is another chronic ghost. She has ghosted numerous exes along with their friend groups. For her, ghosting feels like a reasonable way to deal with unhealthy relationships. "It's more due to me picking people to spend time with that I shouldn't have," she says. "I would ghost people who I didn't want in my life, and I felt happier with them gone."

chronic ghosting
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In some cases, Emily felt that ghosting was actually a kinder route to ending a relationship or friendship. "It would always happen after a period of feeling uncomfortable and unhappy around that person," she says. "I'd be thinking that I didn't know what to say or how to tell them I didn't like them or didn't want to talk to them. Honestly, I think saying nothing seemed better or nicer than saying what I really thought of them."

Rie, an 18-year-old from New York City, says to have ghosted people around five times in her life "I just get bored or too lazy to respond or lose interest," she says.

Despite her self-proclaimed chill attitude, she never feels completely guilt-free when ghosting someone, especially when the other person keeps sending them messages. "I do feel guilty when I see them like my social media posts when their messages are still sitting there without them being responded to," she says. "Sometimes I'd even block the person so I could pretend [the relationship] never happened."

But even though Rie feels guilty about her actions, she says she still ghosts to get validation from them, but then she gets bored when they're actually interested in her. And like Joe, she feels too awkward to start up a conversation again after ignoring someone for an extended period. She says, "I am bad at replying on time, and when I actually want to reply it would be too late to continue the conversation again."

You may notice some common themes emerging between these chronic ghosts. For each of them, avoiding an in-person or online break-up is the easy and fast option—and because the only consequence is a passing feeling of guilt, they can do it again and again. And this because the digital age has conditioned us to look past this guilt and treat everything in our lives as disposable.

"Ghosting is the perfect companion for the digital age," she says. "Our culture is faster, more disposable, and our reactions to events and friendships more instantaneous: if we don't like something, we can switch off and find something we do like."

In fact, the constant swiping and scrolling has changed everything from our attention spans to how much value we place on people and things. "The average person looks at an Instagram post for one second before liking it," Hobbs says, "And this reaction transfers to human interactions online, as well."

With the rise of online dating culture and increased amounts of digital communication, we have begun to think of our dating partners as being more AI than human. And as Hobbs says, "It's easier to cut out a digital version of someone than it is to cut out a 'real' human."

"Today's culture is fast," she says, "And people who ghost feel that their time and emotions are more valuable spent elsewhere. It's a troubling way of thinking, as it shows a real lack of empathy towards someone with whom you have, at one time, shared a bond."

In other words, a chronic ghost is more than just a serial dating app user with a bad habit. They're a symptom of a society slowly being drained of its capacity for empathy—they're a sign of our culture's growing tendency to put ourselves first in the name of self-care, even when it means pain and confusion for others. As Hobbs puts it, "The digital age may have brought more people together, but those ties are easier to break."