Medicine student Christian has about twenty unopened WhatsApp messages on his phone. All of these are from people he’s stopped responding to. He feels bad about it, but he sometimes just doesn’t know how to continue a conversation. ‘I also feel like I don’t owe anything to them. Some of them I’ve only spoken to for a day.’
Law student Jakob too has ghosted people on multiple occasions. Some people just send too many successive messages, so he decides to ignore them. His fellow student Vilma also owns up to having ghosted ‘a lot of people’. ‘Disappearing from social relationships is common’, she says. ‘Students are afraid of commitment and just want to be carefree.’
Disappearing from casual relationships without a word seems to have become common practice among students. They know it’s not the ideal exit. Yet, overall they feel that ‘nobody owes you anything’ and don’t mind too much either when dates quit responding without a warning. ‘We went on a date once and both agreed to have a beer another time, but it didn’t go anywhere.’ Not even a goodbye. ‘Neither of us ever reached out again’, says psychology student Anna.
I don’t want to respond because I don’t like to confront people
Students often say they feel ditching someone and telling them that it’s just not going to work out is rude. Like industrial engineering student Jannat who tries to tiptoe around having to tell them instead. Or bachelor student for economics and business economics Maruška Nguyenová who just doesn’t want to be mean. ‘I don’t want to respond because I don’t like to confront people. Most of the time we either met up once or just texted so I think they shouldn’t take it too personal.’
Social media are often blamed for this behaviour. And according to Rik Smit, assistant professor for media studies, hiding behind a screen really does make it easy to not respond anymore. But there’s more to it than that. ‘You have the plain act of ignoring someone and then there’s the possibility of having so many connections that you just forget’, he says. ‘It’s always a mixed bag of things that are going on.’
Retired people ghoster
Jannat who refers to herself as a ‘retired people ghoster’ says that she has accidentally ghosted people in the past. ‘I’m not proud of that. I once met a girl, we were friendly with each other and went out together. One time when she texted it was quite late and I fell asleep. I didn’t text back for days. I was so embarrassed and felt really bad’, she says.
But she simply couldn’t respond anymore after days had passed. ‘Then there is this thing in between you and the other person which makes it too awkward to continue the conversation’, says Jannat.
However, the worst part about this, according to Jannat, is that you will eventually see that person you ghosted again, because Groningen is so small. After she didn’t respond anymore, her acquaintance became the best friend of her neighbour across the hallway. ‘Eventually I spoke to her and we both acted as if everything was fine because she probably understood that I didn’t do it on purpose.’
Maruška too admits to not putting enough effort in contacts that might have been really nice if she just tried. ‘There was this one guy who I thought was really cute. Looking back I sometimes think that I should have replied’, she says.
International law student Paula says that she has also ghosted people in platonic relationships because she was simply too busy. ‘I forgot to reply and at one point it was too late to still say something. You know people here and at home, it can be a lot to keep up with everything.’
The ghosters may feel bad about not having done the socially acceptable thing, but the ghostees often feel bad too. Management, accounting and control student Mahmoud El Boghdady, who was both a ghostee and a ghoster in the past, admits that it has made him feel ‘more insecure’ when his messages weren’t reciprocated.
‘I was talking to someone who I was very interested in and had high expectations about us being like-minded’, Mahmoud says. ‘When I started to be myself instead of playing a role to get laid, I started to get weird reactions and the messages started to get less and less. It was very upsetting, because I felt like I can’t just be myself.’
The next morning I might not remember who they were
Yet he too ghosted ‘countless’ people in the past. Mostly this also starts with Mahmoud responding less and less. He comes up with excuses and says he’s busy even though he isn’t. ‘One time I got lucky that I got sick and went to the hospital. That way I could just say that it’s probably best if I spend some time by myself,’ he says.
UG associate professor Çigdem Bozdag Bucak, who specializes in researching digital media use, confirms that in today’s world people are less strongly connected with one another – and ghosting casual contacts is the result. ‘It’s easy to attach and detach with people. The threshold for ignoring someone in real life is simply higher’, she says.
Social media has something to do with that, but they are not solely responsible.’ It’s also the result of urbanization and the possibility to remain anonymous. Social relationships have already become more fleeting before social media. Yet, social media makes it easier to manage a larger number of casual relationships that are easily discontinued when one party loses interest, the expert explains.
Cultivating more casual relationships and ending them without an explanation has begun to catch on as a social norm in different contexts and it happens in both romantic and platonic relationships. ‘You have to consider individual factors such as the social and cultural setting, as well’, Bozdag Bucak says. ‘It depends on what is acceptable in different age groups, maybe ghosting has become an acceptable behavior for certain groups.
However, there’s one situation in which ghosting seems to be completely acceptable already. Maruška easily ghosts men when she has to lead the conversion or when guys are being too clingy, sending texts non-stop. ‘Breaking off contact with people you barely know without a reason makes for an easy way out’, she says.
Jannat often stops responding to messages of people she met on a night out. ‘Sometimes when I was a bit tipsy and guys asked for my Instagram or Snapchat I would be really enthusiastic about it. But the next morning, when they actually text, I might not remember who they were’, she says. She may answer once or twice, but ‘when they don’t get the hint, you stop responding’, she says.
He asked me whether I want children and if I’m good at cooking. I blocked him
And sometimes, they explain, it’s just the only way. ‘Once I went out with a guy who I met online. It was going really well but then halfway through our first date he told me he loved me. The following week he asked me whether I want children and if I’m good at cooking’, Jannat says. She tried to be nice about them not being a match.
‘But then he said I shouldn’t have gone on a date with him if I wasn’t serious about it. What should I have done, marry him? He told me I broke his heart and got mad at me so I blocked him.’
Bozdag Bucak says that it’s difficult to determine whether ghosting happens more often now. Social media has surely made it easier to disappear without having to confront someone but, also: ‘naming a behaviour makes it become more visible,’ she says. Indeed, the expression ‘ghosting’ is fairly new and has surfaced somewhere around the mid 2000’s. ‘By giving this phenomenon a name we start to pay more attention to it.’
Mahmoud has begun to see the positive in someone ceasing to respond. ‘There is a feeling of shame when you get ghosted, but I’m not too bothered by it anymore. Also, when you want a relationship and they ghost you it’s a blessing in disguise because it saves you time. It’s simply part of the whole meeting and texting culture today.’